A big congratulations to Finnian Spencer for taking home the very first "Spirit of Drew" first place scholarship! Even cooler–he brought his whole (very supportive) family with him! We were very lucky to have such amazing sponsors in the Aetna Foundation & Starbucks Foundation. Because of their generosity, we were able to give out THREE scholarships, totaling $7000!
Our second place winner was Matthew Reich of Mercy College and third place went to Sara Hayet of Lafayette College!
Check out Finnian's winning essay below:
When the Gay/Straight Alliance at my school was founded this year, I knew I had to get involved. I am a transgender, pansexual student at MDHS and I wanted to offer the younger people of my school guidance. Coming to terms with sexuality and gender is no simple task. As an underclassman, I really would have benefitted from being in a GSA, and I wanted to offer my peers the voice that I didn’t have. I was voted into the position of Vice President, and was thrilled for the opportunity to guide my peers through this trying time of adolescence.
At the beginning of the year, the GSA leadership were given the chance to talk about ourselves to the group. I wanted to be a safe place. I wanted to be someone that everyone could come when they needed guidance. I wanted to lead. Standing in front of the class, telling my story, I believe that I achieved just that. I told my GSA family things about my journey to self-acceptance that I thought I’d take to the grave; in doing so I made myself approachable. I’ve had more and more friends come to me looking for advice and a person to vent to.
Going into this experience of leadership in my school, I set goals for myself, the biggest and most important one being to help people. Before I started writing this essay, I did a lot of reflection on the part I played in GSA this year. I thought a lot about whether or not I achieved my goal. I can honestly say that I believe to have achieved my goal and so much more. I have met so many people from so many different walks of life who are all a part of this resilient community. I have learned so much about what it means to be a leader and how to harness those skills in order to help people get through an obstacle that many could never imagine. I think I achieved my goal. I think I helped make my school a happier place for the LGBT students in it.
I remember what it was like to be uncomfortable with myself. I remember feeling out of place and different from everyone. Growing up, I had always heard the people around me say bad things about my community; misconceptions and ignorance can lead to these hurtful comments that pollute young minds. Because of this pollution, I grew up thinking something was wrong with me. Everyone needs a community, and for such a long time, I didn’t think I had one. I needed a GSA at my school. Having that strong and unshakable foundation to grow up with would have saved me and many others a lot of hardship. I got through those times and I got through them all on my own- I wanted to extend my experiences into the leadership I offered to my GSA peers. In making myself friendly and approachable to them, I did just that.
Through this involvement in GSA, I’ve learned so much about how to include everyone. GSA isn’t just about giving a safe space to LGBT youth, it’s about education. Education breaks the barrier of hate, maliciously built up from ignorance. As a leader in my school community, I had to (and always will have to) answer questions. People are curious. They want to know what our community is all about. If everyone was educated on the matter, the world would be a more accepting place. I am always happy to tell my peers all about who I am, who we are, and where we are going. The world needs to be educated, and they need to be educated one person at a time. The individual plays an important role in the advancement of my community, and cannot be ignored. The ultimate goal of the LGBT community is to shape the world into and accepting and accommodating place; we all have to take part in influencing this future. I firmly believe that I’m doing my part.