Student's Essay Wins Ohio Civil Rights Commission Contest

Middle School student Hazel Shanahan was selected as the winner of the 8th-grade essay competition for the 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Art, Essay & Multimedia Contest, hosted by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
The Commission received hundreds of entries for this year’s contest and only one winner was selected
from each grade level! The inspiration for Hazel's essay came from right here at WSM and beautifully illustrates Maria Montessori's belief that “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education...”

Read Hazel's essay below:

It All Starts With a Classroom
by Hazel Shanahan

There is one thing every person has in common, something that unites us all; we all want to be accepted. We all want to feel supported and loved, appreciated and trusted. We want to fit in. If we ever want to reach this goal of making everyone feel like they belong, we must promote equality and justice. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I too have a dream for the future children of the world. My dream is to provide a safe learning environment, and I can achieve this huge dream by doing multiple small things that will eventually pave the way for a large change. When I grow up, I want to be a teacher, and by promoting equality and justice in the classroom, the world will slowly but surely become a better place. 

Humans are like flowers; we have so much potential, but to reach our full potential, we need to be appropriately loved and cared for. Every one of us can flourish and display our beautiful and unique blooms. However, we live in a world with oppression, judgment, fear, and pain. Sometimes we are scared to show the world what we can do. But I believe that under the right circumstances, with the right kind of support, we can become, as Ed Sheeran once said, “beautiful people.” And it is my life goal to put the future children of the world in a kind, supportive environment, and allow them to blossom into a bold, lovely flower. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once wisely stated, “Without justice, there can be no peace.” I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I take it upon myself to teach the next generations how to promote equality and justice, and spread peace to every corner of our vast world. My arms may not be broad enough to hug every single person, but they can hug the ones dearest to me. My voice may not be loud enough to be heard by those across the globe, but it’s loud enough to assure and encourage the ones I will teach. I may not be strong enough to support everyone in my country, but I’m strong enough to support the ones who will sit in my classroom. When I stand up in the classroom of my dreams, I’ll be powerful. I will do small things in a great way for the little children who look up to me for guidance.

In my current classroom, I feel safe to grow and express myself. However, I know that’s not the case for many children around the world, and that breaks my heart. I can’t bear the thought of young kids afraid to be themselves, forced to act or learn a certain way. That’s what drives and motivates me to want to pursue a career in education; the fact that I have the chance to guide and be part of so many children’s lives is humbling. If I nurture and foster them in my classroom, regardless of their color, religion, social background, sexual orientation, or gender, I can help them to find the courage and strength to unfold their petals, and help others around them to unfold theirs too. I can teach these beautiful flowers to promote equality and justice, and treat everyone they meet with respect, and greet them with a warm, welcoming smile.

By promoting justice and equality in the classroom, the world will slowly become a better place, full of colorful and beautiful flowers. I will build trust with young students and show them how good the world can be. I will spread peace, love, hope, and knowledge through every inch of my classroom, so that the children carry it with them to every corner of the world. If we try, we can promote equality and justice, and our small actions will transform the world. It all starts with a classroom for in the end, the root and justice and equality is love, and as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.” — MLK Jr.
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