2016 Writing Contest Winners and Finalists


Personal Essay: “Goodbye Blue Sky” by Ashley May

I’m Ashley May. I’m from Rockland County, NY. I’m a junior here, at University at Albany’s Honors College (class of 2018), majoring in psychology and minoring in art and biology. Once I graduate, I plan to get a PhD and become a clinical psychologist. I am an adventurer, martial artist, philanthropist, artist, photographer, poetry writer, and music-lover, who likes to live in the now and love deeply.

I wrote the essay “Goodbye Blue Sky.” It’s about my battlewith my Mom’s illness, Lupus. It was a hard, but necessary, piece to write. Getting out all of the feelings that I had suppressed for so many years was painful but cathartic. I hope that whoever reads it is able to feel my heartache and love; I want to remind the readers that time is finite, but moments could be infinite. Appreciate the ones you love, and let them know how special they are!

What faculty member Dr. Bethany Aery Clerico had to say about “Goodbye Blue Sky”:

To inquire into experience is to disrupt the often tidy ways that we deal with and process and store our experiences. Personal experience is challenging to inquire into because we have to do the counterintuitive and make ourselves vulnerable to the possibility that what’s at stake in conducting sustained inquiry is that who we are is at stake. We have to question our worldview, open ourselves to an evolved understanding who we are and our place in the world. In her essay, Ashley describes how she copes with her mother’s terminal illness. Ashley’s essay is remarkable in its relentless questioning that looks deeper and deeper into the implications of being a caregiver, of watching someone you love slip away. Pay attention to how she looks to as many sources as possible to understand what’s happening to her and her mother; her essay is a collage of memory, research, and reflection.

What students had to say about “Goodbye Blue Sky”:

The writing of this story was so fluid like a river…How did you do it? How do you manage to be such a diligent student while having this on your plate as well?

I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with emotion. As I wrote my own personal narrative I kept referring to your submission, which was anonymous at the time, and found the strength to write my true feelings and give readers a chance to step into my shoes.

You are a magnificent writer and maybe this talent you have can bring some joy to her [your mother], your family, and most importantly, help you work through your emotions in times like these and perilous times to come. Thank you for being so strong and sharing your story with us all, which I am certain was not the easiest thing to do.

Analysis: “Modern Day Factories” by Kendra Baxter 

My name is Kendra Baxter and I am currently working on obtaining my Bachelor of Science in Human Biology with a minor in Spanish in May 2018. I aspire to attend medical school and become a pediatrician. I identify as a Seventh Day Adventist Christian and my faith is essential to everything that I do. My faith and mywillingness to make a positive difference inthe lives of others has paved the way for to me become the president of New Life Seventh Day Adventist Youth Ministries. Additionally, I am an alumnus of the Emerging Student Leader program (Fall 2015), a leadership development program for young student leaders and the World of Community Service. My hobbies include singing, playing with dogs, and exploring nature through hiking.

“Modern Day Factories” helped me better understand the true meaning of education and the ways in which you can cleverly craft a persuasive argument. John Taylor Gatto’s piece “Against School” challenged the “status quo” of the U.S. educational system by arguing that public schools exist to fulfil six functions aimed to keep children at a below average level. I chose to analyze this piece because Gatto’s blunt and straightforward argument stood out to me. I wanted to know why Gatto, who was once a teacher himself, held so much opposition towards education in America. I believed that Gatto had another message hidden underneath the surface that he wanted his audience to discover. The analysis of certain patterns used in his piece such as comparisons, metaphors, and paradox, led to my discovery of a central theme which illustrates that public schools are modern day factories.

What faculty member Dr. Sarah Giragosian had to say about “Modern Day Factories”:

For this writing assignment, students often examine what others have written about a subject or topic explored in the course. Students consider issues of authorship, purpose, audience, and context and how these issues affect the way readers understand an author’s message. In effect, students are joining a conversation about an issue—and about the specific topic they are analyzing—with others who have an interest or stake in the topic. “Modern Day Factories” analyzes John Gatto’s rhetorical and figurative strategies in his essay “Against Schooling,” which exposes the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination in the public school systems in the US. Kendra’s patient and thoughtful analysis captured our attention, as well as that of our students, who participated in judging the entries.

What students had to say about “Modern Day Factories”:

As the idea developed throughout your essay, I started to recognize your interpretation of John Gatto’s statements, and the title seemed to perfectly fit the essay. Your sentence, “Like distasteful medicine, Gatto’s message can be hard to swallow,” really made me realize how basic and strict the school system is. Most times there is no room for creativity or students have to fight for creativity when expression should just be part of every person whether they are a student or not.

You did a great job of intelligently connecting Gatto's ideas to a central theme and coming to a conclusion about what he was saying, which is sometimes difficult for readers and writers to do.

Argument/Conversation: “Obscene Kayaks and Violent Pornography: Censorship in Japan” by Scarlet Brown

I'm a junior (class of 2018) majoring in JapaneseStudies and Women's Studies. I'm the Alt Rock Director at the on campus radio station, WCDB, and I am a peer educator in Project SHAPE (Sexual Health and Peer Education). In addition to winning the argumentative essay section of the WCI Writing Contest, I am a recipient of the Wann Scholarship, the Frederick Douglass Scholarship, and the Horatio Alger Scholarship. I love listening to music, making beaded bracelets, and going to hot yoga!

Writing about Megumi Igarashi, her work, and the history of censorship in Japan was a very rewarding process. I appreciated being able to start off an argumentative essay assignment with such an interesting topic as outcry against a 3D printed art piece based on a woman's own genitalia. The headline hooked me, but what I ended up discovering about sexism in Japan went much deeper than an unfair news scandal. As the information developed, I felt I understood how deeply ingrained exploitative sexism is in capitalism (not only in Japan, of course, but everywhere) and that it is not so simple to figure out how to remedy. My research allowed me to make an argument, but like with most research, there are now simply more questions to be answered and argued for.

What faculty member Ms. Susan Detwiler had to say about “Obscene Kayaks and Violent Pornography”: 

Ms. Brown engaged with multiple thinkers around obscenity, economics, cultural norms, and sexism. Commenting on Ms. Brown’s connections between to the legal, economic, and cultural thinking around pornography, student voters commended her for this thinking. Students in UUNI 110 also noticed Ms. Brown’s ability to use her distinct voice to portray her questioning of the censorship and sexism in Japan. Readers felt pulled into the complexity of the issue in part because of her word choice and structure. Finally, with the conclusion, Ms. Brown leaves the reader with more to ponder on the issue of obscenity, sexism, and Japanese law.

What students had to say about “Obscene Kayaks and Violent Pornography”:

I really loved this essay. Not just for the obvious reason that it starts out with vaginas, but because it is so refreshing to read an essay about not only gender equality but human rights…. I was honestly so happy and amazed to see how you transitioned into talking about human rights for men, women, and especially children in Japan…. Overall, your essay was really well thought out I like how you delved into more serious issues as the essay went on, but still made it all come together. I also liked how you proposed a solution for this inhumanity.

I'd like to thank you for bringing up double standards in other countries because it helps to spark thought about the double standards in our country as well…. It also helps us to put these issues into perspective, that maybe these problems we see in our own country are not the ones that we should be focusing on when there are such great injustices happening in other countries.


Personal Essay:
“Under the Sea” by Frankie VanCise
“Flounder or Fluke” by Brenna Croker

Honorable Mentions:
“Iron Lung” by John Lifrieri
“La brebis galeuse” by Michelle Raissa Kobou Wafo
“With Every Moment” by Giulia Balentine


“Escape: An Analysis of Poverty in Identity” by Allix Coon
“Three Generations, One Cookbook, One DNA: Reflection of the past in Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You” by Mercy Adewale

Honorable Mentions:
“Liberal Education and the Masses” by Nate Clark
“Physiological, Social, and Economic Influences on Fast Food Consumption” by Audrey Caplan
“An Analytical Approach to ‘The Challenges of Cultural Relativism’” by Kelsey Auman


“Black Women: Conforming or Redefining?” by Niara Morrison
“Demolishing Racial Discrimination” by Kelsey Luke

Honorable Mentions:
“Control, Obsession, and Possession: Relationships in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” by Josephine Crouch
“The Extinguishment of the Test-only Policy” by Edith Cofie
“The Subtle Ways the Media Influences Public Perception of Black Men” by Briah' Davis