The essays were judged by a panel drawn from the staffs of Northwest Catholic, the archdiocesan Office for Catholic Schools and the Fulcrum Foundation. We are proud to present the winning high school, middle school and elementary school essays.
HIGH SCHOOL WINNER
Benjamin Wahlman. Photo: Stephen Brashear
The shocking, subtle presence of Christ
By Benjamin Wahlman
For the first 16 years of my life, I never really saw Christ or made any connection to him in my life. I had read and heard about all that he had done over and over again, but never made a genuine connection with the Lord.
Thanks to my curiosity, I looked up different miracles and stories of people who had met Christ in their lives. They said that he appeared to them in a dream or right in front of their very eyes at a random time. That was the sign I had always been looking for: a distinct, bearded man popping out in front of my eyes saying “Here I am, Ben.” However, in my junior year of religion class, I learned that Christ is made present in different ways, and my perspective on finding him changed entirely. Now, I am fully confident that Christ is all over the place at O’Dea High School.
The first time I recognized Christ at O’Dea, I was shocked. There was a little voice inside my head that just knew Christ was present. In the hallways one day, there were two sophomores fighting over something that had happened a week ago and it continued until then. They started yelling at one another across the halls and looked ready to fight. Suddenly, the smallest sophomore in the grade, who hardly said a word all year, came out of nowhere and stopped the fight. He stood in front of both of them and acted as Jesus would, like a mentor for the two.
That day, I saw Christ working in this boy as I had never seen before. For the first time in my life, Jesus was present to me. It was not the spectacular, bearded man coming out of nowhere like I first thought, but Christ was there in a more subtle way. It proved to me that Christ reveals himself in different ways, and that was a valuable lesson I learned that day. From then on I knew that Christ was working around O’Dea this whole time without me even knowing it.
Benjamin Wahlman is a senior at O’Dea High School in Seattle.
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MIDDLE SCHOOL WINNER
Morgan DeMeulemeester. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Christ through the eyes of a teenager
By Morgan DeMeulemeester
Take a deep breath, it’s going to be fine is what I think to myself after having a stressful morning at my house: handling my fighting brothers, rushing to get ready, forgetting a book … the list just goes on. After a near explosion in my head, we finally arrive, late of course, at school. I choose to take the front entrance so I can walk through the halls and look at all the things the students have worked on. Nearing my homeroom, I suddenly stop. I realize that I’m not even stressed — in fact, I feel completely relaxed, and filled with Christ. That is the feeling our school gives to you, and you can experience this through the faculty and students, but also through our community service.
It is difficult to choose who I see Jesus through the most, but if I had to choose, I would say my teachers and classmates. My teachers demonstrate Christ by being gentle and kind with each and every one of us, helping us increase our knowledge of God. They take our intentions, help us pray, and lead us in the Mass. As for my classmates, they shine with the Holy Spirit, accepting everyone and cooperating, even through tough times.
Another way I see Christ at my school is through our community services. At Assumption-St. Bridget, community service is important to us. Starting the summer before seventh grade, you are required to do service hours, and I think this helps demonstrate the Catholic social teaching on rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, throughout the school year, many things are held to raise money and help others (recent examples include our Vico Fundraiser, raising money for Oso, and our Whale of a Sale popsicle sale).
Having things going on in our lives can distract us from seeing God, but I have realized that, with the help of my cooperative classmates and teachers, along with the community service I do, I can keep this from happening. I believe that I, and my school, are filled with Christ, and even on the darkest of days, we shine through the darkness.
Morgan DeMeulemeester is an eighth-grader at Assumption-St. Bridget School in Seattle.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WINNER
John Tramountanas. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Christ is everywhere
By John Tramountanas
Christ is everywhere at St. John. If you don’t believe me, I will prove it to you. Christ is in the teachers. I see him in Mrs. Ocampo’s smile. Christ is also in my friends. I see him whenever I have a good time with them. Sometimes I see Christ in the funniest places. Our vice principal, Señor Pablo, has a very large beard. Our school’s fundraiser this year used his beard as the theme. It was called “Fear the Beard.” His beard helped raise lots of money for our school. I never thought I would see Christ in a beard, but there he was!
Christ is always there for you, especially at St. John School. Sometimes, when I am sad at school, I notice Christ and it makes me feel better. When I get hurt at recess, Christ is in the kindness of the people who help me. If I get angry, Christ helps me calm down. I also see him at Mass, and I always see Christ when I pray, which
I do every day.
These are some of the ways that you can see Christ at St. John School, but there are many more. If you come to St. John, you will see him where you least expect it. If you don’t believe me, just look in Señor Pablo’s beard!
John Tramountanas is a fifth-grader at St. John School in Seattle.
It begins here or skip to the end
January: The first signs
Read: The Rosie Project, The Life You Can Save, Creating a World Without Poverty, The Untethered Soul, All the Light We Cannot See
Check-ins: 42 • Instagram: 5 • DayOne: 14 • 750words: 1.5• Photos 22 • Walked: 116km
I started January with a sense of purpose and optimism, before getting a serious migraine, followed by an extended bout of flu. I started visiting an acupuncturist when I didn’t seem to be getting better. I was also experimenting with vegetarianism (with minimal carbs), which concluded successfully, but I think due to the timing of events it inflicted additional stress on my body.
1 Jan I started the year off with heavy reading material, but still I managed to have a sense of optimism. I wrote my yearly looking forward post, but I didn’t know how literal it was going to become:
I want to spend the year slowly growing into myself, the person I want to become…Life I learned, is not about metrics, despite my apparent obsession with self-quantifying. It is not about scale, or the absolute impact we can make. It is about making that choice again and again, to be fully alive, whatever that may mean. — Looking forward to 2015, Medium
4 Jan I wanted to build a community with the people who have been with me on twitter or my writing, so I started a tinyletter:
- So I just sent my first tinyletter to 22 special people. Welcome to my dark thoughts! ;) — twitter
5th Jan This is the first sign of my impending long-stretch of ill-health, something I am still recovering from now, at the tail end of 2015:
- my body has this way of telling me to stop. with a migraine. no food, no thinking, nothing. — twitter
6 Jan No matter where or how I am, I constantly think about:
- Always happy to see amazing people doing amazing things; always thinking about how to empower more amazing people to do more amazing things. — twitter
11 Jan At this point I was sufficiently alarmed:
I’ve been unwell for the past two weekends. — finding balance, journal
13-15 Jan I had a bout of flu and flew into Seattle for a work meeting.But from the status below I started to reflect on my past:
- journaling is one of my favorite things to do. looking at the past makes me understand the present. — twitter, 15 Jan #journal:1
18 Jan Somehow I managed to pull up the capacity to write this post, very much influenced by the books I read, the conversations I had, and the meeting I had in Seattle. I deeply cared about the work I was doing:
The capacity to solve problems should not be a privilege. It should not be determined by the virtue of our birth. Not everybody wants to change the world, but billions of people in this world do not even have the liberty to make that choice. We are depriving ourselves of our own potential. We have to do better. — Finding the next Einstein, Medium
24 Jan A long-running realization that I cannot live my life guided by absolute numbers:
- If I wrote based on absolute metrics I would never write again. It is worth it even if it makes a connection to just one person’s mind. — twitter #work: 1
26 Jan I reminded myself to slow down:
- Sometimes, just slow down and observe. There are pockets of love everywhere. — twitter
February: contemplating burnout
Read: This Is How You Lose Her, The Sense of an Ending, The Bottom Billion, The Lowland, Payback, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations, Love & Misadventure
Check-ins: 62 • Instagram: 12 • DayOne: 9 • 750words: 10 • Photos 51 • Walked: 131km
I started this month with a visit to Seattle again, this time I had the privilege of having Jessica join me as my new co-worker. It would be one of the best work partnerships I ever had. Provoked by my continuing spate of ill health and the intensity of work, I started to ask myself uncomfortable questions.
7 Feb I will always have survivors’ and privilege guilt:
I think about all the people who have suffered in order for me to be comfortably typing this piece in my chair today. — keep on trying, journal
9 Feb This is probably where it all starts:
- Being true to oneself is easy until there’s a lot at stake, but having more at stake makes it more important to know who we truly are. — twitter #self: 1
10 Feb There was a growing sense of frustration that I was incapable of presenting as my true self to the world:
- I feel like I spend a lot of my life trying to moderate myself. — twitter #self: 2
14 Feb Here I question my honesty to myself, aware that I may in denial, in order to stay in my comfort zone:
- Sometimes I get suspicious about my own capacity to be honest with myself. — twitter
I started writing a series of posts trying to examine my feelings, and coming to a realization I might be burnt out, after being in denial. Somewhen in this period I was attempting to recover by remote-working in the East Bay. The conflict between the love for my work and my own well-being will keep coming into play:
I am exhausted, and I am finding it more difficult to recover to a full charge. I am experiencing signs of burn out, and I am terrified. They say you don’t experience burn out if you love your work, I think I am experiencing burn out because I love my work too much. — pace, journal, 15 Feb
I had another realization that I will never be able to get away from my thoughts, ever. — taking a break from myself, journal, 18 Feb
This wouldn’t be the first time I would write about the relationship between seeking validation and my lack of self-love:
Sometimes, it becomes worse as I realize I am not seeking validation from other people, but from myself, because I just do not love myself, enough.– on self-love and working hard, journal, 20 Feb
and this is the second time out of many more times I would mention the journaling theme:
- Writing @750words for today and getting really mad at myself. “omg, not this issue again…been writing abt this since the beginning of time” — twitter #journal:2
Prompted by the sentiment around Oliver Sack’s passing, I wrote about my sense of mortality:
I don’t wish to wait till death is truly imminent, for me to realize I should have loved deeper, traveled further, written more. — Feel alive, Medium
24 FebGabriel Garcia Marquez: The Last Interview:And I write my books so that I can read them.Power is a substitute for love.Hurriedness in creative expression is immediately noticed.
28 Feb I would be seeking a lot of solace from books:
- Reading a book sometimes is like finding tiny pieces of yourself, in between the lines. — twitter
March: No more deferment of life plans
Read: The Time Traveler’s Wife, You Learn by Living, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Ender’s Game,South of the Border, West of the Sun, Trying Not to Try, Invisible
Check-ins: 64• Instagram: 12 • DayOne: 21 • 750words: 5.5 • Photos 38• Walked: 140km
I continued my attempts of trying to recover from burnout by heading to the woods during the weekend. I was still in denial that there could be something seriously wrong with myself, afraid to think of the consequences. I did come to decide that I would stop deferring my life plans.
1 Mar I spent the beginning of March house-sitting Jean’s house in Berkeley. My thoughts were still turbulent, and it showed in my writing:
How do you try to build a world capable of re-distributing power more effectively (knowledge, capital, resources), without breaking down existing power structures? We can’t break down existing power structures by not recognizing our own power to do so. — The story we tell ourselves, Medium
3 Mar I didn’t know it at this point, but reading Carl Jung later on was an affirmation of my intuition that I had to accept my shadow instead of running from it.
- The way to cope with my darkness is to keep on shining light on it. — twitter #self: 3
6–8 Mar I spent a couple days at Bonny Doon. There I had enough space to think. It was the beginning of my journey to acknowledge myself, and
my unwillingness to fit-in henceforth:
- I’m also making less effort to shield my words. — twitter, 7 Mar #work: 2
But we are continually building a world that other people live in, that means at every step of the road, we need to continually ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want our kids to live in? Do we want a world where they have to disown their beautiful personalities just to fit in our idea of what it takes to succeed? — The courage to be ourselves, Medium, 8 Mar
“You don’t have to be accountable to anybody but yourself.” — DayOne (I know, sometimes I address myself in the third person)
14 Mar On Ender’s Game
“surprised by the velocity of my tears and the depth of my grief” — DayOne
- okay just finished Ender’s Game. I’m kinda traumatized and heartbroken, but strangely comforted and hopeful at the same time. — twitter #stories
20 Mar I would be thinking about linearity vs non-linearity for a long time:
- Sometimes I find the linearity of words on a page insufficient to express the chaos of the multiple streams of thoughts I have in my head. — twitter #work: 3
The same questions, over and over again:
- when do we actually start living? — twitter #self: 4
21 Mar I half-answered the question by booking a flight. I had been wanting to visit Europe for the first time ever, but I kept delaying it due to “practical” reasons: money and time. I couldn’t justify a trip to Europe without feeling like I had to visit family first, so I decided to head back to Singapore instead. This was the first time since moving I wanted to be back in Singapore in less than six months.
I got tired of planning my life according to work deadlines and visa timelines:
- I made a pact with myself to not have anymore deferred life plans. Gonna be tricky, but we’ll see how it goes. — twitter #self: 5
I tried to explain the conflicts between my priorities using games as a metaphor:
My life right now is like trying to serve one table really well and being in denial that the dishes accumulating at other tables do not exist. — My life explained, Medium
22–23 Mar Here I started writing about pain and my emotional intensity:
- sometimes we just need to let the pain rise up to the surface. — twitter, 22 Mar #pain:1
- emotional honesty is so freeing and tiring at the same time. — twitter, 23 Mar #pain:2
25 Mar The realization that I have to start picking my battles or I’ll always be overwhelmed:
- I think the secret to life is to be very picky about what we care about and ignore everything else. — twitter, 25 Mar #self: 6
26–28 Mar I started reading Invisibles and related a lot. I was tired of the expectation that we all have to seek visibility:
- Not everybody wants to be recognized. Some of us just wants to be left alone to do our work. — twitter, 26 Mar #work: 4
My thoughts and feelings cumulated into this post:
I do not want to advocate for a world where people have to grab any attention they can or chase popularity just to prove the merit of their work, or the value of their existence. — On visibility, Medium, 28 Mar
29 Mar This was something I had been struggling with as I sought to gain ownership over myself:
- Don’t let people guilt-trip you into doing things that are not part of who you are. They are not the ones bearing the weight of your soul. — twitter #self: 7
30 Mar Again, feeling sadness about my emotional sensitivity:
- I’m so sensitive, sometimes I think I should lock myself in a room and not expose myself to the world. For both the world’s and my own sake. — twitter #pain:3
Read: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Stitches,
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy
Check-ins: 70• Instagram: 18• DayOne: 6 • 750words:2 • Photos 46• Walked: 131km
April has always been a special month for me because it is my birthday month, I don’t actually care about birthdays per se, but I take it as a time for self-reflection. I was still trying to reconcile my sense of responsibility towards my work and team, with my growing sense of disconnect towards myself. True to the promise to myself of not deferring anymore life plans, I booked my flight to Paris as a birthday gift to myself.
1 Apr I often retweet tweets that reflect my sentiment at that time:
- “I didn’t want to be recognized because of where I worked; I wanted my work to speak for me.” — @maxvoltarhttps://thegreatdiscontent.com/interview/tim-van-damme … — twitter #work: 5
3 Apr And here I am starting to confront my existentialist tendencies again:
- I mostly think it is a gift, it drives me to ask questions and I can’t choose to exist out of a survival instinct because I have none. — twitter #pain:4
4 Apr I finally booked my flight to Paris.
5 Apr Yes, I make weird observations like this one:
- Sometimes it gets really weird trying to observe myself. — twitter
6 Apr I spent my birthday in the woods near Santa Cruz, trying to find some space to just breathe and reflect. As part of a yearly ritual, I wrote my birthday post. It seems uncanny how I am predicting my own future:
I no longer have any long-term dreams or ambitions out of the awareness that I don’t even know who I’ll become tomorrow, much less the next decade. The only ask I have for myself is to live brilliantly through as many diverse experiences as I can possibly accumulate in this lifetime, on my own terms. — To more of breaking apart, Medium
And of course I had to spend my birthday reading about David Foster Wallace. I find it tremendously sad and yet uplifting how much I can relate to him:Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace“We kept telling him we were so glad he was alive,” his mother said. “But my feeling is that, even then, he was leaving the planet. He just couldn’t take it.”John Updike — once wrote that temporariness, the nature of things being provisional, shouldn’t disqualify them.That I just — and that pain, that pain, I fear that pain more than I want the money.The more exposure I as a person get, the more it hurts me as a writer.That kind of — there’s good self-consciousness. And then there’s this toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.I don’t mind appearing in Rolling Stone, but I don’t want to appear in Rolling Stone as somebody who wants to be in Rolling Stone.The way to finish the book is to turn down the volume on the stuff that’s all about how other people react. You know?Does your life approach anything like a linear narrative? My life and my self doesn’t feel like anything like a unified developed character in a linear narrative to me.If your life makes linear sense to you, then you’re either very strange, or you might be just a neurologically healthy person — who’s automatically able to decoct, organize, do triage on the amount of stuff that’s coming at you all the time.[on depression] It’s like worse than anything — I don’t know if you’ve had any experience with this. It’s worse than any kind of physical injury, or any kind of — if I depend on this, then I’m gonna be miserable except for once every five years? You know what I mean?Roth writes for two years, but mostly to get voice. Throws away all for eighteen months, writes book in last six.I always fear that when I really impose my will on something, the universe is gonna punish me.No one can look after me long term — I’ve learned — except me. I’ve learned no one can look after me long term better than I can. The only way we really learn things is the hard way.I mean I was really just scared of people in college.I’m talking about the number of privileged, highly intelligent, motivated career-track people that I know, from my high school or college, who are, if you look into their eyes, empty and miserable.That our survival depends on an ability to look past ourselves and our own self-interest.if you as a writer think that your job is to get as many people to like your stuff and think well of you as possible … And I could, we could both, name writers that it’s pretty obvious that’s their motivation? It kills the work. Each time. That that’s maybe 50 percent of it, but it misses all the magic. And it misses, it doesn’t let you be afraid. Or it doesn’t, like, let you like make yourself be, be vulnerable.I’m thirty-four. And I’ve finally discovered I really love to write this stuff. I really love to work hard. And I’m so terrified that this — that this is going to somehow twist me. Or turn me into somebody whose hunger for approval keeps it from being fun, you know?I really need to find a few things that I believe in, in order to stay alive. And one of them is that this is — that I’m extraordinarily lucky to be able to do this kind of work. And that along with that luck comes a tremendous obligation to do the best, to do the very best I can.it doesn’t make me a great person. It just makes me a person that’s really exhausted a couple other ways to live, you know?
7 Apr The time in the woods restored my sense of vitality, if only for a little while:
“I need to find what centers and grounds me: trees, ocean, connections, books, writing” — DayOne
8 Apr Upon getting back to San Francisco, we launched something at work, complete with a graphic novel explaining distributed consensus, which captured the hearts of many. It was such an intense, satisfying experience with the entire collaboration:
- We had to work so hard to make something so complex, accessible: https://www.stellar.org/galaxy/ Proud to work with @verbagetruck & @rominadesigner! — twitter
9- 12 Apr But soon I was back to my existential crisis:
I feel incredibly fragile and unable to withstand shocks, I feel like the world is too harsh for people like me (don’t even want to start on how unjust it is for a whole lot of people) and it makes me not want to be here. — in times of darkness, journal, 9 Apr
and yet I wanted very much to keep what was slowly killing me:
- I like having a thin skin, I love feeling everything deeply, I want to feel brilliantly alive, even at the cost of terrible pain. — twitter, 11 Apr #pain:5
I would not be able to do the work I do, write the way I write, love the world so profoundly — which still trips me up, why do I love so much of what tries to kill me — without that pain and the precise sensitivity to it. — on existential pain, journal, 12 Apr
13 Apr I was finding it a challenge to find a consistent source of intellectual fuel in my conversations:
- sometimes all I want is to be exhausted by an exquisite conversation. — twitter
Again, the journal theme had popped up, with a awareness that it is not just a habit to me, but a serious study into myself:
- all my journaling + public content + photos + self-quantifying is like a longitudinal study on myself. — twitter #journal: 3
Something happened here, which I honestly don’t remember, but it will be another consistent theme throughout my year:
- love, and the lack of, changes people profoundly. and I don’t mean love in the romantic context. — twitter #love: 1
This is something I think a lot about:
- I hope that one day it’ll be part of the public education system that kids will be taught to manage their neurological health. — twitter #mental: 1
19 Apr Continuing the theme on my emotional sensitivity and existential pain, yet again I wouldn’t trade it for anything else:
Strength to me is not cultivating a personality that feels less pain, but it is one who is willing to feel more pain. — why I still write when I do not feel like writing, journal
20 Apr Watched the Imitation Game, and I realized once something is set in motion, there will be a constant stream of reminders for me, it is like a weird source of strength infused from the Universe:
“Sometimes we can’t do what feels good. We have to do what is logical…Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” — The Imitation Game, posted on Facebook, 20 Apr
21 Apr By now it becomes obvious that my mind very much wanders around a few macro areas:
- The more I learn about neuroscience and poverty economics separately, the more I’m skeptical about the concept of free will. — twitter, 21 Apr #mental: 2
22 Apr Continuing the theme of having the courage to be myself:
- “The bravest people are the ones who don’t mind looking like cowards.” — T.H. White — twitter #self: 8
24 Apr Here it is again, the necessity to understand the distance and proximity of the past to the present:
- sometimes I look at @timehop and I get very amused how little my past self knew who I was going to be. — twitter, 24 Apr #journal: 4
27 Apr I attended the wedding of my two dearest friends in Berkeley, and I cried while they took their vows:
They possess an innate understanding that their being together is not only for themselves, but for their shared purpose towards humanity. It is one thing to listen to them talk about it, and a whole other level to hear them etch that into a sacred formalization through their marriage vows. — a love that inspires, journal
29 Apr And I’m back to my existentialism:
- It is often through the depths of my own darkness that I rediscover an unbreakable love for the world. — twitter #pain:6
I have been thinking about art and how it relates to my thought processes. It would change the way I think about my work, that I wanted to be less of a designer and more of an artist:
- “Great art can communicate before it is understood.” — T. S. Eliot, twitter #work: 6