Optimist Club of Rolla honors 2020-21 essay contest winners

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Three Rolla High School students were recognized by the Optimist Club of Rolla for their winning essays in the 2020-21 Optimist Essay Contest.

The Essay Contest is sponsored by Optimist International to give young people the opportunity to write about their own opinions regarding the world in which they live. The approach can encompass a young person’s personal experience, the experience of their country or a more historical perspective. In addition to developing skills for written expression, participants also have the opportunity to win a college scholarship. This year's theme for the 2020-21 contest is "Reaching your Dreams by Choosing Optimism."

The 2020-21 essay contest was judged by Donald Dodd, President of the Salem Publishing Company; Dr. Mary Gillis, Missouri University of Science and Technology; and Lori Amos, staff writer for the Rolla Daily News.

2020-21 Local Contest Winners:

First Place, Madison Brown; Second Place, Katelyn Sowers; Third Place, Fiona Giddens.

From left to right: Katelyn Sowers, Madison Brown and Fiona Giddens.

Senior Madison Brown represented the Optimist Club of Rolla in the 2020-21 East Missouri District contest. Brown was involved in National Honor Society (NHS), Leadership, Project Fido, yearbook, and volleyball. She will be attending the University of Missouri - Columbia in the fall in business administration.

Senior Katelyn Sowers was involved in varsity tennis and Future Farmers of America (FFA) while enrolled at Rolla High School. She plans to attend the University of Missouri - Columbia in the fall in Animal Sciences. She is an aspiring zoo veterinarian.

Senior Fiona Giddens participated in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), National Honor Society (NHS), and yearbook while enrolled at Rolla High School. She plans to attend the University of Missouri - Columbia in the fall studying child development. She is an aspiring child life specialist.

Here are the winning essays:

Madison Brown

Rolla High School

Madison Brown

Optimism to me means surrounding myself with people that can allow me to achieve all of my dreams and goals. From a young age my dream has been to attend The University of Missouri in Columbia to earn my bachelors degree in business administration. To help prepare for college, I have pushed myself to take high level courses and have taken on various extracurricular activities to meet new people and expand my knowledge of the world. I have also taken on many leadership roles to help prepare me to become a powerful leader in the business world. I believe that this dream of mine has motivated me and has kept me optimistic all through my high school career. As a student athlete, optimism plays a crucial role in my success as a player, as well as a teammate. Starting sports at a young age led me to value the importance of determination, hard work, positivity, and most importantly optimism. I have learned to look at losses as an opportunity to grow. Instead of trying to blame someone else for my own mistakes, I have learned to take responsibility for my own actions. I ask myself, “How can I do better next time?” or “I know I made a mistake, but how have I learned from it, and how can I grow from it?” By asking myself these questions, I have grown as an athlete and as a person.

My junior year of high school was the year I struggled the most to be optimistic. My volleyball team lost five pivotal members of our team. We had to learn to play with teammates that we had never played with before. I would come home frustrated and began questioning my abilities as a player. I knew the only way to solve this problem was to look at the situation as an opportunity rather than a problem. As a team, we began to set goals for ourselves every day at practice. My goal was to serve every ball with consistency and accuracy. Eventually these goals turned into reality, and we began to learn each other's strengths and how to make up for our weaknesses. We turned our losing record into a winning record. We learned how positivity and goals can completely change the outcome of a season.

Just as our season of volleyball came to an end, Covid started making its way into the headlines. By March, our school had shut down and gone fully online. I never would have imagined the impact that a worldwide pandemic would make on my life as well as the lives of those all around the world. I was scared and frustrated, not knowing what each day would bring. I was upset that I could not see my friends or even leave my house. After many weeks of being mad at the world, I decided to turn my focus elsewhere. I decided to turn this pandemic into a positive situation. I began building my relationship with my family. I also began to set goals for myself everyday. I started working out and doing little tasks around the house that gave me a feeling of accomplishment every day. I began to look at the pandemic as a positive thing. It gave me the chance to spend valuable time with my family that I would have never gotten if the pandemic would have never happened. I began to see that I was a teenager that got to be a part of a pivotal point in history. I began to see myself as a part of a world of people that were making history. I began to realize that I am a part of a generation that will live to tell our grandchildren about how the world changed overnight.

As a teenager, I have come to realize that If I want to be successful in life, I have to approach every opportunity I face with optimism and positivity. An optimistic mindset has led me to have success as an athlete, teammate, student, friend, and as a daughter. I have learned the importance of turning mistakes into a positive thing because they allow you to grow and learn. Optimism has allowed me to change my viewpoint on life, and has allowed me to look forward to the future.

Katelyn Sowers 

Rolla High School

Katelyn Sowers

When I was younger, I was told not to have dreams because it’s not realistic. My parents never supported me talking about my dreams for the future. I didn’t realize at the time that dreams are what motivates people in life. It is the thing that drives me. Along with dreams, comes optimism. Optimism is what’s going to keep my dreams alive, and help me continue to have dreams once I’m older. It’s taken me years to learn how to be optimistic because I was never taught what it was.

My parents divorce is what taught me how to be optimistic. Their split was nasty, and the only way I was going to get through it was by staying positive. After their divorce, my parents needed a scapegoat for all their problems. I became that scapegoat. My life turned upside down. I was young, and I didn’t even understand what they were doing to me. It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I found out why I was so despairing, that I started to learn how to choose optimism. Instead of taking everything they said to heart, I learned to let it roll off my shoulder. It was amazing how much I physically felt better. I knew in life I had a choice. I could either choose to live it happily or miserably. I choose to be optimistic and live happily.

Another way I learned how to be optimistic was through school. In school, I’m not only dealing with myself, my problems, and my own grades, but I’m also dealing with other people’s problems and drama, too. Most of the lessons learned were how to be patient. I learned this through having many classes with trouble makers. I knew how to ignore most things because of my siblings. While managing all of this, it has taught me to look on the bright side. Since my home life was challenging, I put all of my energy into school. To me, school is the most important thing because I believe that it’s the only thing that’s going to help me turn my life around. I really want to get out of the place I’m in, and I believe that if I study hard, I’ll be able to accomplish my goal.

Dreams were daunting to me; it was this unmarked territory in my mind that seemed too far to reach. Because of this, I haven’t had many dreams, but my most recent is to move to Australia where I can work at the Australia Zoo with the Irwins. All my life I have loved animals, and for some reason, Australia too. It fascinates me. I think I would genuinely be happy there while saving animals. Moving to Australia is a big dream, and so is becoming a veterinarian. The only thing that’s going to get me there is my education and optimism.

I think the definition of optimism can be defined in many different ways. Optimism, to me, is finding the good in any situation. It’s turning a negative circumstance into a positive lesson. I’ve been taught optimism through multiple life lessons. Teachers have taught me how to turn anything into a better situation. It’s all about my mindset, and how I think about life. If I didn’t find the positive in life, where would I be? Optimism is what is keeping me healthy. I wouldn’t be able to function without it. It helps me get through my entire day. Optimism is what’s going to help me reach my dreams because no matter what, I will find the good in any situation. I will be able to turn anything into a positive lesson.

I have always been a good student, so I am looking forward to what college has in store for me. I am excited to learn about all of the complexities of becoming a veterinarian. The science behind animals is intriguing to me, but with all of that science, comes very hard classes. With a positive mindset, hard work, and dedication I am hopeful to finish veterinary school to pursue my dream.

I plan to pursue my dream by attending Mizzou to study veterinary science, and specialize in exotic animals. College is going to be expensive and without a doubt time consuming. However, I know that if I spend the next few years dedicated to accomplishing my dream, I know I will reach it through being optimistic. By being optimistic, this will help me to drive myself to do great and amazing things with the rest of my life.

Fiona Giddens 

Rolla High School

Fiona Giddens

I played competitive softball for ten years. In the game of softball, I could strike out every at bat and have a batting average of .000 or I could hit ten line drives and have an average of .000. At a three day showcase in Oklahoma, where there were hundreds of college coaches, I hit screaming line drives into the infield. These hard-hit balls were caught one after the other, but I never allowed myself to put my head down. After seven long, hard fought games I ended my weekend with a batting average of .000. When I took off my dirt filled cleats and squeezed my gear into my bat bag, I walked back through the complex and knew I had the choice to either be upset about my low average or be happy that I was “tough out” and made the opposing teams work hard during all of my at-bats. Although I didn’t hit a home run 270 feet into the parking lot, I did put the ball in play which allowed my teammates to score or advance to the next base. When I started playing sports, coaches always said, “This is more than a sport. This teaches you life lessons.” As a ten year old girl this was hard to understand because I was playing to have fun, there were no college scouts in the stands, and I couldn’t see how the sport was impacting my future. After I hung up my cleats for the last time, I understood what softball taught me. Softball gave me an outlet from all of the hardships in my life; it taught me how to use my voice and become a leader; it taught me to look for solutions for conflicts; and most importantly, it taught me to always be optimistic.

After I decided to pursue other endeavors, I realized that I use skills I learned on the softball field in life. I don’t throw a ball from home plate to second base on a daily basis, but I do look at situations in my daily life with optimism. The optimism I learned through the sport has impacted my life most directly during the pandemic. During my junior year of high school, students everywhere were taken out of school for an “extended spring break.” Spring turned into summer, and I watched the end of my junior year disappear. Losing the connection to my classmates and teachers was especially hard knowing that I would soon be going into my senior year with no clear path for the future. In August, my classmates and I came back to school fully masked with limited after school activities and social interaction. As seniors, my friends and I lost the pep rallies we had been looking forward to for years, the last homecoming, and cheering for the teams in the student section. I was walking to my first hour class and passed the spot my friends and I sat every morning for the past three years. No one sits there anymore; in fact, there is no longer a bench there. I am optimistic that things will change and one day there will be another tight-knit group of kids sitting on those benches and making memories my friends didn’t get to.

I will be attending the University of Missouri-Columbia next year. I am optimistic that by next August we will be able to be fully seated in our classes, with no limits on social gathering, and be able to make new memories. Throughout the pandemic I had times of feeling hopeless where I couldn’t see a future without masks and social distancing. I am optimistic that we will be allowed to see our classmates' faces, sit next to each other in class, and participate in group projects without the fear of being quarantined. I never saw myself wearing a mask to sit in my English class, watching my best friends lose their senior nights, where their high school accomplishments should have been celebrated by friends and family, or wondering if I would be seated six feet apart from my classmates at graduation. Without the optimism instilled in me at a young age, I would have a difficult time seeing a bright future. I know that despite the new obstacles I face everyday I will still be able to reach my dreams.