Former Elk Ridge Student Wins Essay Contest, Naming Teacher Her Hero
May 01, 2016 12:50PM ● Published by Julie Slama
Former Elk Ridge Middle School student Liz Stay recently won an essay contest in which she named her teacher, Jannifer Young, as her unsung hero. Here, they are being recognized at a banquet on April 7. — Jannifer Young
It was English teacher Jannifer Young’s birthday when former Elk Ridge Middle School student Liz Stay, who wasn’t aware of the celebratory day, walked in her former classroom with the good news that she won an essay contest. If that wasn’t sweet words to her former teacher, the next line was.
“It’s about my unsung hero; it’s about you,” Liz recalled saying to Young. “She freaked out and started crying.”
Liz, once a shy student who said was uncertain of her writing abilities, entered the Bryan J. Miller Essay Contest, which was created to recognize community members who impacted others through selfless acts. Liz and four other high school sophomores who wrote their 250- to 500-word essays were chosen from 180 entrants as winners.
On April 7, Liz received a trophy and $1,500 college scholarship where her parents, Young and her family, joined her at a banquet and Young and other silent heroes were recognized.
“When my daughter was in eighth-grade, she was new to the middle school and had a difficult time,” Rebecca Stay said. “It was Mrs. Young who showed she cared and give students the commitment and acceptance. Her commitment to students’ inclusion is incredible. Mrs. Young feels like this is recognition of Liz’s writing, but for Liz, it’s an honor for a teacher who took time to really help her.”
Liz began her essay with the memory of being new: “You sit down at a random desk, diverting your eyes from your classmates, praying you can disappear. It’s the first day at a new school, all around you there are already pre-formed cliques and friendships. How could you ever compete?”
Then, she identifies Young as more than a teacher of literature and writing.
“She gave me real life advice when I was struggling with my self image, my relationships with others, and sparked ideas that would last a lifetime,” Liz wrote. “That is why she is my, as well as so man others, silent hero. She’s given us new ways to create, to write, and most of all to dream.”
Young remembered learning the news.
“I was completely shocked,” she said. “It’s hard to believe I had that much impact on her. I asked ‘Are you sure? Why me?’ I remember reading it out loud to my mom and I choked up.”
Although Liz has been out of Young’s classroom for two years, she periodically stops in to let her know about her writing, most recently a poem about a relationship break-up was printed in “Teen Ink.”
She also invited Young to attend a musical she wrote a script for based on “Nightmare Before Christmas,” where she directed it at her current school, American International School of Utah.
For Liz, she couldn’t believe she was one of the essay winners.
“I got a phone call out of the blue after one of our rehearsals. I had a melt down on the train. Everyone was staring at me,” she said.
Liz said she didn’t imagine being a writer. In fact, her mother remembers Young telling her daughter: “You’re a writer. The world needs you to write.”
She remembered talking to Young early on in class about turning in a poem to share with the class with a pseudonym on it.
“I was very nervous. There I was and all my peers were talking about it. But there were nice comments and that made me feel more confident,” she said. “I definitely will keep writing. I can’t imagine my life without it. I have Mrs. Young to thank for that.”