2019 Contest Winners

#UMassDBelieves | Class of 2023 Provost Essay Contest Winners

ABIGAIL J. SOARES | 2019, THIS we BELIEVE 1ST PLACE ESSAY WINNER

I Believe in Becoming Who You Want to Be 

 I believe you are who you choose to be. Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that are derived from the opium in poppy plants. I remember learning about opioids in 5th grade through the drug abuse program (D.A.R.E) offered at my school, but my young mind did not yet know how a topic that seemed so unfamiliar and irrelevant would completely alter my life as I grew older. Drug abuse seemed to be something surreal to an eleven year old. I refused to believe something like addiction would ever pertain to my life or that it could not only interrupt, but steal the life of someone so profoundly important to me. 

I was twelve when I lost my mother to the unforgiving grasp of opioid addiction. I was angry, astounded, and rattled to the core about how something that once seemed so foreign and impossible could cause not only my mother’s life to crumble, but mine and my sisters’ as well. I wasn’t only trying to comprehend what addiction was, but how I could change my life in a positive way from this experience. 

My mother’s choices hurt in a way I didn’t know was possible, and I was resentful towards my own oblivion. How could I have been so ignorant to what was going on right in front of me? She spent her days high and absent from our lives. Prescription painkillers were her drug of choice, something I never realized could be so dangerous until it was too late. I picked up her slack and helped my sisters through anything and everything I could. Despite the overwhelming sadness and disappointment that swallowed our lives, having to cope with her addiction at a very young age strengthened me to overcome any obstacles and in turn gave me wisdom beyond many of the children I was surrounded with.

Some days, it was as if we had switched roles. I would spend my time cooking, cleaning, and cleaning her up after her binges. I had no choice but to grow up at an accelerated rate. I had to not only take on the role of my own mother, but I had to guide my sisters as well. Because of this, I was able to gain a very strong sense of responsibility at an early age. This strong sense of responsibility has stayed with me and is evident in numerous aspects of my life. I am grateful for the way this horrible situation has pushed me to be dedicated and succeed in school, sports, and life in general.

 I knew my mother’s drug addiction and absence from our lives didn’t mean her children had to be steered off the path of success. I felt it was now clear that I was meant to dedicate my life to helping others and recognizing red flags of people who need help. After realizing my purpose, I became absolutely dedicated to my education in hopes of one day entering the medical field and fulfilling my dreams of using the life I was given to impact the lives of others. I immersed myself in subjects such as drug addiction, psychology, and anatomy. I know I can’t change the past or my mother’s decisions, but I hope to change the lives of others who still have a future ahead of them. 

The good experiences in my life have helped shape me into who I am as a person, but the bad ones also have made me compassionate, strong, and dedicated to everything I do. I hope to one day help others and spread the message that everyone is absolutely capable of success no matter what their background is. I will never let anything hold me back, and most importantly, I will pursue what I love and put meaning into everything I do. You are who you decide to be, regardless of any influence from others.

Zoe Diana Plante | 2019, THIS we BELIEVE 2nd PLACE ESSAY WINNER

Ownership

Mine:a possession, a descriptor, a word of sentiment, or a word of control?

I was yours. Your Object. I was not in control. You owned me. You swallowed me whole.

My life was centered around yours.

Ownership can be a twisted thing in a relationship. Not only physical ownership, mental ownership too. Branding me with your kisses, your sweatshirt, and your idea of how I should appear. I was brainwashed to believe that you were incapable of wrongdoings. Because you provided me with “unconditional, true love.”

Once you reeled me in with flattery, I was hooked. Then you contrived my happiness from your constant affection and agreement. You had me at the snap of your fingers, and you made everyone else in my life disappear. You gaslighted me so that I felt guilty and at fault for your lies, affairs, and abuse.

I was powerless.

Oh how you could do anything you wanted to. And after you lowered my self-esteem with your back-ended compliments and comparisons. I felt devoted. Why? Because you “loved” me. Thus I was indebted to you with my life.

My old life had vanished and once I realized that what you were doing was abnormal, I wanted out from your trap. You discarded me, abandoned me, left me emotionally scarred. I was consumed by insecurities, paranoia, insomnia, isolation, depression, self-depreciation, loneliness, and a lack of trust. 

Then the stalking began. Phone tracking, vandalism, slashed tires, tailgating, property damage, and reputation damage had me horrified. When I finally met your gaze,you stared emptily into my eyes; right through my shaken soul with no remorse.

But I made it out of your web. You could not keep me trapped forever. I am not your prey anymore. I am mine now. 

I have learned that you do not need a partner. There is no missing puzzle piece. One person is already complete. However, I found it hard to replace empty space with my own happiness. There was a hole in my life; for he had taken up all the space that my close friends once filled. Most people (even good friends) did not understand what had happened to me and blamed me for being isolated from the rest of my peers. But I have learned that it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is meant to be in your life. 

Falling in love with someone else is so much easier than falling in love with yourself. I am still trying to accept myself. To own my imperfections and flaws instead of trying to change my appearance for another person. Self-love is a tough journey. I remind myself that: It is important to know that everyone deserves love and no one should feel uncomfortable in their own skin. Growth is not necessarily immediate, and patience is required to blossom into the person you strive to be. I try my best to avoid seeking validation for my existence. I want to be enough for myself and no one else. I want to believe in myself.

Michelle Ciaramella | 2019, THIS we BELIEVE 3rd PLACE ESSAY WINNER

Reminiscent

Family has a different meaning to each person who hears the word. Family is not only blood, it is a bond. I believe that family is made up of the people we choose to support us and love us no matter what. Family is the unbreakable bond and endless laughter that we share. When I was young I had one brother and my parents had recently been through a divorce. At the time I thought my world was ending and nothing else mattered to me. 

Nine years ago, all of that changed. My mom met her current boyfriend (soon-to-be husband) in 2010. As a kid, I thought that I could never accept this man as my dad. Along with this news my mother also told me he had two kids, who at the time were two and three years old. The age difference and the thought of sharing everything was appalling to me. I didn’t give the three of them the time of day. 

Flash forward three years and my youngest brother is born. Never did I think that a baby, crying and screaming, would in any way HELP our situation. But here is where I realized that I was wrong. Being the oldest, I was responsible for babysitting all four of them. Through countless games of Monopoly and hide and seek, we formed a bond. I finally stopped seeing the kids as “my mom’s boyfriend’s kids.” I stopped seeing them as annoying or as a burden. I finally saw them for what they are; they are my siblings. 

When I was thirteen, I faced the worst challenge in my family life yet. I found out who my real father is and that my dad didn’t want to deal with me anymore and “since I wasn’t his, he didn’t want to fight for me in the divorce.” This led me to blame myself and I felt as though I was worthless. If it wasn’t for my stepdad and siblings, I would probably still feel that way. However, I learned quickly that they DID want to be in my life and my stepdad even saw me as his own. He said this to me even after my awful attitude towards him and countless times telling him that he would never be my dad. 

It wasn’t until two years ago that I started to build a better relationship with my stepfather. As I made my way through high school, he came to every softball game, chorus concert, and award ceremony. He fully supported me in every decision that I made and became somebody whom I could trust with anything. I would not have a trusting, friendly, and supportive relationship with him if I had not chosen to set aside my anger. When I finally opened up to him is when I realized we are a family. These are the people that will forever stand by me. I wouldn’t trade the world for the bond that I have with my family today. 

I find it funny that only nine years ago I refused to accept this truth. Today, my sister cries at the thought of me going off to college, and my dad screamed and cheered me on as I walked across the stage at graduation. The person I am today has been completely shaped by the wonderful people that make up my “family.” Every time I think that I am alone or that I am struggling, I can look back and see my family is right there, cheering me on. Through the hatred and the hardships, love prevailed and my family bonded like glue. Life may never be easy, but I am confident that I’m not facing it alone.  

#UMassDBelievesClass of 2023 Provost Contest Honorable Mention
Hannah MArgaret Ross | 2019, THIS we BELIEVE Finalist

I Believe in Diversity

I believe that if we judge people based on preconceived notions or their outward appearance, we are hindering our own ability to have a well-rounded exposure to different people in life and further perpetuating inequality. If we can put ourselves in situations with people of different upbringings, ethnicities, religions, and views, we will be able to strengthen our understanding of the world. 

At the end of my senior year, I spent a month interning at a Jewish preschool and am now working at their summer camp; I am not Jewish. By working there, I have learned to strengthen my faith and beliefs, while also expanding my view of what religion means. Some of the women I work with only wear dresses, long sleeves, and wigs because they believe it strengthens their connection to God, while others believe that the clothes they wear are irrelevant and their actions are what determine their relationship with God. Nonetheless, the overwhelming sense of community is never lost and that is something I wish to expand further into everyday life.  

I spent my four years of high school volunteering for a group working on domestic abuse in my town. I met and learned about survivors of all different races, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations.  Each person’s story opened up my eyes in one way or another. In my senior year, I went to the annual candle vigil held at the YWCA in my town to honor those we have lost to domestic abuse. I had been to this same vigil during years prior and each year they have a survivor speak about their experience with domestic abuse. This year the speaker told a very moving story. She talked about many struggles that resonated with those in the room, but one point she talked about that particularly stood out to me was her husband’s threats to report her to ICE. She was Hispanic but she was also a United States citizen. He was aware of this but used her race to help maintain power and control over her. He believed that just because of her heritage reporting her to ICE could affect her citizenship. What made this such a powerful story for me to hear was her fear. This is a prime example of perpetuating inequality. I am Caucasian. If someone threatened to call ICE on me I would not be afraid because I was born in the United States and I am a legal citizen here. And although she is a legal citizen of the United States, because of her race or nationality, she was fearful.  

My understanding of the life I live is broadened by learning from those with different life experiences. Each person’s story is a teaching moment and a chance for us all to close that gap on inequality. Scientists know that diversity within a species is what increases that species chance of survival because of genetic diversity and evolution. People are no different. We need diversity to thrive.