NYT Essay Contest Winners Feature New Milford HS Students


Ariel Altinbas, Co-Editor

 In December 2017, the New York Times announced a new essay contest for students worldwide, ages 13-19, to connect and apply what they are studying in school to the world today. Entrance in the contest required an essay of no more than 500 words describing the connection that was made, either on a personal, more individual level or in a group of up to five people. Results of the contest were announced on February 22, 2018, and out of the more than 1,200 submissions, The Learning Network released a list of the works of 50 students who either won, were runners-up, or honorable mentions. Of those 50 students, three of them, Nathan Davidov, Jeric Duro, and Shane George, are from Mrs. Westbrook’s AP Literature classes.

Nathan Davidov’s essay connects Othello and Desdemona’s relationship to a New York Times article titled “10 Ways to Love Better,” identifying the faults in the characters’ relationship. Nathan chose this topic because he felt that “a lot of us in high school, we have those [same] faults within our relationships” and observed that Othello’s actions serve as an eye-opener for people to reflect upon their own actions and relationships. He said his chosen article “denoted Othello’s obsession with Desdemona and how we should accept our own insecurities and not try to push them onto other people.” When asked if he thought that his essay would be selected, Nathan said “No, not at all,” and said, “I was pretty happy, but I was stunned. I thought it was a mistake” after learning the news. Nathan’s message to everyone is to “keep writing.”

Jeric Duro’s essay explores the question “Do more principles make us more vulnerable to manipulation?” He wrote about Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, with inspiration from the Air Force Academy incident in which racial slurs were posted on the doors of African American students in the academy, ironically, by an African American cadet. Jeric compared Iago’s betrayal of Othello by discussing the betrayal that occurs not by our enemies, but by those we consider comrades. While writing his essay, Jeric said he was “focused more on how can I get this idea out of my head and onto the paper” and initially wasn’t even considering entering it in the contest. When Mrs. Westbrook announced his name as one of her students who was chosen, he said, “I was very shocked. Mrs. Westbrook was congratulating me and high-fiving me, but I was still doubting it because I didn’t believe it. How could my essay be chosen?” Jeric’s advice for anyone tasked with a writing assignment or participating in a challenge similar to the NYT challenge is “when you’re focusing on writing, whether you’re entering a contest or not, it’s most important to work on just getting your idea onto the paper and just letting it flow and be as much of your own as possible.”

Shane George’s essay discusses sexism in Venetian society through the eyes of Emilia, Iago’s wife, using Harvey Weinstein as an example from modern society. Shane focused on Emilia because he “thought she was sort of like the feminist voice in Othello. She calls out Iago and Othello and all the other men for using her and all the other women.” He chose the topic of sexism because it’s a “very modern issue” and because “TIME magazine had just released their cover for Person of the Year and it was every silence breaker.” He felt Emilia speaking out and “breaking her silence was comparable to those [modern] silence breakers.” While writing his essay, Shane said, “I honestly wasn’t even thinking about the contest. I just wanted to write something Mrs. Westbrook would be proud of.” When he found out he was mentioned as a runner-up, he felt very honored. “I was really happy that they chose my essay among so many other options,” Shane said. He felt his talents were displayed well through his writing and also heaped praise upon Mrs. Westbrook by saying that “it also shows a lot about Mrs. Westbrook that three of her students were mentioned.” As for Shane’s final message, he said: “I just want to acknowledge Mrs. Westbrook for being an amazing teacher that allowed our creativity to be cultivated.”

When she found out three of her students were on the list, Mrs. Westbrook was surprised. At first, she thought “maybe one or two winners” would have been chosen by the end of the contest. However, as students were writing, she said that “it was apparent from the originality” that her students would do really well in the contest and she felt “the selections were very organic to what the kids thought. We had 40 different perspectives of one book.” Mrs. Westbrook believes in her students’ abilities, and when asked if she thought so many people from her classes would’ve been recognized by the New York Times, she said: “I expected a good result but I just didn’t expect this result.”

Congratulations to all 50 students whose essays were chosen as either winner, runners-up, or honorable mentions by the New York Times, and to Mrs. Westbrook for teaching and inspiring three of our own!