Grand prize winner Kieran Halloran (SFS '14) reflected on losing his father, a firefighter, in the September 11, 2011 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Halloran's essay, which was selected for its honesty and its emphasis on dialogue, focused on how he was inspired by those who chose to live as men and women for others. "While this experience fostered the greatest amount of anger and hatred that I have ever felt in my life, it has also, through a roundabout way, fostered the greatest motivation to love and serve others that I have," he wrote in his essay. Halloran was inspired to enter the competition by his involvement with the President's Challenge initiative. "The initiative has really helped me to look at my faith and other peoples' faiths in a whole different way," he wrote in an email.
Stephen Patrick (COL '13), the second place winner, along with Colleen Tapen (NHS '13) and Vivian Ojo (SFS '14), who tied for third place, wrote about how their faiths, community service work, international travel and future goals have influenced their Georgetown experiences.
"I really liked [the essays] because they show the diversity of what Georgetown is," said Melody Fox Ahmed, a member of the judging committee, which was comprised of students, faculty and staff. Ahmed, who serves as assistant director for programs and operations at the Berkley Center, said submissions by students who did not have a real faith tradition or who primarily reflected on their community service work still reflected the university's Jesuit ideals. "The work is the same. The humanity is the same. Being a man and woman for others is still the same," she said.
Tapen, whose essay is entitled "A Non-Believer Making a Difference," said that while she has not attended official interfaith events, her roommate, who is deeply involved with interreligious dialogue, motivated her to apply. "Through my essay, I wanted to convey that a Hoya need not be religious to make a difference in the world. That all Hoyas, regardless of creed, can be men and women for others," Tapen wrote in an email. Patrick, who only recently began attending interfaith events on campus, enjoyed reading the other winning essays. "The other winning essays were really good and I learned something from all of them," he wrote in an email. "I think the contest was really successful as an exchange of ideas and experiences."
Winning essays are available on the Berkley Center's website. The essay contest is one of several activities intended to address the university's chosen theme for the President's Challenge — combating domestic poverty and improving educational opportunities. The first-place winner received $500, while the second-place winner and two third-place winners received $350 and $150, respectively. The university will continue to plan interfaith and service-based programming as part of its year-long commitment to the initiative. Programs are being organized by Campus Ministry, the Center for Social Justice and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
The national challenge, which the university accepted in September, is supported by the Department of Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The schools deemed the most successful will be recognized by the White House in spring 2012. Because there were no video submissions by the initial deadline, that portion of the contest will be continued in the spring semester. The White House has asked the university to send the video winners to be featured in the national initiative.
This blog entry was submitted by writers for The Hoya, a student newspaper at Georgetown University. The original article can be found here.