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By Wendy Horbinski – Coordinator, Laws of Life

For me, sharing the 2024 Laws of Life “Most Compelling,” “Exemplary,” and “School Honoree” essays on our Character.org website Thursday was the exciting culmination of a project that engulfed an entire school year.  But as I posted the outcome of the judges’ evaluations, I paused to consider the hours of hard work from students, teachers, school leaders, and volunteer judges around the world. It prompted me to reflect on the opportunity that the Laws of Life Essay Contest provides to all involved…which seems much greater than the outcome of a list of names on a website. 

This year, 4th -12th grade students from 20 countries in addition to the United States submitted essays responding to the prompt, “Write and reflect about a core value that is important to you, and why.” Entries came from an entire school, a grade-level, interested single students, after school programs, and even home schools. All of the entries were read and scored by volunteer judges who narrowed them down over three rounds to name the “Most Compelling” essays. 

Being in the coordinator role, I have the privilege to interact with students, parents, teachers, coordinators, and volunteer judges from all over the world. I appreciate learning how the various entities approach their participation in the Laws of Life essay contest, and am constantly asking questions to expand my understanding.

Schools that prioritize character education in their mission find the laws of life essay contest to be an authentic opportunity for students to document how they are specifically putting school and personal core values into action.  David Young, Writing Lab Director at Ad Prima Charter Schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, shared,

“With a strong emphasis on Character Education at Ad Prima Charter School, the academic experience of participating in the Laws of Life essay contest helps our young scholars to reflect on the core values that resonate with them the most and to describe the many ways in which they are currently leading by example in our community.

At Ad Prima Charter School, we have incorporated the annual contest as a school-wide writing project for scholars in grades 4th through 8th. We have found that the contest itself can have a tremendous impact on academic growth and character development. Most notably, the essay contest helps many students worldwide recognize their unique talents, positive attributes, and endless potential.”

Julian Marius Hermanos, a 4th-grade student at Southville International School and Colleges in Las Piñas City, Philippines, endorses Young’s statement by sharing his own experience writing a Laws of Life essay.  

“Before doing the essay, I knew about the stories of my relatives. But while I was writing it, that is when I understood all of them used perseverance in their lives. I didn’t know I could write a lot of words until I made an essay.” 

Hermanos’ parents also noticed the impact of the opportunity to write a Laws of Life essay on their son.  

Jackie Hermanos, mother of Julian Marius, shared her observations. 

“For me, it was the first time I saw my son in a different light. I was surprised by his wisdom and I realized how much he has grown. I saw him patiently revising his work so many times while his teacher guided him. I am amazed by his creativity, humility and work ethic. And it is all thanks to his teacher, Ms. Khristine Santos, who keeps encouraging him.  Because of her, my son discovered a lot of his potential. 

Julian Marius’ father, Julius Hermanos, was also surprised. He added these insights about his 4th grade son,  

“While he was working on it, I didn’t know he learned from the stories that we tell him. He was reviewing for his midterms and a coding competition, but he made time for the essay. He would constantly revise it and prioritize it over playtime. I knew then that he was passionate about it. I also learned he can express himself using a computer rather than using freehand.” 

Parents were not the only ones to recognize the growth of their students during the course of developing a Laws of Life essay. Khristine Santos, teacher at Southville International School and Colleges, echoed the impact of the opportunity for schools and students.

“I think participating in the laws of life essay writing program is a great way to show the world what kind of students Southville nurtures and produces. Our students’ laws of life essays are our testaments to how Southville is making a difference and that we remain committed to creating upstanding and bright students. 

Writing a Laws of Life Essay provided an avenue for my students, Marius, Julian, and Audrey, to learn more about themselves. The initial versions of their essays were really good. They included dictionary meanings and cited the lives of famous people. As they improved their essay, they discovered that they can use their own experiences. They learned that they can be used to elaborate their ideas further. They realized that their own stories are as equally captivating and inspiring as the stories of prominent figures.

Over sixty volunteer judges worldwide would agree with Santos that the student stories were certainly captivating and inspiring. Retired educator and judge Cindy Kinsley shared, “The students’ essays demonstrated an amazing understanding of the basic core values of life.  The essays were heartfelt, compelling, and well written. As a volunteer reader, I felt privileged to learn how the next generation is living out their core values.  Our world will be a better place as a result of their strong character.” 

To summarize the Laws of Life opportunity vs. outcome, this is what I learned:

  • Students gained the opportunity to solidify their value system by telling their story to an authentic audience
  • Families gained the opportunity to learn which core values drive their children 
  • Teachers gained the opportunity to coach their students to find and develop their voice in the writing process 
  • Schools gained the opportunity to share student values to build deeper connections within their classrooms, campuses, and communities
  • Volunteer judges gained the opportunity to be enriched and inspired by the next generation of world leaders. 

As in any competition, only a select few can be identified as “Winners.”  However, I would like to argue that all of us involved in the Laws of Life essay contest leave as Champions –  “Champions of Character!”

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