Grand Prize Winner
essay music painting poetry graphic photo story
Jurors' Awards


Third Place

Peace in the Middle East
by Aadil Bhatti
14 years old, Illinois

Ray was never really accepted at his school. Ever since his first day, when he told everyone his heritage, no one really wanted to be his friend. He had always been ignored, always been the punch line of everyone's jokes, always the subject of ridicule. He himself was ashamed of his heritage, and never was surprised by the treatment he received. He never smiled, he never spoke unless he was spoken to, and he never attempted to make any friends. He was one of those kids who everyone talks about, in a bad way.

Outside of school, he had no interests other than soccer. He was a good player, but never received any credit from his teammates or coach. His father was deployed in Iraq, and his mother was barely able to pay the rent for their tiny apartment. His only friend in the world was his German Shepherd, Raja, who gave him all the affection he desired from real friends. This is the way Ray lived his life ever since his father was deployed.

One day one of his teachers assigned a presentation about their fathers. Ray saw presentations as a waste of time, and they usually created more friction between him and everyone else, but he decided to use this presentation to finally get some attention. For two weeks, Ray did nothing but eat, sleep, and work on his presentation. He didn't do any of his other homework, barely played soccer, and barely played with Raja. He put forth his best effort, because he wanted this presentation to be absolutely perfect.

Finally the Day of Reckoning came. He was the first to volunteer, but was nervous as anything. His palms were sweaty, and his heart was quaking inside of his chest. His knees were so wobbly that Ray was afraid of falling. Students were slouching in their desks, looking anywhere but at Ray. Who cared what the weird kid had to say? For the first few seconds, his mouth was sealed, but no words escaped him even when he opened his mouth, but then he thought of his father, brave, gallant, able to tackle any job assigned to him. He couldn't be afraid of a little performance.

Ray stood up straight, smiled, and began his presentation. He explained to everyone how his father was deployed in Iraq because of his dislike of the Taliban, and how he soon became squad leader because of how well he knew the land. As he explained about the negotiations his father had made to prevent combat, about how he always helped a fallen soldier, how he never, ever did less than his best, the students began to look up. As the presentation ended, everybody cheered. After class, Ray was invited over to other students who had fathers in the military. He had peacefully shown everyone that not all Iraqis (especially Rayhan Javed Sharif) were violent, and that people should not be judged based on their race.


next page