Thirteen students from Eden Prairie were recently recognized for their outstanding submissions in the Eden Prairie Optimistic Club essay contest.
The annual competition held in February invited students to write about “Who is an Everyday Hero that Brings Out the Optimism in You?”
The essays were divided into three categories based on the students’ age groups: Elementary, Middle School, and High School.
EPLN is reprinting below the essays written by Harini Senthilkumar and Kenny Evers, both from Eden Prairie High School, and Hannah Foote, a student at Eagles Heights Spanish Immersion.
Senthilkumar’s essay was the overall first-place winner and will be forwarded to the district level for judging alongside other Optimist Club winners in the DMM (Dakotas, Minnesota, Manitoba) District.
Foote won first place in the Elementary category, while Evers came in second place in the High School level.
Lily Shusta, a student from South View Middle School in Edina, was awarded first place in the Middle School category. However, Shusta did not want her essay reprinted.
Grandmother’s wisdom inspires student’s passion for sustainability and optimism
By Harini Senthilkumar
Growing up, I spent summers with my paternal grandmother who visited us in America from the state of Tamil Nadu, India.
Everything about my Paatti (grandmother) feels special: her neatly combed hair, soft voice, charming smile, and hand-woven silk sarees. When I was in fourth grade, she gifted me an antique wooden carved game board that was handmade by her father. Her eyes sparkled as she explained the history of the game it was designed for — a game called Pallankuli.
As my Paatti peeled open a bag of rattling cowrie shells to play, I peered over the board with curiosity. It wasn’t the rustic game pieces or even the game strategy, though, that most captivated me, but rather the plethora of stories she shared during the game highlighting her religious sentiments and existential insights. Some of these conversations included her experiences with serendipity and how her belief in a higher power has gotten her through the adversity of losing my grandfather. Conversations like these made me realize how young I am, and how much wisdom one can collect over a lifetime.
She once asked me about my aspirations in life and the legacy I wanted to leave behind. Working with my parents to translate more complex phrases into Tamil, I described how I aspire to use my power as a human being to contribute to taking care of our planet and preventing further human-caused damage, through either sustainable policymaking or environmental science. To my surprise, she was able to connect with what I was saying, describing the severe destruction of our planet she has witnessed over her lifetime and encouraging my dreams of helping save it.
My Paatti inspires me to be optimistic by her faith in my generation’s ability to prioritize sustainability and reverse the deep-rooted damage of human action on the planet.
I had forgotten about my conversations on serendipity with my Paatti until my 12th-grade English Literature class. My teacher introduced me to the “alter ego” of serendipity: zemblanity; believing that an undesirable event occurred for a specific, negative reason. I wondered, then, if every event could be classified as either serendipitous or zemblanitous; my teacher explained to me that it is much more subjective than that. She described her philosophy of actively seeking out and noticing serendipitous moments and encourages all of us students to practice this. Every day, she asks us about serendipity we noticed in the last 24 hours; her cultivation of an optimistic environment has transformed my outlook on life.
I further explored the discussion of serendipitous events with classmates in my Advanced Broadcast Journalism class. The class features a weekly news network, which we collaborate to produce. The most transformative aspect of taking this class was the shift from classrooms of like-minded students to a mosaic of varied ideologies. In such a diverse group a single word could spark disagreement, skepticism, revelation, affirmation, and criticism. Whether brainstorming together to create nuanced news reports for the show or getting to know one another’s beliefs, witnessing and exploring such differing views enriches my everyday learning experience.
Our conversations surrounded religion, philosophy, mental health, sexuality, and other critical issues, and they often shaped our news content. As the relationship between divine intervention and serendipity was brought up, I was curious as to what optimism meant to my atheistic classmate.
My premonition that optimism generally coexists with a belief in a higher power was disproven during this discussion. As an atheist, he views optimism to be part of his own growth mindset, not necessarily a religiously affiliated ideal. I learned that regardless of one’s belief system or spirituality, a positive mindset is what’s essential to practicing optimism.
Nevertheless, optimism is not necessarily a sole question of who; it is also a question of what.
Beyond my experiences with people like my grandma, English teacher, or journalism classmates, the greatest everyday hero that brings out my optimism is nature. Nature has an innate ability to connect all creatures regardless of beliefs. All it takes is a stroll outside, birdwatch, or breath of fresh air in nature to evoke the optimism that the world around us can bring. With the multidimensional, long-term damage us humans have done to the environment, its persistent ability to survive the damage is a beautiful thing. The people who are working to preserve and nourish Mother Nature give me optimism that we will bring back the selfless, serendipitous world my Paatti once lived in.
Lessons from my father’s journey: Choosing optimism in the face of adversity
By Kenny Evers
You might be surprised to know that the most optimistic person I know had a terminal illness.
Growing up, my father was more than just a parent. He was my hero, my role model, and the person who taught me the true meaning of hope and perseverance.
Seven years before I was even born, my father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating illness that slowly robs its sufferers of their ability to move and communicate. Despite the prognosis, my father never let the illness defeat him. Despite a life expectancy of only 2-5 years, he battled it for 19 with a courage and strength that continues to inspire me to this day.
ALS symptoms started in my dad’s hands. After struggling to work with these symptoms he decided to retire. He could still walk and talk but he could no longer type or do anything with his fingers including gripping a pen, holding utensils or buttoning a shirt. My three older brothers were all in grade school at the time but I was a toddler. While he was devastated by his illness and prognosis, he embraced the opportunity to become a stay-at-home dad and spend his days with me.
My father and I shared a love of sports, especially baseball. The Minnesota Twins were our favorite team, and watching games together was a bonding experience that has lasted a lifetime. While he had lost the use of his fingers, he learned to operate the TV remote with his feet so that we could watch ESPN’s Sportscenter together every morning. He spent countless hours entertaining me and instilling in me a love for sports that remains with me to this day.
With four boys in the house who participated in sports, my dad had the opportunity to watch a lot of games. When my brothers were younger he was one of their coaches but due to the progression of his illness, he was never able to coach me. Nevertheless, he was always watching from the sidelines, arranging private lessons and offering encouragement and advice.
He wanted to attend every game even when that meant arriving in a wheelchair wearing diapers and being fed with a feeding tube between innings. Near the end of his life, he could no longer clap or cheer but we knew he was there in the stands watching the action. He was always our biggest fan. He was always so gentle and knew the perfect things to say when I had a rough day at the field. When I didn’t make the top team one year he was quick to comfort me and helped me see the bright side immediately. He was somehow always right and he always took an opportunity to make someone’s day brighter.
My dad drew his inspiration from his faith. As the years went by and he became wheelchair-bound and unable to speak clearly he was given a computer with eye gaze technology. This allowed him to operate the TV remote with his eyes and to communicate with friends and family with Facebook posts, e-mails and texts.
At this point I was in grade school and with no one at home with him except for his caregiver, he spent his time composing inspirational Facebook posts and wrote messages to those going through adversity. While he could have spent his days in doom and gloom he was always positive. He chose to be happy and to spread happiness to others. I’ll always remember his smile and the twinkle he had in his eye when he tilted his head, gave us a look and called us out on things we needed to do better.
My father’s journey taught me that there is no choice but to be optimistic in the face of adversity. When things don’t go your way, you have two choices. You can focus on what has gone wrong or you can embrace what you have left. The love and support we received from my dad even though he was wheelchair-bound and had no ability to do anything other than to love and provide emotional support to others will always be a testament to the power of hope and perseverance.
Even though my father is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. His positive attitude, determination, and unwavering spirit have left a lasting impact on my life and have inspired me to always look for the good in others and in the world around me.
The example my father set through his battle with ALS, and the optimism he instilled in me will always be a source of inspiration and hope for me. He was and always will be my everyday hero.
How my dad’s love and support bring out the optimism in me
By Hannah Foote
Who is an everyday hero that brings out the optimism in you?
Well, that is an easy question. My amazing, awesome, cool, popular, smart, funny, happy, sweet, comforting, caring, loving, cherishing, helpful, worth a trillion dollars professional golfer dad brings out the optimism in me.
My dad is not the coolest person to everybody, but he’s 10, maybe even 11, times cooler to me. When he gets mad, he walks away before he says too much (unlike me). He got rid of a mean dog just to keep me safe. He wore a mask when he had COVID. He laughs at my jokes even if they are not that funny. He always plays with me if I ask him to. He cooks delicious food. He never ever says no. If I am sad, he always comforts me and is always willing to talk. He buys me stuff if I am nice. He will always stand up for me. He lets me go to his golf simulator league sometimes. He cares about what I care about. He is passionate about the food and hobbies I like. He has like a million billion trillion kajillion times 50 friends. He is patient. If I were to say one word to describe this super awesome dude, I would say loving. And nice. And respectful. Oh, and thoughtful. Did I say caring yet?
One example of when he brought out optimism in me was when I was learning to ride my bike. He taught me to keep going and keep trying even when it was hard. I would say I was about 4 when I learned to ride my bike. I got so many bruises my sister could probably count twenty. I gave up the moment that I got a scab and had a hissy fit. But my dad was like, no, you need to learn from your mistakes. So, I rode wobbly down the sidewalk and my dad had me up and going in half an hour. Now I like biking in the summer because it’s fun to ride with my sister.
My dad taught me to be brave and try new things. It was at a local theme park. I was riding kiddie rides with my sister when my dad asked me if I wanted to go on the tall, big kid green roller coaster. I had to hold myself back because it looked double the size of the kiddie rides. Again, my dad wanted me to try. So, I thought I would have to hang on to my father for dear life, but I actually could put my hands up. Now whenever we go to that theme park, I have to beg my parents and sister to go first on the tall green roller coaster before the little kid train ride.
Once in a difficult situation, he helped me by supporting me. One time I came home from preschool, and I saw my mom’s purple tank top covered in Chunky soup on the hardwood floor. Wait, Chunky soup? Eew! Only it was not soup. It was barf. I also saw it on my sister’s diaper and sunflower shirt. I went upstairs and to my surprise, my mom was bathing my sister in greenish and yellowish water. I assumed it was from the Chunky soup. I asked my mom what happened over my sister’s wailing. She told me that my sister got sick. My dad came home, and he gave me attention (I was 3, and I needed attention) while my sister got attention from my mom. It was helpful because at the moment I was hesitant to be around vomit.
Every year since I was in first grade my dad has put in the effort to coach our basketball teams. “Our” meaning me and my sister. I quit after about one or two years and then my sister started. From what I have seen on every single Saturday morning, he treats every single player nicely. Like last week, one of the players had a bad shot and of course, my dad cheered her on and she scored. That taught me to cheer people on during difficult times and they will have a good day.
One time at golf I saw him have a bad hit and later his friend got a hole-in-one in a golf simulator. But my glorious, good-looking, well-behaved amazing awesome father did not go all cranky pants, throw his left-handed golf club with a smack, swear some bad words or bounce the poor golf ball on the fake grass or the cool indoor golf course simulator. He congratulated his friend and tried harder and got a good par.
My dad has taught me to be proud of people and hope they do their best. His heart is the size of the sun.
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