Public invited to see scholarship winners read essays
In the six years that Dr. Cynthia Paulis has been hosting the 500 for 500 Essay Contest, she has consistently been impressed by the Massapequa High School seniors who have submitted compositions every year. The 500 For 500 essay contest was started seven years ago when Paulis decided to do something when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling at the beginning of games when the National Anthem was being played.
The inaugural year’s theme was, “Why are you proud to be an American?” and last year’s question was “Why are veterans important to this country?” Since then, 10 students have received $500 scholarships. This year’s theme was “Why is it important for you to vote in an election?” This year’s competition kicked off on Veterans Day and the deadline to submit essays was Jan. 30, a date Paulis picked so this written challenge didn’t fall between the cracks during the holiday season. And while the contest normally averages about 22 entries, 30 seniors put pen to paper for this go-round. Suffice it to say, this batch of submissions moved Paulis.
“I was most impressed not only by the quality of the essays, but the level of historical research they put into each essay,” she said. “There was a clear understanding that the right to vote is a hard-fought privilege earned by generations before them. They also realized that in now turning 18, they are given this amazing power to have their voice heard not only nationally, but in local elections that have even more of an impact on them.”
Paulis was also inspired by the obvious preparation and compassion these essay-writing nascent voters showed in their written word.
“They touched on how few young people vote in elections,” Paulis said. “I was very moved on how empathetic they were in realizing they have the power to not only make a difference, but to speak for those who have been disenfranchised by not being able or capable of voting, but though illness, disability and race. It was very gratifying to see they realized that they are the future and if their generation doesn’t step up and vote, democracy can be lost and corrupt and inept people will be in charge.”
The response to this year’s contest forced Paulis to go with four finalists: Julianne Hisako Pulizzi and Brenden Joseph Debrosse of Massapequa Park and Danielle Kennedy Finn and Colin James Mushorn of Massapequa. As has been the case in prior contests, all four seniors will be asked to come out and read their essays before the final results are announced. This year’s ceremony will be held on Tuesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Library located at 40 Bar Harbor Ln. in Massapequa Park. The event is free and the public is invited to attend. Top winners each receive $500 and second-place winners (a first this year) will also receive a scholarship award amount disclosed at awards ceremony.