Best of: Writer's Choice

"Hidden Struggle" by Mary Damko, Westerville, OH

My heart is beating uncontrollably, and my mind is racing so fast I can’t think straight. It is the summer before my junior year, and I am attending a tennis clinic run by my high school coach. As I walk up to the courts, I recognize some players who I know are more experienced than me. My body tenses, and I begin to regret my decision to show up to this clinic. These people are much more talented and athletic than I am; I don't belong here. I'm just going to embarrass myself, and everyone will wonder why I am here.

The need to perform perfectly had consumed me entirely -- in all areas of my life, but especially in the sport I love -- and these nagging thoughts were precisely what made it impossible for me to do my best. An hour into the clinic, I missed the same shot three times in a row. My coach, unable to hear my critical and hateful internal monologue, yelled at me. After that, there was no recovering. I was paralyzed by humiliation and fear. On the verge of tears, I searched through my muddled thoughts for an excuse, and then I left as quickly as I could. I didn’t go back for the rest of the summer.

This feeling of panic that displaced me from reality had become all too familiar to me. It was during my first year of high school that I began to notice myself getting very nervous around people. I had never been particularly outgoing, and I knew that feeling insecure wasn't unheard of for a teenage girl. So I dismissed this feeling as simply being “too shy,” and I criticized myself for worrying so much about what people thought. Soon, however, this nervousness and overthinking turned into something more. Irrational, negative thoughts had begun to cloud my brain constantly, and I couldn’t help but accept them as facts. My sophomore year, I maintained a 3.9 GPA, had a very successful varsity tennis season, and was surrounded by a supportive family and trustworthy friends. However, almost every night that year, I cried myself to sleep. I managed to keep all of my anxiety bottled up inside of me during the day, and, exhausted when I got home, I would have constant worries, depressed thoughts, fits of anger -- and many, many tears.

I finally realized that this was a problem I could no longer ignore, and that I wouldn’t be able to fix it on my own. My parents helped me find a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, and I began meeting with her once a week. Eventually, I was officially diagnosed with “social and performance anxiety,” which confirmed what I already suspected. Putting a label on this feeling that had been beating me down gave me some relief because I could now acknowledge that this was a real thing, and that it was not my fault. My therapist helped me process what was happening inside my mind and taught me ways to guide my thoughts in a calm, positive way.

Anxiety has played a huge role in the past few years of my life, but the effect that it’s had on me has not been entirely negative. I truly believe that overcoming this struggle in my life has made me a much stronger person. The anxiety itself stems from positive qualities, including my attention to detail. While I used to obsess over things being perfect, I feel that I can now see details clearly and try my best to do thorough work at everything I do. This attention to detail also applies to interacting with other people. Being more aware of my thoughts and emotions helps me to be very empathetic and sensitive to others. Acknowledging the fact that everyone could have an internal battle, makes me much slower to judge others than if I hadn’t had my own struggles.

"untitled" by Andrew Richesson, Mason, OH

With the 2016 presidential election approaching, we should consider the process through which the president is elected. Many people are ignorant of the fact that the president is not elected by a simple majority vote. Instead, our founding founders added a wrinkle. They wrote in our Constitution that Electors from each state equal to its number of representatives would choose the president. All the states today allow the people to vote on what the Electors should decide. Today, many people think that this system is outdated and should be replaced with a simple majority vote. Let us consider what the founding father originally intended when they made the states the ones to choose the president.

Our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and many others, feared that the important decision of electing the president should not be left in the hands of the common people. Instead they made sure that only qualified people would choose the president. De Tocqueville also says that it is extremely dangerous to let the people govern. However, is it smart to have the president elected without the people’s full opinion? And should we even use an outdated Electoral College today?

Presidents should be elected by a simple majority vote instead of the Electoral College because it is undemocratic, often ignores minorities, and hinders the purpose of government.

First, we should abolish the Electoral College because it is undemocratic since an individual's vote can carry more or less value depending on which state he or she lives in. States with smaller populations usually have more electors per capita than states with larger populations. Because of the unequal distribution of representatives and especially because states possess two senators no matter its population, the vote of a resident of smaller state can weigh more than the vote of a resident of a larger state. In any democratic system each person’s vote should count the same as everyone else. But because of our unusual system of electing the president by using an Electoral College, someone’s vote could be worth three votes compared to someone else’s one vote. For example, New Hampshire has a population of 1.32 million and has 4 electors. California has a population of 38.8 million and has 55 electors. It may seem that a resident in California has the advantage over the a resident of New Hampshire, but the votes of those in New Hampshire bear more weight than the votes of those in California. Someone’s vote in New Hampshire is worth roughly one three hundred thousandth of his elector’s vote. But a voter in California would only get one seven hundred thousandth of an Elector’s vote. This means that someone’s vote in New Hampshire carries more than twice the weight of someone’s vote in California when it comes to choosing which way an Elector will vote. And since the votes of each Elector are all of equal value, a voter in New Hampshire has twice the say over a Californian in who will become the next president of the United States. Since this system of electing the president is undemocratic because the value of votes differs from state to state, we should abolish the Electoral College.

Second, we should abolish the Electoral College because in many cases the minority of a specific state is completely ignored. In most states, the Electors are under law to cast all their votes for the presidential Candidate who receives the majority of popular votes in that state. So even if the minority comes very close to the majority, those people’s opinions will not be counted overall when determining who will become the president of the United States. When combined with the majority of other states, the minority in that state could actually count for something and turn the tide of the entire election. If we did not have the Electoral College, each individual would have an equal say in who becomes president. If a state was 51% Democratic and 49% Republican, the state’s Electors would not cast part of their votes for the minority of the population and thus leave the 49% of the population completely out of the presidential Election. To fix this problem, we could make the Electors vote in proportion to the choices of the people. The problem here is that some people’s votes will have more power than others because of the unequal distribution of Electors per person. Our other option is to abolish the Electoral College completely so as allow the minority a fair chance in electing the president. For example let us say, hypothetically, that Ohio has 2 million Republicans and 9 million Democrats, and Texas has 14 million Republicans and 13 million Democrats. Under the Electoral system, if these were the only two states in the union, the republicans would overwhelmingly win with Texas’s 38 Republican Elector votes to Ohio’s 18 Democrat Elector votes. But look closer at the figures. In this situation, the imaginary US has 16 million Republicans and 22 million Democrats. The minority in Texas actually turned the tide of the entire vote and became the majority when it united with the majority in Ohio. But under the Electoral College, it is possible for the minority to be completely overlooked. In a democracy, everyone should have a voice in the government. And since our current system prevents this, we should abolish the Electoral College.

However, many object to these arguments by saying that the purpose of the Electoral College is to give more power to the states since they are in charge of choosing who the Electors will vote for. Many say that, because the states have more power, the Electoral College puts a wall of protection between the people and the central government. Also many people, especially during the years of our founding fathers, believe that government should not be trusted with the common people. So would not the best choice be keep the Electoral College in order to give more power to the states? This sounds like an ideal situation except for the fact that the all the states currently do try to represent the wishes of the people by letting the people vote. The Electors almost always follow the popular vote in the state. Thus, the state is actually taking away its own voting power and giving it to the people. Therefore, the Electoral College does not necessarily give more power to the states.

In conclusion, we should abolish the Electoral College because it is undemocratic and often ignores the minorities. The current system makes each the weight of each individual's vote differ based on what state he or she lives in, and under most states, the minority is completely overlooked because the Electors cast all their votes for the majority in that state. The key feature of a democracy is that each individual’s vote should be counted and that every member’s vote carries the same weight. Also, the Electoral system allows for the possibility of the majority of the people losing to the minority because of the unequal distribution of Electors. And since in a democracy the majority should always win over the minority, the Electoral College is undemocratic and should be abolished. Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address that the United States is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Therefore, we can ensure that this will always remain the case if we abolish the Electoral College in favor of the truly democratic majority vote.

"The Greater Near North Community" by Melanie Ziaziaris, Chicago, IL

Notes from the Directors

The writer’s choice category allows you to determine for yourself what shape your final portfolio selection will take. Whereas the first three categories have somewhat more specific requirements in terms of genre and approach, this section affords the writer more freedom. We hope you will take full advantage of this opportunity to get creative and play with genres/mediums and forms to fulfill your unique purpose and reach your intended audience. You are welcome to choose among a variety of print and digital genres or even create your own genre(s). By including the following pieces, we hope to help you gain a better understanding of how you might approach the writer’s choice category.

For the writer’s choice selection, Melanie Ziaziaris chose to include a website exploring the community of Near North in Chicago. Melanie’s piece employs various visual, textual, and audio modalities to compose a nuanced reading of the community. The use of multiple modes of composing allow Melanie to provide an in-depth analysis of the complex community and enables her to look at the community from multiple perspectives.

In her piece “Hidden Struggle,” Mary Damko discusses her experiences with anxiety in a narrative format. Her use of specific, vivid details and internal monologue lend weight to her story and allow her to connect with readers on an emotional level.

Andrew Richesson takes a more argumentative approach to his writer’s choice piece, which questions the United States’ use of an electoral college. Richesson’s piece has a clear focus and takes advantage of the topic’s timeliness right before the 2016 presidential election. Although persuasive, this piece differs from the research essay by focusing more on personal opinion than source-based research.

In all of these cases, students chose writer’s choice selections that demonstrated their abilities as composers in categories that did not fit into the first three areas. By contextualizing the reasons for their choices in their reflective letters, evaluators were able to understand the importance of these unique pieces and understand how they rounded out the talents of each writer.