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Cloquet writers collect state honors in essay contest

Essays included, so don't stop reading!


November 15, 2019

Contributed photo

Three Cloquet High School juniors were recently honored for writing exceptional essays in the Best Prep Educational Forum Essay Contest. From left, are Brenna Mattson (fifth place), Benjamin Bauer (first place) and Lexis Gerard (third place).

While athletics and drama are often in the spotlight, three Cloquet High School juniors recently took centerstage for an academic endeavor, after placing first, third and fifth in a statewide essay contest.

Cloquet's Benjamin Bauer placed first, Lexis Gerard third and Brenna Mattson fifth in the Minnesota Best Prep Educational Forum Essay Contest. All participants were asked to respond to a prompt by fellow Minnesotan and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, from his book "Thank You for Being Late."

The prompt encouraged students to reflect on how we can be intentional and thoughtful people in our fast-paced world, a question stemming from Friedman's book.

CHS English teacher Jason Richardson submitted the entries after asking two sophomore classes write for the contest last year, after reading about 50 pages of the book.

The English teacher talked about the techniques that his students used, in Bauer's case extending a metaphor, something they'd recently discussed in class. He said he liked the way the contest asked students to structure the essay but also include creativity.

"Formulaic writing provides the base: the structure is needed," the teacher said. "But the creative aspect makes writing shine."

He was also delighted by what his students wrote. And he hopes that all of the students learned that "writing takes a lot of hard work and grit and stamina, and this is a microcosm for life."

Richardson told the Pine Knot about the Oct. 7 event, noting that the young writers were greeted by the St. Paul mayor, and then Bauer got onstage and read his winning essay to over a 1,000 in attendance. He then met the keynote speakers: Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, and Hubert Joly, CEO of BestBuy. Joly even offered him a job.

"It was a special night," Richardson said. "One English professor came up to me and asked, 'What's going on in Cloquet, Minnesota, to have writers like this?" I answered, "They read a lot in school."

The top 20 essay writers were honored in early October at a ceremony at the St. Paul River Center Grand Ballroom.

"It takes time and lots of effort to get our thoughts and ideas and beliefs on paper," Richardson said. "But once they're on paper, they are there forever. The writer grows as a person. Writing an essay or a narrative story is not the same as sending a quick tweet. There is no process in a tweet. But writing a story or an argument is a process, a difficult process."

He said Will Weaver, a writing friend from Bemidji, once told him: "Writing is a process, not a miracle."

"The three Cloquet kids put a lot of grit into their essays; they put a lot of "process into it," Richardson said. "They read material, sketched ideas, revised, and peer edited. And the hard work paid off."

Essays by the students follow:

The Building Blocks of Community

by Benjamin Bauer/Cloquet High School

Faster. More efficient. No time. These are the trademarks of a successful person in our society. But is there time to pause, reflect, and think? We need to slow down and consider for a minute: what shapes us to be the people we are today? Is it the boundless realm of technology or the real, live, face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversations we share with people in our community? Perhaps both contribute to shaping our character and personal ideals, but talking over a phone shouldn't replace looking someone straight in the eye. Step back from the world of distractions and reflect on the community which has made you who you are today. How can we give back, improve, and make an impact on our community?

A community can be local, digital, or even global, but an effective community is cohesive. In the words of Thomas Friedman, "The country looks so much better from the bottom up." Much like a pyramid, our country and communities need an extensive foundation. Strong communities are built upon the unshakable foundation of hard workers and held together by the mortar of leadership. Communities need cohesive bonds so everyone is able to work together. Every person has a place and upholds the community. In a pyramid, every stone is laboriously placed and each is essential to the stability of the pyramid. Finally, the outer layer is put in place to make the pyramid look appealing, inviting, and polished. We polish our communities with feelings of inclusion and collaboration. A good community will look great from any angle, but all communities look best from the base up.

All members of a community can strive to support and become part of the foundation. A successful community is sustained by values such as trust, perseverance, and integrity. Take pride in your values. By caring and going the extra step, you could make someone's day or even week better. I am continually inspired by the values our cross country running community displays. After every race, rain or shine, we gather together to cheer on the last runners. Supporting all runners regardless of their team is important; we're shaping the next generation of runners to embody the core values of a community. Each stone of a community needs to be crafted and shaped to reflect the values important to that community. Every person who enters a community is a new stone ready to be crafted or an old stone waiting to be polished and added to the foundation. An inclusive community will support, work with, and look out for one another. All youth and young adults in a community deserve a caring mentor in their lives. Once a community reaches its polished state, there is only one option left: to expand.

A connected global community working together is now possible. We need to expand our "pyramid" globally. The interconnected base is growing, and each of us can be part of the base while contributing to the expansion of our knowledge. Previously, a vision such as this wasn't possible. Today our world is interconnected on a scale that allows for a global community-a community where the power of many individuals is combined in epic proportions and everyone is included. One of our biggest problems as a country is isolationism. With a base encompassing everyone, the impact we as humans could have for the better of the planet and ourselves is unimaginable. Anyone of us can make a difference. However, by working together as one, we can interlock to form the base a successful community needs. The "power of one" is huge, but the power of our global community joining forces is unstoppable. In this day and age, each and every one of us has the power of destruction and the power to uplift a community. Collectively we can make the right choice.

We need to think of future generations and what effect our actions will have on their world and community. Make sure your impact is beneficial to those around you. As Thomas Friedman asserts in his book "Thank You for Being Late," "I am built to think about my grandchildren. I am not a cheetah." We may not be able to keep up with the speed of technology, but we are wired to think about our children. Building a healthy community and world for future generations is essential. The building blocks are here; we need to put them in place.


by Lexis Gerard/Cloquet High School

While sitting on the lobby floor of the dance studio waiting for my class to begin, I couldn't resist people watching. I noticed several parents and dancers sitting next to each other captivated by their phones; I would have been on mine too if it had not been charging. I watched as a dad entering held open the door for his daughter and told a few parents to "drive safe." He sat with his daughter, tied her ballet slippers, re-clipped her hair, and still his phone was not in sight. I glanced at the other parents-still scrolling on Facebook-not paying attention to their daughters who were dismissed from practice. Here I was, with a "few moments of unplannedfor, unscheduled time" which gave me the opportunity to observe behaviors that would eventually inspire this writing.

In "Thank You for Being Late," Thomas Friedman addresses the differences between machines and humans. His answer-which includes words from Dov Seidman-was our ability "to form deeper and better connections" with others. When I first read that, I wrote it down in my notebook having aspirations of using it in this essay. What I originally envisioned changed after my observations at the studio. I noticed machines make humans impotent and unable "to form deeper. . . connections" that living in the moment gives you. The father without his phone was focused on his three-year-old until she went into class; then he was fully engaged in a conversation with another parent who smiled through its entirety. He spoke with a calming confidence that seemed to come with ease; I speculate he made a positive impact on each person, who will be able to recall his kindness during the following days. He simply smiled and nodded at me, and thus inspired this paper. A simple gesture can make a meaningful impact on many 1 people. It can be as easy as smiling at someone, holding a door open, or volunteering in your community. Big or small, anything that can put a smile on someone's face can make a positive and meaningful impact.

I have many role models in my life that I view as being thoughtful community members. When I think about them, I think about all the times they have lended a hand to whomever needs one. If someone needs a ride, a place to stay, a person to talk to, they will be there. They are aware of what is happening in their community and they volunteer as often as they can. Thoughtful community members can be found around every corner. They help make our community thrive by spreading smiles. They are the people who can put down their phones to live in the moment and form closer relationships with everyone they meet. Thoughtful community members are essential for every community to succeed. They spread awareness to other community members and help inspire other members to contribute to the greater good. My role models consistently volunteer and are the reason many people, including myself, have started volunteering.

Anyone can be a thoughtful member of their community and create positive impacts on others. I am beyond grateful to have so many great people in my community. They inspire me every day to continue on the path of being a thoughtful member of my community. I plan on volunteering and contributing positively within my community even more than I do now; I hope to get more of my family members and friends involved also. Helping others by volunteering is an easy thing to do that benefits everyone involved. When you help someone, not only does it make them appreciative and grateful, it is also gratifying. As a community we should strive in helping others and making each other feel supported. Everyone should feel as if their whole community is behind them: supporting them, helping them, loving them. Every day communities 2 take a step closer to reaching their own goals and becoming even more cohesive than they already are; they can do this by every small and grand gesture they receive from the people of their community. It can start with a smile and a nod and blossom into meaningful and impactful interpersonal connections. Through random acts of kindness, one person can strengthen and inspire an entire community.

Ten Minutes

by Brenna Mattson/Cloquet High School

In this generation we sometimes forget how to communicate with people if it is not via text or Snapchat. We forget to take time and slow down. Most of our lives are crazy busy trying to balance school, sports, relationships, family, work and just about everything else. In Thomas Friedman's book "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations," he stresses that when we have time, it is good to ponder one's thoughts and simply allow ourselves to slow down. As Friedman highlights, "When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops. But when you press the pause button on human beings they start" (4). When we allow ourselves to reset we become better people and community members. But when we don't allow ourselves to reset, we spiral downward into a dark place. A simple pause and a press of the reset button can go a long way. To me, these are the makers and breakers in a community.

After Cloquet junior and first place winner Benjamin Bauer read his winning essay to over a 1,000 in attendance, he got to met the keynote speakers: Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, and Hubert Joly, CEO of BestBuy. Joly even offered him a job. Contributed photo

After a long day of school, I stumbled into the Common Ground café ready to devour a club sandwich with no ham and extra mayo. When I ambled up to order, an elderly woman sitting all alone―reading a newspaper―caught my eye and I quickly flashed her a smile. While I was waiting for my order to be ready, she struck up a conversation with me. She asked me my age, and I responded politely that I was sixteen. After the usual awkward small talk, she started to explain her experiences as a young sixteen year old. She told me how she and her best friends from high school―fifty years later―still have coffee together once a week. As we continued our conversation, an older gentleman wearing a Minnesota Twins baseball cap walked into the café. With a grin from ear to ear, the lady introduced me to her husband. She then happily explained how they were high school sweethearts and are still very much in love. With each story, there was an immense sense of pride. About ten minutes later the worker handed me my sandwich, and I said my goodbyes to the sweet lady. As I was walking out I remember her saying "You seem like a very kind young lady; enjoy your day." As I opened the door to my car I could not stop thinking how pleasant and refreshing that was. I easily could have been on my phone for ten minutes waiting, but it was so nice to learn something new about a stranger. I hope when I am older to be the type of person like her.

Although these simple series of events were nothing out of the ordinary, they made me think. To be a thoughtful community member doesn't always mean grand gestures. Yes, those are great, but an impact can be made by something much simpler. A simple smile and a few quick words could brighten ones day. Everything about a thoughtful community member traces back to kindness. I did not do anything besides simply have a conversation and the lady was very appreciative for the kind words we shared. Although this conversation did not have to happen, I learned a lot about someone in ten short minutes. It made me slow down and reflect on my own life. I believe I crossed paths with this lady to remind me to take a step back. She was the epitome of a thoughtful community member. The little conversation made me feel good. And I now want to try and spread that same feeling to as many people as I can.

Visit Vision Pro Optical at their new location in the Lemon Tree Building at 900 Hwy. 33 S. in Cloquet.

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