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Student essays: 'This I Believe'


February 5, 2021

For those who disparage or simply don’t understand the younger generation,

maybe this will help. Please enjoy the essays on this page and next shared by

Cloquet High School seniors in Jason Richardson’s college prep English class

last semester. The prompt was NPR’s “This I Believe,” Richardson said, adding that

some students “put their hearts into this.” We thank them for sharing.

Pine Knot News staff


Beating your brain

By Logan Dushkin

I believe in mental toughness. In sports, look at the greatest — Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in basketball or Tiger Woods in golf or Michael Phelps in swimming or Muhammad Ali in boxing or Wayne Gretzeky in hockey or Serena Williams in tennis — they all have one thing in common: mental toughness. This is what separates them from good and the greatest.

I love sports, sports have been a way of life for me, a passion. In track, I ran the open 800 and 4x8 relay. I won my first 800 race in the indoor meet at UWS. I ran the 800 at just about every meet, improving my time with each race. I didn’t lose a single 800 until the section final. I was a sophomore and the best middle distance runner in the area, not because I was the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, but because I was mentally the toughest. I anchored the 4x800 and in sections, the four of us wanted to go to state. When I got the baton, I looked up and saw the guy I needed to catch about halfway done with his first lap. Half a lap is a lot to make up, to catch a person, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. I was the youngest out of the four of us and smallest; it didn’t matter. I told myself “you are catching this guy no matter what.” I got the baton and ran, slowly making ground to catch him. At one point, I remember my legs burning, being out of breath, and my head telling me to just stop, but I told myself “no, catch him, you got more left, you are not tired, not even close.” I could also hear my coach, teammates, and fans cheering me on helping me not give up. I passed him just after the last turn on the last lap, and we headed to state.

Being mentally tough doesn’t just help you succeed in sports, but in life as well. Being mentally tough gives you control over your brain. For lots of people, the brain controls them. The brain doesn’t want you to do anything, it wants you to conserve energy. When you gain control over your brain, you are able to do way more than what you thought you could before; you become more successful. Your brain may tell you “no, don’t go workout, you are tired,” however with you in control and not your brain, you can say “no, I am not tired, I’m going to workout.” This goes for everything in life. You may not want to get up early and go to work, your brain is what is telling you this. Being in control can eliminate this, and with that, you will be able to overcome it and go to work.

Having mental toughness means you control what you do, not your negative thoughts, not your energy conserving brain. I believe in mental toughness.


The power of one

By Emma Swanson

I believe that it takes one to turn a life around. One sentence to make you feel badass, one person to inspire, one hour of deep thought to realize, one moment to stop you in your tracks and make you want to change.

Many of my groundbreaking moments in my 17 years have been caused by ones. One phone call after lunch in October showed me how precious life was. My dearest friend had almost been gone. This one set my life back for a while, it humbled me and took away my sense of stability. I became more grateful, thoughtful and forgiving. The next February, it took me one quote by Drew Barrymore in ninth grade to get over my middle school breakup. “F*ck it, let’s dance,” she said. This singular quote jump-started my new mindset about life. I started dressing, talking, and acting the way I wanted to. I started to become myself and it was beautiful.

As a sophomore, it took one person in a room full of people to set off my anxiety. He had no idea that as one person he held that power. But he did. And I would find my world flipped upside down so often because, sometimes, we didn’t know how to be ones together. It only took one group chat of nine members to find months of fun. We would laugh and sing and drink sparkling grape juice until the sun rose the next morning.

The following year, one study hall with one person in that one group chat brought me one of my best friends. She alone has been one of the most supportive, empowering and understanding people I have ever met. It was that one hour every day for a semester that showed me another world of possibilities. It was like walking on earth every day, just staring at the ground and then finding out the sky was above you. Another notable one from that year was my patient chemistry tutor. He would help me rain or shine, basically reteaching me entire lessons after every class. He showed love and patience and that one class tore me apart and left me traumatized by homework.

This last year there has been one word motivating me. Graduation. I find myself without drive quite often. Sometimes all I need to reset is one hour alone to think and regain ambition. I can’t tell you how often I have felt like one, hopelessly alone, surrounded by darkness and despair. Sometimes it feels that way for only one day, but other times, it can be one week or even one month.

In the midst of this, one late-night dance session with my sister, one movie night with my chemistry tutor boyfriend, one Facetime with my study hall best friend, can remind me that sometimes, it takes more than one.


Finding home

By Willow Towslee

Imagine, it’s a hot and sticky summer day in the middle of July, and you’re nine years old again. You get out of the car, sprinting to your grandparents who are sitting in their lawn chairs in the yard, waiting for you to arrive. You give them great big hugs, then you get your dog and start playing fetch with him, he runs away from you, towards the ball you threw. You then notice the freshly mown grass, grab your brother and decide you’re having a grass fight. As you’re running around, your brother is throwing grass at you while you try to avoid it. You’re running and dipping down to pick up grass and hurl it at your brother running behind you. He continues to miss, as you hit him every time. Eventually, you’re both so tired that you lay down in the sweet-smelling grass, and take it all in. You notice there are a few bumble bees buzzing around aimlessly, floating from flower to flower. The birds are chirping, and the dandelions are as yellow as the sun. After a while, you are called inside for frozen flavored sugar; you choose a blue one.

As you eat your popsicle, you feel an overwhelming sense of being at home, even though you’re not at home. You’re at your grandparents, your favorite place in the world. You feel at home, and loved, and you have a warm fuzzy feeling that occurs as soon as mom parks the car. The feeling of home is comforting and you always have so much fun out at ‘nana and papas,’ your favorite place on earth.

Feeling at home is so important for little kids, and even adults. I have the sense of home at my grandparents, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Not everyone has a home to go to, but they might have a place that feels like home, and that’s what is important to me. If you have a place that feels like home, that you can be comfortable at, that you can be yourself at, that’s all that matters.

I believe everyone should have a place like that to feel at home, even if it’s not at home, somewhere where you can feel at home.


Capture the moment

By Piper Jaakola

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

Oftentimes you’ll hear this phrase as you’re unwittingly glancing in the direction of someone. My grandmother taught me a different meaning to this six-word expression.

You can always catch my grandma carrying an abundance of things, some of the most important being cough drops, a Canon disposable camera, and her huge heart. She photographs everything, permanently encapsulating the moments she’d never want to forget. But at some point in your life — whether you’re 18 or 80 — you’ll begin forgetting things at a much more frequent rate. With a photograph, it makes the task of forgetting hard to accomplish. Chronologically ordered photo albums, lining the several bookshelves of my grandmother’s home, contain not only thousands of pictures, but thousands of memories to go along with them. As a kid, I would look through these albums, pointing out different photos to my grandma while she told me the story behind each one. To this day, she continues to reminisce on her “glory days,” looking at all the pictures stuffed into each album. Without them, she wouldn’t recall as little as half of these events.

Photos visually help our mind to take us back to an event we had forgotten about in our short-term memory terminal. Preserving memories of good times throughout your life stimulates happiness and positivity throughout yourself. My grandmother’s photos were positive memories a majority of the time, but every few hundred photos you’d run into a sad occurrence. She’d often explain having these photos incorporated into the albums was for “self-reflection and growth,” to see how far you have come since a low point in your life, and how it has helped shape you into who you are today. Not only do photos help your own memory of an event, but telling the stories behind them to younger generations helps the memories continue to live on throughout the years to come.

As we grow — changing in age and mindsets — we often forget what our life once was. Andy Bernard once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Although we may not ever know exactly when our “good old days” are, we do know a photograph will help us remember them. So take a picture, it will in fact last longer.


No one knows

By Maya Fairbanks

I believe that no one knows what they are doing. Everything is made up. People act like they know what they are doing but, in reality, they are just as lost as everyone else.

I act like I know what I am doing in life. I’ve had a plan since I was in kindergarten. I act like everything I do is planned and everything that happens is expected. I had a simple plan: graduate high school, go to college, become a teacher, buy a house, have the perfect family with whoever I marry. But, when I planned this, I didn’t really know what mental illness was. I didn’t know that depression and anxiety ran in my family. I didn’t know that before the age of 18 I would be on medication to help me deal with depression and anxiety. I didn’t know that I would be diagnosed with PTSD by the age of 13, and then diagnosed with it again at 17. These threw all of my plans up in the air. I didn’t expect to even make it through 11th grade for a while, let alone graduate. My plan didn’t go how I expected.

But I’m here. I have no idea what I’m doing anymore. But, I do know that I’ve been accepted into college and that I’m on track to graduate high school. I don’t know if I am going to be a teacher or a psychologist. I don’t know if I’m going to move out after I graduate or if I’m going to live at home and help my family. I don’t have a plan anymore. I don’t know what is going to happen.

I think everyone has experienced something like this. You have a plan, but something happens and then the plan is destroyed. Maybe it was a breakup with the person you said you were going to marry. Maybe it was the death of a parent. Maybe it was mental illness, like me.

I believe that no one knows what they are doing because that’s exactly what I’ve heard. No one knows exactly what they’re doing and that’s OK. It may feel like you are the only person who is lost and scared about life, but you’re not. Everyone else feels the same.


The art of being by yourself

By Kashmir Mercer

I believe that it is OK to be alone. Because in being alone, you give yourself the gift of peace. You learn how to make yourself happy without the need of somebody else. You learn to enjoy things without being forced to please others.

This year I find myself spending an unexpected amount of time with someone new, a person I never fully knew until I was forced to be in a room with them — myself. For the first time in my life, I’m learning to embrace these moments of solitude and to be OK with being alone.

Whether spending time with ones we love or sitting in a classroom with people we go to school with, we’re always surrounded by people. Even our smartphones prevent true isolation, with friends remaining just a touch away. But what happens when you leave high school or your friends begin moving away to start their own new beginnings? As we grow up our days aren’t promised to be filled with the friendships that school provided us as children.

During this pandemic, many have to stay home and are unable to meet their friends and family. Maybe being alone during this time is particularly painful but isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often when we’re surrounded by other people, we’re expending a lot of energy. Trying to keep others happy, soothe their egos, read their emotions, and all the other factors that come along with regular interaction. Being alone you gain a greater perspective of your own emotions and an opportunity to self-reflect.

When you’re alone, you set boundaries of protection. It doesn’t mean you are afraid of pain. It doesn’t mean you can’t get out of your comfort zone. But it’s for you to dodge recurring troubles caused by being too open, too exposed to insensitive people. You’ve become wise enough not to let everyone trespass your borders because you know not everyone has the best intentions for you. In being alone, you build high walls and guard yourself.

Alone is virtually the same as independence. No matter what you go through, you count on yourself the most. Being alone does not necessarily mean you are lonely. People tend to think that being alone directly correlates to loneliness. Loneliness is a negative state of mind where you are always longing for something to fill the void. Alone suggests a state of peace, it is about being in solitude. It is just you, your surrounding, and your thoughts. You can enjoy and appreciate the beauty of those things in your life.

Even if you’re a social butterfly, there are times when being alone is just inevitable. It’s a part of life, and it’s important to learn to not only be by yourself but to be comfortable being alone with yourself.


Always take the long way

By Cody Tibbetts

I believe in always taking the long way. They say in the end it’s not the destination, but the journey that makes it worth it — whatever “it” is. The shorter, easier path may get you to your desired result faster, but, then what? Is it just onto the next? The truth is that all of life is a journey in itself and the only way you are going to find peace is embracing the moment and living for yourself.

When I was younger I would hunt with my dad and he would stress the importance of observing your surroundings and knowing what’s around you. He would stress how you can never go too slow when searching for your prey, because when you move slowly and start to notice more, things can seem to come to you. This same philosophy should be applied to life. Taking your time in life and doing what is right instead of what is faster helps you know yourself better and helps you figure out what you’re made of. It would be a shame to realize that time is our most valuable resource when you are old and your life is behind you, although it’s never too late. It is obvious you can’t always be happy, but it certainly helps to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the little things. Taking the long way is also a lesson that sports have taught me. There is really no shortcut to success. The only way you’re going to get better is consistently showing up and going to work.

No matter what you are doing, make sure to be in the moment and — when given the option — always take the long way.


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