Winning Essay by Delilah S. from Missouri attending Southeast Missouri State University

Winning Essay by Delilah S. from Missouri attending Southeast Missouri State University

School has always been challenging. Living with social anxiety disorder, I struggled to fend off my fears. Panic attacks left my ears ringing incessantly, clouded my mind, darkened my vision and turned my face snowy white, devoid of color. I desperately wanted to be “normal”, but with such anxiety, it seemed impossible. Like other young girls I started my day dressing confidently; layering myself with colorful bracelets and barrettes. But as the bus edged closer, my confidence slipped away. Slowly I removed any accessories that drew attention.

It’s painful reliving these moments. But I consider myself lucky because I had an incredible African American woman who guided me through this fundamental time, my kindergarten teacher, Miss Johnson. When I look back at photos of us, I realize I owe a lot of who I am today to her.

When I arrived at school each day, tears streamed down my face as I begged my parents not to leave. Miss Johnson would grasp my hand, set me on her lap and wipe away my tears. She’d say, “Delilah, don’t let your fears control you now! You’re stronger than they will ever be!” She gave me the reassurance, strength, and drive I needed each morning.

Miss Johnson was the motherly figure I needed to get me through the day. She warded off my fears by keeping me actively engaged. Her lessons on how to care for plants and animals brought out my curiosity in science and inspired me. She showed me it was possible to interact with others and advocate for myself without adverse consequences. She helped me see beyond myself, reversing my fears by cultivating a passion for our planet and those living on it.

She let me know I mattered by pulling me aside to ensure me she was there if I broke down. On rough days when school was too much, Miss Johnson helped me see the good things all around me. This motivated me to focus on the positives instead of my fears, which I continue to do today.

There are days when I still struggle. But I think of this wonderful woman who empowered me to look beyond myself and prove that I was stronger than my fears. Miss Johnson revealed that life wasn’t a scary, isolating place, but a place filled with wonder and magic. She laid the foundation on which I would grow.

After all these years, I contacted Miss Johnson and disclosed the effect she had on me. She said my “kind words…brings tears to [her] eyes. Teaching has become difficult. Lately, I’ve questioned my abilities in making an academic and social impact in student’s lives. Your words affirm I should stick to my passion and continue this ride until the wheels fall off.” In turn by reaching out, I hope I influenced her thinking, so that kids, like me, continue to be inspired and motivated to overcome obstacles in their paths and gain the confidence necessary to handle life’s challenges.


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