Winning Essay by Devin F. from Texas attending University of Alabama
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Sheldon Vaughn has a personality that draws you in like a magnet. A booming laugh, mile-wide smile, and politeness few people expect from their first glance. Upon seeing Sheldon, one would question how a six-foot three athlete would serve as an inspiration for a girl who barricades herself in the newsroom. It isn’t me projecting an identity I wish I could have. It’s not me saying "oh, I wish I were popular" or "oh, I wish I was an athlete." Sheldon serves as an inspiration to me because of his genuine personality he hides behind his confident demeanor.

We became friends because he thought taking journalism would be an easy class to keep his GPA afloat. Being the only two seniors in the class, we gravitated towards each other. Four years of being in similar electives and having mutual friends allowed us to establish a bond that we had never thought of starting previously.

Sheldon has inspired me to flower into the individual I never knew I had the potential to become. He was the first person to tell me directly that I deserved better than the friendships and relationships I had settled for. He was the first person to recognize a fire and future in me. I was perfectly content settling for what made me comfortable, but he told me to pursue what genuinely made me feel unbridled joy.

Sheldon has contributed a new layer to me. I understand that this sounds like a cliché, but he opened me up to new ideas and possibilities. He challenged what I deemed right. He got on every last one of my nerves, but I would not be the outgoing, outspoken individual I am without him.

I know I am not the only person to feel this way. His positivity and kindness landed him a place among our senior superlatives, but he has contributed to such a bigger picture.

In a conservative, white-majority school district, Sheldon has been a shining example of destroying stereotypes. Not only is he star basketball player, but he is one of the most knowledgeable people I know. He understands how the world functions and has an incredible sense of his place within its structure. Sheldon is not a number on a jersey. He is not another statistic for white people to comment on. He is profoundly kind, deeply empathetic, and beloved beyond measure.

Many a student comments on the fact that Sheldon has never known a stranger. Cheerleaders, vaguely racist Ag kids, administration, athletes, and newspaper girls alike love him. He brings together all corners of the school, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Sheldon Vaughn has brought out the best in me. The fire. The spirit. The hope. He brings out the best in everyone. For those contributions, he will always be cherished and championed by the community and me.

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