The Winners of Our 2nd Annual Personal Narrative Contest (Published 2021) (2023)

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A parent’s illness. A first love. A new friend. Seven short, powerful essays from teenagers about meaningful life moments.

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The Winners of Our 2nd Annual Personal Narrative Contest (Published 2021) (1)

By The Learning Network

In October, we invited students to submit short, powerful stories about meaningful life experiences for our second annual personal narrative writing contest. Three months, 60 judges and nearly 9,000 entries later, we have selected seven winners, as well as 130 additional finalists, that stood out for their superb storytelling, moving messages and artistic use of language.

These 600-word essays offer us a peek into the lives of teenagers and the moments that have shaped them: a meal from a mother’s home country; a father’s terminal illness; a sexual assault; an unexpected first love.

And while these essays struck us because of their uniqueness, underneath they were stories that almost anyone, anywhere could relate to — stories about family and belonging, about claiming one’s identity, about seeing the world (and oneself) anew, about cherishing life in the face of death.

Below, we are publishing the seven winning narratives in full. We hope that, like our judges, you’ll admire the way they capture the reader’s attention with vivid details and voice and how they teach us something not only about the teenagers who wrote them, but also about the moments, big and small, that bring meaning to our lives.

Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the names of all the students we are honoring — seven winners, 13 runners-up, 22 honorable mentions and 95 more Round 4 finalists. Congratulations to all of our finalists, and thank you to everyone who participated!

(Note to students: We have published the names, ages and schools of students from whom we have received permission to do so. If you would like yours published, please write to us at LNFeedback@nytimes.com.)

Student Narrative Contest Winners

  • The Winning Narratives
  • Winners
  • Runners-Up
  • Honorable Mentions
  • Round 4 Finalists

The Winning Narratives

“Contraband” by Yana Johnson
age 14, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, S.C.

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Seated in opposing rows, we faced each other like child soldiers, armed only with well-prepared notes and hastily scribbled marginalia. I recalled my teacher’s debate tips: no straw man arguments, no logical fallacies. Mrs. Hutchinson’s gray acrylics drummed the metal of her Yeti as she gave instructions that hardly anyone heard.

“Be respectful, don’t go over your time. As you all know, the topic is immigration …”

With determination like ours, there was no chance of defeat. At least, that’s the mantra my team lived by; I was less certain.

A boy who barely stood four feet tall spoke first, using words bigger than his body. Statistically speaking … hypothetically … nevertheless. Staring into an imaginary camera above Mrs. Hutchinson’s bun, he held his hands over his stomach with the feigned grandeur of a TV anchor.

Soon after his opening argument, I took the floor. Although my opponent smiled as she shook my hand, her parting palm squeeze felt vaguely threatening. Brushing it off, I banished all fear of embarrassment and spoke. I was a pied piper, enticing listeners with a melody of facts and statistics.

“Emma, your response?” Mrs. Hutchinson prompted.

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“Look.” She clenched and unclenched her hands before finally holding them behind her back. “We can argue about this forever, but America is for Americans. There can be good immigrants, but they’re the exception, not the rule.”

Her words were a blanket of thorns. Worse than her words was the absolute conviction she spoke with; not a drop of uncertainty, nor an ounce of regret. I had never spoken with such certitude in my life.

“You have 20 seconds for a response,” Mrs. Hutchinson reminded me, leaning in with anticipation as if expecting me to lunge at Emma in a burst of outrage.

As a first-generation American, what Emma said simply wasn’t true. I wanted to make her re-evaluate her understanding of “American” because my Kittitian family members were just as American as my Southern family. I just wanted to say something. Anything. But that would have been an act of desperation, inviting a fate worse than death — humiliation.

I had spent my life dissociating myself from my lineage whenever convenient. With friends and peers, I blended in as an all-American Southerner who liked sweet tea and Chick-fil-A. With family, I pretended to understand sentences spoken through incomprehensible Caribbean accents and dug my nails into my palms trying not to cough up ginger beer. A cultural chameleon, I lived by way of camouflaging myself to my environment. But when one of my masquerades came under attack, which hat did I wear to speak? Would I even speak at all?

Being first-generation was something I was proud of, but as I returned to my seat having said nothing in my defense, I realized that was just a lie I told myself. I treated my heritage like contraband, to be hidden and hopefully never revealed at the wrong moment. For that, I was ashamed not of my identity, but of myself.

Buried beneath self-pity, I didn’t hear Mrs. Hutchinson declare my team the winner, and was only alerted by my teammates shaking my shoulders and chanting in celebration. Deepening my state of melancholy, I realized no one else was thinking what I was. To them, Emma’s words were a decent, albeit forgettable, argument. To me, they were salt in a wound.

We stepped in front of the desks to shake the hands of the other team. My opponent shook my hand for the second time that afternoon, just as energetically as before.

“Fun, right?” She smiled.

Wryly, I smiled back.

“Yeah.”

_________

“Peach Pie” by Elisabeth Stewart
age 15, College Station High School, College Station, Tex.

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When the phone finally stopped ringing and the house lay still with grief, I filled my home with the aroma of flaky pie crust and sweet peaches to mask the scent of worry that still lingered.

The weekend after the diagnosis, Mom had copied and pasted the same text to each concerned relative, old friend and college roommate: Jay was diagnosed with a type of early-onset dementia in April. We had an appointment with a neurologist in Houston last week. His condition is called Pick’s disease. We are going back in a few weeks for more information.

Then Mom put down the phone, rubbed her forehead, and suggested that we go for a drive.

I grabbed my newly-minted learner’s permit and started the Nissan Pathfinder we bought from our neighbors after Dad’s company confiscated his truck. On the interstate, we passed a fluttering banner with bold red letters: “Fredericksburg peaches, the best fruit you can find in Central Texas.” Mom slipped on a medical mask and went to negotiate with the vendor.

Now in our kitchen, peach juice seeped through the cardboard box onto the counter. I rinsed a ripe peach under the sink and lifted the fruit to my lips. Juice dribbled down my chin to my arm. The sweet smell diffused into the living room and pulled Dad away from the football reruns on TV.

“Oh! You got peaches?” His large stomach pressed into the counter as he eyed the fruit with childish glee.

“Here,” I handed him a green serrated knife. “We’re making peach cobbler.”

I showed him how to peel the skin off the fleshy fruit, run the blade around the seed, and loosen the peach halves to cut the juicy fruit. As I made pie dough, he asked questions: How long does it take to bake? How much sugar? Are you adding almond extract? How many peaches? What should I do with the seeds? I combined our efforts with a lattice topping over the bed of peaches, and then signaled Dad to open the oven.

Standing there at the counter, showing him how to slice and measure and mix in a calm, firm voice, I suddenly felt grown up. The summer had reversed our roles; now, I was the adult, wincing as the blade neared his fingers. Mom worked through quarantine, so I stayed home and cooked his dinner, washed his T-shirts and helped him make phone calls. When Dad asked the same question every night — “Are we eating inside or outside?” — I always gave him the same answer, unless the August heat decided to scorch the patio. I stayed up late thinking about him and anxiously monitored him like an overbearing caretaker.

That same day, long before the afternoon drive and peach cobbler, I had held my tears as I read the prognosis for Pick’s disease: four to 10 years, depending on how fast the damaged proteins overpower Dad’s brain. I decided then that I would be grateful for just four more years with Dad, enough for him to see me become an adult for real.

Once the pie crust shone golden through the tinted oven door, we gathered on the patio to eat and watch the birds. I savored the moment and the warm dessert before either of us aged further: silver spoons clinking in fiesta bowls, vanilla ice cream melting over the cobbler, both warm and cold and perfectly sweet, a memory to cherish in the coming weeks when we wouldn’t have the time for baking or long evening drives.

_________

“The Bottom of a Swimming Pool” by Annie Johnson
age 15, Dublin Coffman High School, Dublin, Ohio

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There’s solace in the bottom of a swimming pool, that’s what I used to believe. To me, there was nothing better than feeling the water fill my ears and fold over my head until my feet scraped the concrete bottom. The feeling of disappearing.

Through the lenses of my pink-tinted goggles, underwater was magical. The cracks in the tiling lining the walls, the disembodied legs kicking for stable ground, the sun overhead reduced to a few weak rays barely shattering the water’s surface — it all created such a sublime kind of picture. When it got dark, the lights on the sides of the pool would turn on, dim yellow circles to guide swimmers to the walls. They always reminded me of the glowing eyes of deadly sea dragons, able to devour anyone (even grown-up fourth-grade teachers) in one bite.

Even better, though, was the sound. In the open air, sound was too insistent. The noises of the pool all demanded your attention: the lifeguard’s shrill whistle, the smacking of tiny feet across the ground, the hundreds of voices demanding different things. “Can I get a —” “Owww! Quit —” “Stop splashing!” It reminded me of the school cafeteria, packed full of vicious kids: no rhyme, no reason, too loud to read a book in. But beneath the surface, things were quiet. The sounds that used to overwhelm me lost all their power, garbled and muffled. They intermingled with the sloshing of the water and the gentle blub-blub of air bubbles escaping my nose. It was not random, all the noises worked together to create a symphony. Harmony.

Perhaps the best thing about the bottom of a swimming pool, though, was that at the bottom of a swimming pool, I was alone. I didn’t have to worry about anyone splashing or kicking or shoving me aside. I didn’t have to worry about anyone making fun of my dumb bathing suit or my bug-eyed goggles. I didn’t have to worry about Mrs. Mills pretending not to see me when my hand was raised, or Sasha Grey’s friends giggling when I was the first to finish my times tables. They were all far, far away up on the surface. It was only me. Just me.

I used to wish I could live underwater. Mermaids didn’t have to go to school. Mermaids didn’t call other mermaids nerds or freaks.

But once, when I came up for air, I spotted a girl my age at the other side of the pool. We locked eyes before I went back under, just for a second. I didn’t think anything of it — girls like her usually didn’t want to be seen around me — until I felt a soft tug on my ankle, and I spied her next to me. She actually wanted to talk to me. She wanted to be friends.

So we talked. And I found out that she liked Pokémon and Warrior Cats just like I did. And we begged out parents to give us $3 so we could buy Popsicles, and we competed to see who could make the biggest splash, and when it got dark and the lights came on, we explored the depths of the pool together. She never once mentioned the scabs on my knees or the gaps between my teeth. She just laughed and said that she liked spending time with me. I liked spending time with her, too. I really did.

I didn’t spend so much time at the bottom of a swimming pool after that. How could I when there was so much waiting for me on the surface?

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_________

“Pink Paper Gowns” by Katin Sarner
age 18, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.

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I grasp my underwear and pull them down, watching the white fabric land around my feet. I am naked; exposed. I look across the room at the Pink Paper Gown, walk over, and unfold its perfect symmetry. I wrap it around my cold body and tie the plastic string around my waist. I sit on the side of the chair with two stirrups extending from the end, my feet resting on the cold wooden floor. For a moment, I wonder: How many other women have had to wear the Pink Paper Gown?

The short, kind doctor comes in and asks me to lay down. Though hesitant, I follow her directions; she is, in fact, the first person I ever saw in this world. She delivered me 17 years before. The last time she saw me, I was pure, innocent, unaware; my blue, childish eyes never having seen the harsh truths of this world. Now, I am her patient, for reasons I am horrified to admit.

The doctor walks to the end of the chair. One blue glove at a time, she prepares. My feet are in the stirrups, but I remain with my knees together. I know she is safe. I know she is just doing her job, but still, I don’t want to spread them.

“I’m just going to check around and make sure everything is OK. Just spread your legs …”

She lifts the Pink Paper Gown. I am scared; not of her, but of the memories I know will flood my mind when the blue gloves land on my skin. However, I do as she says. For the first time since Him, I am being touched. I know she is a doctor. I know she is safe. The Woman in the Blue Chair and I talked about this. Yet, I can’t stand it. I close my eyes, tight. The memories come, and I lay there, trying not to cry. All I picture in my mind is Him. His terrifying brown eyes, His grotesque pink sweatshirt, His dangerous hands. I look down to remind myself that it is the doctor down there, not Him.

“I have to insert one of my fingers to feel for any tearing, OK?”

Oh, God.

“OK.”

She feels around. I want to cry. I might throw up. I can’t do this.

I see him on top of me … my head banging against the side of the car … my hands on his chest …

I try to remember what The Woman in The Blue Chair would tell me to do. Breathe in for five, hold for five, exhale for five. This isn’t working …

Right as I feel as if I can’t handle it any longer, she is done. She said He probably tore some things, but it’s been long enough for the damage to heal. Even my own body fails to provide evidence to prove that I’m the real victim, not Him. My body may have fixed itself, but my mind cannot repair on its own. I should have come six months ago. I should have told my mom back in May about the spots of blood I kept finding in my underwear all month long.

We talked more about what happened.

“And you still go to school with Him?”

“Yes.”

She says that she should do an STD test just in case.

I lay back down. I put my feet back up. I spread my knees. The cotton swab enters. I hold my breath once more.

Again, I wonder: How many other women have had to wear the Pink Paper Gown?

_________

“A Friday Afternoon in Spring” by Madeleine Luntley
age 17, Webber Academy, Calgary, Alberta

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We went to see a movie one Friday afternoon. It was spring; there was no snow on the ground, but I was still cold. I don’t remember many other details. Whether the movie was good or bad, whether the theater was crowded or not, I couldn’t say — I only remember that it was a Friday because we had a half-day at school, and we only ever get half-days on Fridays.

When I’m nervous, unlike most people, my hands don’t get sweaty; they just get cold, clammy, and a chill spreads throughout my entire body until I can scarcely draw a breath, engulfed in frigid paralysis. We were walking a knife’s edge that day, on either side of the knife unspoken emotions, the air between us tense with timorous anticipation. One wrong word, one misstep, and we were liable to tumble into the vast unknown. I was freezing.

I don’t remember the movie because I was focused on a hand, inches from mine, occasionally moving to dip into the popcorn we were sharing, salt and butter coating pale fingertips. I longed to take that hand in my own, but I didn’t; I kept rubbing my palms against my dark-wash jeans, trying to heat up my hands, my arms, my chest, with some small morsel of friction.

We sat in the car a while after the movie. The late day sun fell through the windshield, striking her skin and bathing it in white-wine light, and she was radiant. An old ballad filtered through the speakers, a fifties star singing about a woman in a velvet voice existing in stark dichotomy to what was happening between us.

In the end, it was her who grabbed my hand and jumped off that precarious edge we had been tiptoeing along for what felt like an eternity, throwing caution into Zephyrus’s hands. With those juvenile words everyone longs to hear in their melodramatic adolescence, when they are an insecure, doe-eyed high-school student, we fell.

“I like you.”

She whispered it like one would whisper a secret under the cover of darkness, tenebrous night making the speaker confident. The words fell heavy onto my ears, the weight of their implication pressing onto my chest, combining with the ice in my body, stealing the air from my lungs.

I was terrified.

I was terrified because I was abnormal, because no one really told me as a kid that girls can like girls and boys can like boys, and because my first kiss was followed with a slap to the face after the girl realized that I wasn’t joking, and God, what were people going to say? What would my parents say? I was terrified, so I didn’t reply. We sat in silence, listening to that balladeer croon about being rejected once again. I got out of her car after the song finished and went home.

Whenever I spoke to her after that, my hands were cold.

Her vulnerability that day was a double-edged sword, and we both ended up bloody. Leaving her words unacknowledged felt like leaving an open wound to fester. Neither of us, however, were willing to speak. We acted like nothing had happened at all, making snide remarks about everyday happenings, gossiping innocently about school goings-on. But, it was a kind of breathless normalcy — we were just waiting, waiting for a time when we were old enough, brave enough, to meet her confession head-on.

If she were a boy, I might have kissed her that spring Friday in her car. My hands might have been warm as I drove home.

_________

“Perfectly Pan-Fried Tofu” by Charis June Lee
age 16, West Springfield High School, Springfield, Va.

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The familiar smell of garlic, soy sauce, and onion permeated through the air as I opened my lunch bag to see what my mom had packed for me. On any other occasion, I would have been delighted to eat my mom’s braised pan-fried tofu: a Korean dish that I often ate for dinner. But not today, the day a nice girl had invited me, the new girl at school, to sit with her friends during lunch.

“Charis, over here!” My new friend was waving her arms, trying to get my attention.

As I prepared to walk over to the table, memories of elementary and middle school lunch times resurfaced. I remembered my embarrassment as my friends would hold their noses, or not-so-subtly scoot away from me when I brought homemade Korean food. I remembered how my embarrassment shifted to anger when I complained about the smell to my mom.

I had argued with my mom that I wanted “normal” food for lunch. I remembered the look on my mom’s face, a mix between disappointment and confusion. But I was adamant and she relented because she worried about my making new friends every time we moved. So for the remainder of middle school, my mom packed odorless, non-Korean fare like ham and cheese sandwiches. However, that day, she was in a rush to get to her new job and packed me leftovers from dinner.

As soon as I got to my new lunch table, I tried to sneak my bright lunch bag down under my seat before anyone noticed the strong smell. I looked up to see the other girls at the table, opening their normal American lunches. I sat meekly, trying not to be noticed when Katrina, a new acquaintance, asked where my food was.

“I’m not really hungry,” I replied in an insecure voice. But Katrina had already seen me carry my lunch so she spurted out, “Then, I’ll eat it!” The other girls laughed — apparently Katrina was known to be the lunch scavenger.

I didn’t want to be rude to a potentially new friend, so I reluctantly dragged out my lunch bag and unzipped it. The moment I partially lifted the lid, I could practically taste the garlic and soy sauce. The girls, piqued by the smell wafting through the air, all curiously peered at the oval-shaped Pyrex container. I expected an “Ew” or a “What is that?”

I expected them to turn away — and turn me away. What I did not expect was for Katrina to instantly grab a small piece of tofu and eat it ravenously. And I most certainly did not expect for her to encourage the rest of the table to try my lunch.

It took me a second to recognize that my foreign, Korean food was not being rejected; in fact, it had become a source of personal pride. My new friends were going on about how lucky I was that my mom took the time to prepare a cooked meal for me. They were enchanted by the fact that tofu could actually taste good. While I didn’t get to eat any of my mom’s pan-fried tofu, I was full — of pride and gratitude.

When I arrived home, my mom asked how my day went. Answering with a simple “Good,” I pulled out my Pyrex container from my lunch bag.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t have time to buy bread or ham yesterday.” But when she noticed that the container was empty, she hesitated before asking, “How was the food?”

I paused a moment before I replied, “Perfect.”

_________

“Love at First Offhand Compliment” by Leah Gomez
age 17, Saint Mary’s Hall, San Antonio, Tex.

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When I turned 16, I cut off all my hair. Those long, spiraling locks whose crispy ends fell to my hips represented the days when I hid my face behind a curtain of curls, the days when I had social anxiety (how embarrassing!), something I had decided not to have anymore. My cosmetic transformation proved to be a righteous decision. I arrived at school a changed woman, and that day, the heavens split wide open as an angelic chorus descended from swirling clouds and God Himself smiled on me with the warmth of a thousand suns.

That day, a boy told me he liked my hair.

I immediately understood this boy to be The One. He flirted with me more than he flirted with other girls, and sometimes even looked at me while I spoke. I wrote him love letters in the form of homework questions that could easily have been answered by any sentient rock, and my affections were reciprocated in late night Snapchats of his forehead, or, if he was being particularly bold, his forehead and one eye. Our playful back-and-forth persisted in this manner and maybe even developed into a friendship. Ultimately, I learned that if you ruin your sleep schedule in order to text a boy at night for 10 solid months, he may just ask you out.

In the shimmering light of the summer evening sky, I ate a few bites of overpriced ramen across a tiny table from a real live guy who had actually asked me out on a date. When he reached for the bill to signify that it was, in fact, a date, his hand briefly grazed mine, and I felt my cheeks flush with the distinct rosy tinge of heteronormativity. As we left the restaurant, it began to rain, and we took refuge in an ice cream shop where he once more paid for me to pretend to eat while dutifully sucking in my stomach. Summoning all my skills of seduction, I flaunted sophistication in my sultriest tone:

“This ice cream is so good that I’m, like, literally having an aneurysm,” I observed.

“Actually, I think it’s ‘burst’ an aneurysm,” he said.

My heart fluttered. He had such a way with words.

Based on every movie I had ever seen in my life, I anticipated that our intense flirtation would culminate in a kiss good night before I sped away in my dad’s visibly deteriorating 2001 Honda Civic. In our final moments together, I stared deeply into his gleaming, enigmatic gaze and, as I leaned one shoulder toward him, received a one-armed side hug and a “Bye, Leah!” that lingered uncomfortably in the air. Whether the unease in my gut stemmed from this disappointing departure or my severe IBS, I could never know. But one thing was for sure — I had done everything right. Right?

A true gentleman, he ended things a few weeks later in a two-sentence Snapchat. In a response riddled with exclamation points, I let my concern for his feelings eclipse my own. Painfully embarrassed, I dismissed myself as idiotic for believing a boy could ever like me. I knew I was to blame for equating the slightest amount of male approval with the highest standard of human decency.

I couldn’t remember where I learned to do that.

Stuck between guilt and confusion, I once again took scissors to the braid that reached halfway down my back. It’s strange; even though I consider feminism to be the most essential tenet of my existence, the whispers of the patriarchy are sometimes so soft that they sound like my own thoughts.

_________

Winners

In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.

“Love at First Offhand Compliment” by Leah Gomez
age 17, Saint Mary’s Hall, San Antonio, Tex.

“The Bottom of a Swimming Pool” by Annie Johnson
age 15, Dublin Coffman High School, Dublin, Ohio

“Contraband” by Yana Johnson
age 14, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, S.C.

“Perfectly Pan-Fried Tofu” by Charis June Lee
age 16, West Springfield High School, Springfield, Va.

“A Friday Afternoon in Spring” by Madeleine Luntley
age 17, Webber Academy, Calgary, Alberta

“Pink Paper Gowns” by Katin Sarner
age 18, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.

“Peach Pie” by Elisabeth Stewart
age 15, College Station High School, College Station, Tex.

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_________

Runners-Up

“Mourning Dirt” by Yuan Gao
age 17, Nanjing Foreign Language School, Nanjing, China

“Crows by the Beach” by Huda Haque
age 17, Panther Creek High School, Cary, N.C.

“Potato Salad” by Connie Jiang
age 15, Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, Calif.

“Trembling Confidence” by Aarti Kalamangalam
age 16, Eastside High School, Gainesville, Fla.

“What’s My Name?” by Yeheun Kim
age 17, Penn Foster High School, Scranton, Penn.

“Fish Eyes” by Naomi Ling
age 15, River Hill High School, Clarksville, Md.

“Abigail Adams: The Second First Lady of America and the First Lady of My Heart” by Elly Pickette
age 17, Winsor School, Boston

“That’s the Thing — I Don’t Remember” by Anna Popnikolova
age 13, Nantucket High School, Nantucket, Mass.

“Self-Reliance” by K.R.
age 17, Mount Desert Island High School, Mount Desert, Me.

“Homecoming” by Charlotte Rediker
age 16, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.

“Blame It on Me” by Daphne Wang
age 14, Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, Calif.

“BLOOM” by Paxton Woodard
age 15, Jasper Place High School, Edmonton, Alberta

“Don’t Apologize”

_________

Honorable Mentions

“شكرا — Thank You” by Sarah Alamir
age 16, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, Ill.

“Authentically Korean” by Lucy Alejandro
age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

“Cows and Bullets” by Aylin Miranda
age 17, Granite Hills High School, El Cajon, Calif.

“Autumn in New York” by Emeline Blohm
age 17, Brooklyn Technical High School, New York, N.Y.

The New Normal” by Peyton Burton
age 16, Windermere High School, Windermere, Fla.

“Three Strikes And You’re Out” by Hannah Chen
Age 16, Singapore American School, Singapore

“Connection Found” by Sonia Cherian
Age 15, Castilleja School, Palo Alto, Calif.

“Child’s Play” by Maggie Craig
Age 16, South Forsyth High School, Cumming, Ga.

“My New Shoes” by Said El Kadi
Age 16, American Community School At Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

“Roadkill” by Isabella Fan
Age 17, Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Md.

“How to Eat Lunch at School (Except You Have No Friends)” by Finley

“A Funeral to Remember” by Korbin Kane
age 17, Northern Utah Academy for Math, Engineering and Science, Layton, Utah

“I Just Wanted Some Tea” by Sujin Kim
age 16, Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Conn.

“Chocolate Towers” by Niko Malouf
age 15, Grover Cleveland Charter High School, Reseda, Calif.

“Growth” by Asher Mehr
age 16, de Toledo High School, Los Angeles

“Do Not Underestimate a Jellyfish” by Eleanor Mills
age 18, Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor, Mich.

“June” by Jacqueline Munis
age 17, Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, Penn.

“Jump Roping” by Cloris Shi
age 13, Jeffrey Trail Middle School, Irvine, Calif.

“Up There in the Sky” by Olivia Theaker
age 16, Arroyo Grande High School, Arroyo Grande, Calif.

“The Young Boy And The Sea” by Gabriel Thomas
age 14, Brookline High School, Brookline, Mass.

“Perpetual Worry and Other Afflictions” by Sakshi Umrotkar
age 16, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, Calif.

“Flash” by Qi Wu
age 18, Nanjing Foreign Language School, Nanjing, China

_________

Round 4 Finalists

A PDF of all the winners and 95 more great narratives that made it to Round 4.

Thank you to all of our contest judges!

Eria Ayisi, Edward Bohan, Elda Cantú, Julia Carmel, Elaine Chen, Nancy Coleman, Nicole Daniels, Sarah Deming, Shannon Doyne, Alexandra Eaton, Jeremy Engle, Tracy Evans, Arden Evers, Kyelee Fitts, Vivian Giang, Caroline Crosson Gilpin, Michael Gonchar, Emma Grillo, Jenny Gross, Kari Haskell, Julia Heavey, Michaella Heavey, Kimberly Hintz, Callie Holterman, Sharilyn Hufford, Jeremy Hyler, Lauren Jackson, Susan Josephs, Sophia June, Shira Katz, Megan Leder, Miya Lee, Lisa Letostak, Alice Liang, Emmett Lindner, Kathleen Massara, Keith Meatto, Sue Mermelstein, Claire Miller, Tara Murphy, Amelia Nierenberg, John Otis, Rene Panozzo, Tara Parker-Pope, Ken Paul, Anna Pendleton, Raegen Pietrucha, Natalie Proulx, Steven Rocker, Kristina Samulewski, Juliettte Seive, Jesica Severson, Josh Smith, Matt Twomey, Matt Vigil, Tanya Wadhwani, Jacqueline Weitzman, Kim Wiedmeyer, Sara Wortinger and Stephanie Yemm

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This may include a memory, a childhood story, an experience or a favorite trip. For example, if you're writing a school paper, a teacher may ask you to follow a certain theme. If you're submitting a personal essay along with a college application, you might discuss your professional journey.

Does a personal narrative have to be true? ›

Putting the two terms together (personal + narrative) gives you the definition of a personal narrative. It is a story you write about you. All personal narratives are factual. You can think of them as short, autobiographical sketches, or slices of your life.

How do you introduce a personal narrative example? ›

You could also start your story by asking the reader a question for example you could ask have you

How do you write a narrative essay about yourself? ›

They explain your story and help you answer the main essay prompt with more details than if you just answered it without a plan in place.
  1. Brainstorm and Outline. ...
  2. Be Vulnerable. ...
  3. Use Personal Examples. ...
  4. Write in the First Person. ...
  5. Don't Be Afraid to Show Off…But Stay on Topic! ...
  6. Show Personality. ...
  7. Know Your Audience.
14 Jan 2020

What makes a good personal narrative? ›

A good personal narrative essay shows what happened and how you felt. It doesn't tell what happened like a report of events. It follows the writing mantra of “show: don't tell.” It has a lot of vivid description, emotion, and other elements that re-create your story.

What are the 5 elements of a personal narrative? ›

A personal narrative essay uses the components of a story: introduction, plot, characters, setting, and conflict. It also uses the components of argument, thesis, and conclusion. In a personal narrative essay, we tell our readers a story to make a larger argument.

What are 3 characteristics of a personal narrative? ›

clear purpose (why this event is important to you) first person account (help us understand the narrator) opening sentence (question, interesting observation, or summary of purpose)

How do you end a narrative essay? ›

The Moral of the Story The conclusion of a narrative include the closing action of the event, but also should include some reflection or analysis of the significance of the event to the writer. What lesson did you learn? How has what happened to you affected your life now?

What is a good opening sentence for a narrative essay? ›

Start with a quote, anecdote or fact to engage readers from the first sentence of your essay. If your essay shares your story of being injured and missing out on an important sports event, for example, you might use a quote about overcoming adversity or a description of the injury.

What is a good introduction for a narrative essay? ›

Remember your introduction should be interesting and draw your reader in. It should make your audience want to read more. If it's a person, begin with a description of the person and then say why that person mattered.

How do you start an introduction for an essay? ›

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order: An opening hook to catch the reader's attention. Relevant background information that the reader needs to know. A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

How do you introduce yourself in 200 words? ›

I am very simple girl who loves her family very much.My some of the friends and my attached one are my life... In my life there is so many important persons but few are so important without whom a single day is very difficult.... Such persons in my life are my mom, dad and my best brother....

What should you not do in a personal narrative? ›

Here are eight common mistakes you should avoid when writing a personal essay:
  • Using essay to vent. ...
  • Clearing your throat on the page. ...
  • Writing long… ...
  • Overlooking day-to-day life as essay fodder. ...
  • Using lazy language. ...
  • Being afraid of dialogue. ...
  • Holding back. ...
  • Taking rejection personally.
27 Aug 2019

What is the goal of a personal narrative? ›

Purpose: The purpose is to describe a story in your life, detailing the account with dialogue, the main events, setting, descriptions of people, and other personal observations.

What is one objective of a personal narrative? ›

Personal narratives allow them to share their life with others and vicariously experience the things that happen around them. Their job as the writer is to put the reader in the midst of the action, letting him or her live through an experience.

How do I tell a story about myself? ›

6 Tips on How to Write the Perfect Story About Yourself
  1. Step 1: Analyze Yourself. First and foremost, take time to analyze yourself and your emotions. ...
  2. Step 2: Make a List. ...
  3. Step 3: Fill in the Gaps. ...
  4. Tip: Use Your Senses. ...
  5. Step 4: Find the Action. ...
  6. Step 5: Focus on the Audience. ...
  7. Step 6: Edit. ...
  8. Wrapping Up.
24 Dec 2018

How many paragraphs should a personal narrative be? ›

A personal essay format looks like a structure of most standard five-paragraph essays. You start with an introduction, then craft a three-paragraph body telling your story, and finally wrap up the piece with a conclusion.

How many paragraphs should a narrative essay be? ›

The narrative essay format and structure are standard. Like other assignments, this type of paper normally follows a 5 paragraph essay outline: one introductory paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs, and the last narrative paragraph is the conclusion.

Does a personal narrative need an introduction? ›

Introduction: Your personal narrative needs a strong introduction that will serve as an attention-grabbing hook to pique your readers' interest and ensure that they go on to read the rest of your personal narrative.

How long should a personal narrative be? ›

Review the narrative to make sure it is not too long, as personal narratives are usually short, no more than one to five pages long.

What are the three required components of a personal narrative? ›

A narrative essay is a story. Usually it's a personal anecdote or experiential piece, and it follows the same pattern as all fiction. Its three elements or "parts" are exposition, or background information, followed by complication, the events of the narrative, and resolution, the story's end.

What are the 7 elements of a narrative? ›

These terms include: plot, characters, point of view, setting, theme, conflict, and style. Understanding how these elements work helps us better analyze narratives and to determine meanings.

What are the 4 elements of a personal narrative? ›

I break down narrative into four elements: The Once, The Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary, Conflict and Tension, and The Point. When you understand how these elements act and interact, you'll have a much stronger sense of how to tell a story.

What is a good closing sentence? ›

A good concluding sentence should wrap up the paragraph and give the reader a sense of closure. Conclusion starters or transitional expressions can help signal the end of the paragraph. A concluding sentence can restate the topic sentence or recap the main points.

How do you begin a conclusion? ›

To begin your conclusion, signal that the essay is coming to an end by returning to your overall argument. Don't just repeat your thesis statement—instead, try to rephrase your argument in a way that shows how it has been developed since the introduction.

What word can I use to start a conclusion? ›

Examples of conclusion paragraph starter words and phrases include:
  • all things considered.
  • clearly.
  • given these points.
  • I feel we have no choice but to conclude.
  • in conclusion.
  • in drawing to a close.
  • in general.
  • in light of this information.

What is a good introduction sentence? ›

The introductory paragraph of any paper, long or short, should start with a sentence that piques the interest of your readers. In a typical essay, that first sentence leads into two or three more sentences that provide details about your subject or your process. All of these sentences build up to your thesis statement.

How do you start a good sentence? ›

10 Tips for Starting a Sentence
  1. Consider your central theme. Before you get started constructing a sentence, consider what your essential point is. ...
  2. Examine the previous sentence. ...
  3. Use transition words. ...
  4. Use a preposition. ...
  5. Try a subject opener. ...
  6. Try a clausal opener. ...
  7. Use an “ing” word. ...
  8. Use an “ed” word.
7 Sept 2021

How do you write a strong sentence? ›

How to write good sentences - YouTube

What are the two secrets to writing an effective personal narrative? ›

First of all, try to provide the reader with an insight: provide a tiny hint on what you will talk about in the essay. Then, introduce yourself – this is a good thing to do in a narrative essay. Finally, do not forget to mention a thesis statement – this will offer the reader an overview of your idea.

What is a good word to start an essay? ›

17 academic words and phrases to use in your essay
  • Words to use in your introduction. ...
  • Firstly, secondly, thirdly. ...
  • In view of; in light of; considering. ...
  • According to X; X stated that; referring to the views of X. ...
  • Adding information and flow. ...
  • Moreover; furthermore; in addition; what's more. ...
  • In order to; to that end; to this end.
7 Jan 2019

How do you write a good conclusion? ›

Strategies for writing an effective conclusion
  1. Play the “So What” Game. ...
  2. Return to the theme or themes in the introduction. ...
  3. Synthesize, don't summarize. ...
  4. Include a provocative insight or quotation from the research or reading you did for your paper.

How can I introduce myself in English? ›

You can use the below phrases to introduce yourself:
  1. I don't think we've met (before).
  2. I think we've already met.
  3. My name is ...
  4. I'm ...
  5. Nice to meet you; I'm ...
  6. Pleased to meet you; I'm ...
  7. Let me introduce myself; I'm ...
  8. I'd like to introduce myself; I'm ...
1 Sept 2021

How do you win a competition essay? ›

5 Writing Tips for This Year's Student Essay Contest
  1. Read the whole prompt! Sounds easy but it's important. ...
  2. Start with an outline! Not sure where to begin? ...
  3. Just start writing! Staring at a blank page can seem daunting but just start putting words onto the page. ...
  4. Express yourself! ...
  5. Proofread - times two!
12 Mar 2018

What are 5 sentences about yourself? ›

How To Answer, “How Would You Describe Yourself?”
  • I am passionate about my work. ...
  • I am ambitious and driven. ...
  • I am highly organised. ...
  • I am a people person. ...
  • I am a natural leader. ...
  • I am result oriented. ...
  • I am an excellent communicator.

How do you introduce yourself in 5 sentences? ›

Here are some examples:
  1. Morning! I don't think we've met before, I'm Aryan.
  2. Hey there! I'm Surya. I'm new—I just moved to the building a couple of days ago. ...
  3. Hi Amy. I heard it's your first day so I thought I could reach out and introduce myself. We haven't officially met but I'll be working with you on this project.
8 Dec 2020

How can I introduce myself in 20 lines? ›

Myself in English 20 lines
  1. My name is Sunita .
  2. I am 11 years old .
  3. I study in 5th standard.
  4. My mother's name is Asha .
  5. She is a housewife.
  6. My father's name is Dipak.
  7. He is a lawyer .
  8. I have a younger brother.
22 Apr 2022

What are 5 words that describe you? ›

Positive Words to Describe Yourself
PersistentGenuinePatient
WarmheartedLoyalBright
EasygoingAdventurousEmotional
OptimisticAffectionateHonest
VersatileFlexibleLoving
17 more rows
26 Oct 2022

How would you describe yourself in three words? ›

DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN 3 WORDS! (How to ANSWER this ...

How would you describe yourself in one line? ›

Sample answers:

I am a hard-working and driven individual who isn't afraid to face a challenge. I'm passionate about my work and I know how to get the job done. I would describe myself as an open and honest person who doesn't believe in misleading other people and tries to be fair in everything I do.

What is the best example of a narrative? ›

5 Examples of Narrative Essays
  1. “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion. ...
  2. “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. ...
  3. “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin. ...
  4. “My Life as an Heiress” by Nora Ephron. ...
  5. “Joy” by Zadie Smith.
13 Apr 2021

What are 3 characteristics of a personal narrative? ›

clear purpose (why this event is important to you) first person account (help us understand the narrator) opening sentence (question, interesting observation, or summary of purpose)

How many paragraphs are in a personal narrative? ›

A personal essay format looks like a structure of most standard five-paragraph essays. You start with an introduction, then craft a three-paragraph body telling your story, and finally wrap up the piece with a conclusion.

What is a personal narrative essay? ›

The purpose of a personal narrative is to describe a specific story in your life. No matter who you are, you have a plethora of life experiences, events, and stories that can be crafted into a compelling personal narrative for use in an article, blog post, case study, etc.

Who speaks first in the story? ›

narrator, one who tells a story. In a work of fiction the narrator determines the story's point of view. If the narrator is a full participant in the story's action, the narrative is said to be in the first person.

How many paragraphs should a narrative essay have? ›

The narrative essay format and structure are standard. Like other assignments, this type of paper normally follows a 5 paragraph essay outline: one introductory paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs, and the last narrative paragraph is the conclusion.

How do you start a narrative essay example? ›

Most narrative essays begin with a relevant story. You want to draw the reader in right away, offering something that surprises or interests them. And, since the essay is about you and your lived experiences, it makes sense to start your essay with a relevant anecdote.

What are the 5 parts of a personal narrative? ›

A personal narrative essay uses the components of a story: introduction, plot, characters, setting, and conflict. It also uses the components of argument, thesis, and conclusion. In a personal narrative essay, we tell our readers a story to make a larger argument.

How do you summarize a personal narrative? ›

How to Write a Narrative Summary
  1. Tell a story (if it's based on your life) in a first-person point of view. Make it interesting. ...
  2. Proceed to the action. ...
  3. Your story should have a main theme; something that your readers can learn from the experience.

What is the goal of a personal narrative? ›

Purpose: The purpose is to describe a story in your life, detailing the account with dialogue, the main events, setting, descriptions of people, and other personal observations.

How do you start an introduction for a personal essay? ›

Introduction. Start your personal essay with a brief introduction to the topic. Explain the main goal of your story, express your outlook on the subject and describe what results the reader will get at the end of the essay. Close this paragraph with a catchy thesis statement.

How do you end a personal narrative? ›

Lead the reader into the conclusion with a final scene in real time as an alternative to projecting time forward. Describe a specific physical action or a final verbal exchange or a combination of those. Avoid telling the reader how to feel. The conclusion of a narrative essay should resonate, not dictate.

How do you end a narrative essay? ›

The Moral of the Story The conclusion of a narrative include the closing action of the event, but also should include some reflection or analysis of the significance of the event to the writer. What lesson did you learn? How has what happened to you affected your life now?

How do you start an essay? ›

Take a look at these common ways to start an essay:
  1. Share a shocking or amusing fact.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Dramatize a scene.
  4. Kick it off with a quote.
  5. State your thesis directly.
  6. Pick the right tone for your essay.
  7. When you're stuck, work backwards.
2 Jun 2022

How do I tell a story about myself? ›

6 Tips on How to Write the Perfect Story About Yourself
  1. Step 1: Analyze Yourself. First and foremost, take time to analyze yourself and your emotions. ...
  2. Step 2: Make a List. ...
  3. Step 3: Fill in the Gaps. ...
  4. Tip: Use Your Senses. ...
  5. Step 4: Find the Action. ...
  6. Step 5: Focus on the Audience. ...
  7. Step 6: Edit. ...
  8. Wrapping Up.
24 Dec 2018

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