Unity Week Essay Contest

As a part of Unity Week, students were encouraged to submit a writing about a time in their lives when they experienced unity. The first place essay is listed below, along with excerpts from second and third place. At the very bottom are highlights from other entries.

Prompt: Write a short memoir about a moment when you felt included or made others feels included at Sherwood

Grand Prize of $250. Winner published in The Warrior Newspaper and all three winners announced at International Show on March 22.


1st Place Submission (full essay)

by Maryam Higazi ’19

Imagine this. You’re at a Sherwood Volleyball game sitting in the stands as music starts blasting over the gym speakers and the team runs out onto the court. You see the players running out one behind the other all with their hair braided up into a ponytail and wearing spandex shorts. Except for one. She’s wearing a white scarf over her head with long black pants. Your first instinct might be to think she’s strange and doesn’t belong with the rest of the team. But what you don’t know is that by covering up while she plays, she’s following the guidelines of Islam, a religion of peace and humility, and is still able to be included on the team.
My name is Maryam Higazi, and I am the first volleyball player at Sherwood High School to compete while wearing a hijab (the Arabic word for headscarf). Before I played for Sherwood, wearing a hijab while I competed lead me to feel out of place among the other girls. I looked different than everyone else and would constantly receive weird looks from the spectators around me. I could even hear them talking about me referring to me as “the weird girl in the white scarf.” I also faced trouble from referees telling me I couldn’t play because the hijab wasn’t a part of the entire team’s uniform. At times there was a lingering sense of discomfort amidst my team and I could tell it came from my presence on the court. But then all the negativity I faced for following my religion was almost instantly eliminated after I tried out for Sherwood Volleyball.
Before I walked into tryouts, I prepared myself for the worse and expected to be stared at and criticized for the way I dressed. I was afraid they would only see the white scarf I wore on my head and not the determined athlete I was. But in fact, what happened was the exact opposite. All the coaches and returning players greeted me with a smile and treated me as one of them. As if I had been apart of their team for years before. They were all more encouraging to me than any group of players I had previously been a part of. When we picked teams for scrimmaging, I was never picked last (as I had been previously used to) and immediately formed a bond of unity with girls I had just met earlier that day. The girls were all thrilled to be starting a new season with a brand new team, and I couldn’t have been happier to be a part of it. On that day in the Sherwood gym, I finally felt like I belonged. I was no longer just “the weird girl in the white scarf.” I felt like I had found a place where I wasn’t afraid to be myself and represent my beliefs. I felt like I could play the sport I loved without having to worry about what others would think of me.
I felt like I had found a new family.
I felt like I had found a new home.
I felt included at Sherwood.


2nd Place Submission (excerpted)

by Fatima Koroma ’19

As I walked into Sherwood High School for the first time I expected to be, as cynical as it sounds, a black face in a group of white friends. Itching, internally begging, for even a sliver of diversity. In all honesty that’s really how it started at first; however, things began to change as they typically do with the movement of time. Somehow, in a way that I can’t explain, my friend group became a blended melody of different cultures and experiences.

…Sherwood managed to somehow bring us together and unite us. While we have conflicting cultures and beliefs we managed to mesh together and develop a quilt of culture and experiences. While respecting each other’s beliefs, we learn from each other and grow with each other in order to each develop a broader perspective on the way others view life.


3rd Place Submission (excerpted)

by Samantha Suissa ’19

The way my schedule worked out ended up with me as a senior in health class, which is somewhat rare. I walk into the class at the beginning of the semester, I see a sea of sophomores and maybe two people I consider acquaintances, I am all alone. This makes me wonder why I never reached out to befriend underclassmen, this becomes my newfound mission. We went on a mindfulness walk around the track and I knew I had to take the first step, literally. Awkwardly I walk towards a group of sophomores and ask if I could walk with them, it was super weird. They were super sweet and we spent the rest of the walk getting to know each other. I was able to share my personal experience to help the problems they were having. I passed down some lessons I had learned while at Sherwood. For the first time, I did feel alone in class. Since then we say hi to each other in the halls and group together for class assignments.


Selection of Excerpts from Other Submitted Essays

“Contrary to my expectation, my peers began to praise and compliment my composition and use a color palettes. Relief poured through me in the form of a sigh, once the critique was over, I felt overcome by a new sense of inclusivity. My art and level of skill was valid, and surrounding myself with other artists only fueled my inspiration. It made me self-assured of the community I belong to, and affirmed the power of connections and collaborating with the creative minds of those around me.”


“The best moment of that game had to be the final buzzer ringing out, stating the game had ended. In that moment, all players are expected to ‘get their goalie,’ so immediately after that buzzer were not only excited shouts, but eighteen girls barreling towards me. Once I was collected, we ran back to our coach and promptly lines up to begin high-fiving the other team’s players. Although I was admittedly a sophomore, it was the first instance where I truly felt a part of something bigger than myself that was related to Sherwood. Being a part of a team gave me a connection to the people around me and to the school I was playing for. Thank you Sherwood Field Hockey.”


“ I started the ESOL program in November 2015; at first it was difficult and I always thought I would never understand any English. A few days after I started school, things started to change, I started to meet people that have the same culture and language as me. I met Katherine, a Salvadoran girl, and she helped me a lot during the first days to know my classes and meet more people. Katherine became one of my best friends in school and we’re still like that. I remember the first words she said “Hola me llamo Katherine no te sientas mal yo te ayudare” (Hi my name is Katherine, don’t be afraid I will help you).


“As an underclassman I did not understand that to be welcomed you must make yourself available, Leo Club along with many other extracurriculars I participate in have made me outgoing, accepting of change and read to take on new challenges.”


“I have many good experiences and memories between my friends (most of them Spanish or ESOL students) that I will always remember especially now that this is my last year at Sherwood, but as a person who comes from another country and culture I can tell that there is nothing compared as to feeling accepted by people who you are surrounded by.”


“But this was different. I looked around and felt an immense sense of love and warmth. People were nodding as they were applauding for me and I felt like I did not have to embellish my story to be a “cool,” “chill” Christian. I had the ability to be completely raw in front of my classmates and feel a true sense of belonging.”


“Rock N Roll Revival has helped me meet so many new people that I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to get to know if it wasn’t for this show. The family that Rock N Roll has created really is something special and has made me feel so included and will always have a lace in my heart for all the things I have experienced through it.”


“She smiled and thanked me, before hurrying away. I didn’t have to help her. I could have just walked away. But I didn’t. And that’s what inclusion means to me. Helping someone feel included doesn’t require a huge gesture or display of any kind. It can be a simple act, smiling at someone, showing them how to get to a class. These little acts can be passed on from person to person, drawing everyone closer together. In a big school, it helps us feel more like a family. I didn’t have to help her, but I’m glad I did. I hope because of me, she a little more welcome at Sherwood. A little more confident. A little more included.”


“Sherwood poms are a family. You practice daily together, confide in each other, cheer each other up, inspire each other. You are basically always together. You never feel alone, We strived as a team to make everyone in our community feel included.”


“It can be difficult for students with IDD (Intellectual Developmental Disabilities) to make friends and feel included in that high school experience that they see as they walk through the same halls as everyone in their High School. Through Best Buddies I have been able to help unite students with IDD with tons of people in the school. Whether that’s them being their Buddy in the club, eating lunch with them during school, walking together to their classes, or just dancing together at our parties. I love being able to walk through the halls and see how happy these students are that they’re being included in such a simple thing as walking to class with a friend. I find that the little things such as that, make a huge difference in the way you feel welcome and united amongst your peers.”


“Stand Proud has become a family to me. Younger members have come to me or other officers for advice or support and have received what they asked for and then some. When one of our members got constantly ridiculed last year, we banded together to help them overcome the hatred and to catch them when they fell. If anyone walks in having a bad day, it is guaranteed that there will be a large group of people there to give them a hug and make them feel better.”


“I was eager to know the origins of this person. I mustered enough courage to go up to him at the end of class and start a conversation with him. That’s where I found out that he was native to Sierra Leone. It was easy to connect to him because we both have roots tied to Africa. Instead of calling me by my actual name he called me “Nigeria” which was funny to me. He’s been calling me the same name every since.”


“Most of my friends belong to the LGBTQ community. Most of my friends face bullying from their peers. These are people who do not even try to understand because to them, different is negative. To me, different is beautify. The rainbow flag that is the symbol of our club represents the differences in every person, and encourages acceptance and respect for each of them.”


“In that very moment, I knew that that was where I belong. I had participated in productions at Sherwood prior, but it never felts like this. Every hushed whisper, every silent step backstage, every hilarious mishap, it all was new but felt so familiar to my heart. It all felts so right. Never in my life – even at the school I attended for 11 years – had I felt so accepted, so loved, and so appreciated as I did when being a part of this production. Even if I had never stood on stage again, even if I felt alone everywhere else I was, I knew that I had made a family here that I would never lose.”


“My anxiety blocked me from talking to anyone first and made me dread interacting with strangers, the world around me became the scariest place at the moment. The loneliness was really eating me alive day after day until someone – finally someone talked to me first, we were in homeroom together and she complimented my outfit. It wasn’t a big deal but to me that compliment meant everything; it was the beginning of my escape from my loneliness.”


“I, along with my fellow senior band members, have taken it upon ourselves to welcome the new kids on the block. Due to the fact that we have been those nervous and intimidated newbies, we want to make them feel as loved and appreciated as our seniors had done for us.”


“But, every single time I always am able to find other students to work with; like this semester, in my foundations of tech class, I felt so out of place because I did not have anyone that I really knew and it seemed like everyone was in a different grade than me, but the people that sit around me helped break me out of my shell and now I have people I can work with and talk to everyday and they are all in different grades and friend groups.”


“Being included is not having to lower your standards of the type of people you know you deserve just to feel like you’re part of a group. I met my best friend halfway through my junior year. It just clicked with us.”


“During this time, even though my peers were also going through the same college application process, i felt as if I was the only one who was unbelievably stressed. However, when a fellow student realized that I was upset over a disheartening paper, she was quick to raise my spirits an assure me that I was not alone during this stressful time.”


“Who I once saw as an acquaintance turned out to be one of my best friends. This taught me that no one should ever feel invisible, so talk to those who seem quiet because hidden in those 2,000 students might be some of your best friends.”


“I could tell that we were all going to be best friends and my anxiety started to fade away. Something as small as introducing yourself to a new student and offering someone to sit with you at lunch can change the entire course of your high school experience. I would not be the same person that I am today if I had not met this group of friends on the first day of high school.”


“It does not take a lot for someone to include other, but it is an overwhelming feeling of appreciation towards the person that includes you in an activity.”


“I also became part of the newspaper staff my freshman year. I started as a staff reporter. I knew no one in the class and I felt myself walking along with outside rim of this new community. But this did not last long; every staff member was so kind and helpful. A section editor who trained me ended up becoming a really close friend of mine whom I still talk to today.”


“I’ve always used my platform and personal confidence to share my voice on the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. I strive to be a person who anyone, straight, gay, trans, or bi can come and talk to. I have had many fellow students talk to me through social media and in the halls about their struggles. Although I can’t help or give advice and am there to listen, to let them know that they have a voice.”


“At the end of the day, this show means the world to me. And that’s the one thing I have in common with every single dancer, soloist, tech crew, band kid, and background vocalist. We all put in that time and make the commitment because we want to make something great, and that takes all of us. There’s no way to pull something like Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival off without everyone agreeing, silently and unanimously, that we stick together.”


“It wasn’t until I got home that day that everything sunk in. I looked through pictures and articles about the walkout and it was on the news. It was that afternoon that I felt the most connected and included within Sherwood. There were so many students there and I felt proud to be representing Sherwood.”


“It doesn’t take big gestures to make others feel included. A simple “hey come join us” or “hey do you have any ideas? We’d love to hear you out” can make someone feel important and included.”


“Seeking unity still requires the recognition of differences. However, unlike seeking equality, seeking unity emphasizes the similarities within these differences rather than the differences within our similarities. It does not mean that I have to agree with you, or that he needs to be more like her. It means we have room for forgiveness, for restitution, and for reconciliation in our hearts.”


“With graduation only a few weeks away, I’ve been reflecting on the impact yearbook has made on me the past four years. I can firmly say that with the friendly, open armed environment that this class and the people in it have provided for me, I am really sad to leave it behind. But on the bright side, I’ll always have something to remember these four years by.”


“It quickly became my mission to ensure all students felt they had people to rely on, especially the special needs department. This is where my buddy, Ryan, comes into the picture. Ryan has a bubbly personality and dance moves that’ll impress any crowd. He’s witty and has a heart full of love for everyone around him. Over the course of the past year, I’ve had the honor to learn a whole lot about Ryan. While he sits with us on the dirty floor each day at lunch, he’s truly become a part of the family.”


“The time when I felt included at Sherwood was during homecoming halls. When I first helped out with homecoming halls I was a sophomore; overwhelmed and shy during the interest meeting because it seemed like everyone there already knew each other and were friends from way back. But throughout the weeks of planning, preparing, installing the halls I made acquaintances into friendships and connections with people who I would not have in a classroom or even outside of Sherwood.”


“As the period went on, teachers continued to pass through. Without fail, each one of them not only said hello but asked me things about my life, like how I was doing or what my plans for the weekend were. By the end of the class, I was in a great mood, and ready to pass on kindness to other people.”


“The thing about pride is that it’s never an easy path. But nothing feels more right than rocking my identity and fighting to get rid of that unspoken rule.”


“I really felt like I really belong in that place, like if my story matters, I felt like a Warrior… A Sherwood Warrior just like all of us should feel like no matter where you came from and what you have gone through to get here.”


“Since I get to my first class all the Hispanic people welcome me and try to get along with. Some of them even guide me to my next period, all of them from different countries, cultures and with different English levels, treatment as a friend since the beginning. Even my opinion about teachers changed because they always try to make me feel comfortable in the class, and on some occasions they even helped me to improve myself. Now I can truly say that I am part of this family called Sherwood.”


“I was messed up until I reached 9th grade at Sherwood High School. I started out at the school as this quiet human being, and came out at the end of the year on top of the world. Why? I met these amazing friends that I love dearly.”


“I felt included at school when I first started going to school. Being an ESOL student and not knowing how to speak English at all was challenging for me; I was scared to talk to anyone, but my friends and my teachers welcomed me and were very open-minded with me.”


“Let it be known, however, that these struggles did not last, and it began with my introduction to the International Show. Here was a show where people from different ethnicities came together to perform a dance that represents their heritage. I still remember the excitement I felt when I first saw the show during Freshman year, amazed by Herman and Harkirat, two dances who performed Bhangra – South Asian Dance – at the time, dance their hearts out, being adored by the crowd simultaneously. After the show, I knew what I wanted, and I entered the show my sophomore year.”


“Watching the International Show made me feel included. I have a diverse background. My mother was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but she is from Eritrea. My father was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Having two parents from two different backgrounds has been interesting because I get to continuously learn about and be a part of two different cultures. I believe my diverse background is a huge asset because it helps me contribute something unique that comes from who I am and how I was raised.”


“It continued on this way for weeks to come. I found my place to be in the throwers category, practicing with shotput and discus. I was one of the lowest throwers as well, but I still felt included everyday. The kindness I received in one of my least comfortable areas demonstrates how Sherwood students made me feel welcome. They didn’t ridicule me or mock me, they didn’t shame me for being less talented. That’s what makes us one Sherwood.”