Working For Peace, Justice, and A Sustainable Environment

A Modesto Peace/Life Center Publication


Peace Essay Contest

Peace Essay Contest 2006

Fear and the power it has in our lives was the topic of the 20th annual Peace Essay Contest.  Students from throughout Stanislaus County, grades 5-12, submitted 637 entries in the Modesto Peace/Life Center sponsored contest. In their essays they explored actions and their causes, and how one might respond different if they are aware of the fear, responding instead from their values and beliefs.


Division I  (grades 11 and 12)

 Division II  (grades 9 and 10)

Division III  (grades 7 and 8)

Division IV  (grades 5 and 6)

*The author of the best essay in a division from a school that has ten or more entries in that division is honored as the school winner.

Thank you to the 2006 PEC judges and screener:  Brad Barker, Jerry Budin, Monique Capp, Peggy Castaneda, Steve Collins, James Costello, Tina Driskill, David Franklin, Philip Franklin, Simeon Franklin, Nancy Griggs, Dorothy Griggs, Elaine Gorman, Richard Harvey, Judy Kropp, Barbara Manrique, Russ Matteson, Linda McFelter, Andrea McGhee, Suzanne Meyer, Mike Monson, Ray Miller, Kaye Osborne, Myrtle Osner, Sandy Sample, Ken Schroeder, Shelley Scribner, Judy Sly, Tim Smart, Ruth Ann Spencer, Julie TenBrink,  Mark Thompson, Rachel Tyson, and Anita Young.

 Peace Essay Contest committee members:  Margaret Barker, Indira Clark, Pam Franklin, Elaine Gorman, Suzanne Meyer, and Sandy Sample.

The topic for the 2006 Peace Essay Contest involved the negative impact fear can have on our lives. Students were instructed to tell about a situation in which fear had a negative impact, drawn from personal experience, literature, film or media, current or historical events; explain the negative consequences that resulted; and reflect on ways that the people involved could have overcome their fear and taken thoughtful action in preventing negative consequences.

First Place
Division I (grades 11-12)
Rachel Patten
Oakdale High School – Mr. Peter Simoncini

“Destroying the Monsters of Fear

Everyone can recall from their childhood the common saying of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” However trite this expression may seem, there is truth to it. Often it is human tendency to create images in the mind, and fear can be a binding force that suppresses reason and halts opportunity. Evidenced in life and elaborated on in literature, fear often yields negative results. In the masterpiece Frankenstein fear takes hold of Victor Frankenstein as he turns away from his creature, watches passively as it destroys his life and has extending effects as it hurts his loved ones. Parallel to Frankenstein, each of us has a monster to fight. We should not fear the obstacles and trials given to us in life, because fear acts as a negative force. Instead, facing our fears can promote peace. Also, if we simply eliminated fear in the first place and nurtured trusting relationships with others, the world would be a happier place, free of suspicion and cruelty. In self-defense, we often lose ourselves in selfish thought of our own protection. Historically, America has discriminated against groups like the Japanese and Arab peoples in fear of stereotypes. If each person were able to trust and disregard personal reservations brought about out of fear, the world truly would be a warmer place where fear was faced and overcome instead of avoided.

In the masterpiece Frankenstein Mary Shelley writes about Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monster. After infusing life into the scientifically generated body, Victor becomes horrified with the creature; indeed, “[his] heart palpitated in the sickness of fear (pg. 36).” Thus he deserts it. But the lingering fear of the creature remains. He lives in dread of the creature, almost to the point of insanity. As Victor finds his life being taken control of by the very monster he created, Victor cries to a friend, “Oh, save me! Save me!” (Pg. 38) in fact, the reader comes to a state of frustration, as Victor cannot even help himself in the turmoil he himself created. By first ignoring responsibility for his actions by abandoning his creation, he turns the monster into one who, without humanity shown by the compassion of people, wreaks havoc on the world—ultimately the fault of Victor Frankenstein. Because he turned his creature away and was unresponsive to the creature’s killing of his loved ones, Victor also shows an element of selfishness. Eventually, Victor Frankenstein’s life is ruined through the destruction of the monster.

Everyone has monsters in their lives. Whether it is a child’s fear of literal monsters lurking underneath their beds at night or that bully that haunts the adolescent’s life, each individual has an obstacle. Yet isn’t this fear a manipulation? The child simply imagines monsters in the corners of their rooms, the teenager only thinks that the bully is invincible. It was Eleanor Roosevelt that sagely acknowledged, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Indeed, each person’s fear is based on individual creation—whether that being an element of a child’s imagination or surrendering to a powerful bully. Like Victor Frankenstein, we all have the power to control our fears, which derive from what we create. If we determine that we will not stand for being picked on, if we can face our fears rationally, if we can set standards and live up to them, that is the essence of peace. Not only is it the essence of inner peace, but peace as a whole. The more we are able to help ourselves, the greater capacity we have to help others. As evidenced in Frankenstein Victor’s creation had widespread effects on those he loved—and since he did not make the right choice, he dealt with negative consequences. His first mistake was deserting his creation. Similarly, we can only overcome fear if we face it. We can not simply abandon what we are afraid of and hope that it will disappear, because it won’t.

Historically, this same fear has also rested in adults. During World War II, Americans, out of distrust and fear of the Japanese, incarcerated them in camps. If Americans had overcome this fear and eliminated this innate human response of suspicion, the Japanese perhaps would have been allowed to thrive, and deep-seated enmities that resulted could have been prevented. In retrospect, Americans have recognized the folly and have shown remorse for this action. However, we didn’t learn from it. A repeat of history occurred after September 11th when Americans lived in fear of Arabs residing in their country. Arabs faced discrimination from U.S. citizens and were heavily searched in airports during “random” searches. Yes, there should be precautions, but it should not hinder relationships with those of other nationalities that we feel threatened by. If Victor Frankenstein could have first and foremost showed compassion toward his creature, perhaps he could have created an allegiance with the being and prevented the destruction that followed. Likewise, we must exercise sympathy and understanding to those who appear menacing.

Like Victor Frankenstein, all individuals have a choice. They can face fear and positively look upon the things that threaten them. Or they can build on their own misery by seeking to avoid the things they fear, whereby they can in nowise overcome them and will ultimately have to receive the negative consequences for them. Fear is overpowering force that can stop relationships from forming and peace from residing. Whether it is overcoming the obstacle in one’s life or ignoring stereotypes that evolve from fear, one can make the personal choice. Hopefully, that choice is a morally sound one—for indeed, as Victor Frankenstein acknowledges, “for the guilty there is no peace (pg. 140).”

Division II, First Place
Beyer High School – Ms. Kohler
Fearing the Feelings on the Inside

He sprinted across the half-finished baseball field, eventually collapsing in an area that was less muddy than the others were. After falling to his knees, he glared up at the sky with tears running down his face. “Why? Why did you do this to me?” He asked, softly at first. “What the hell did I do to deserve this? Why would you make me like this if I were not supposed to be what you made me? Just kill me! Do it! Make this all go away... it is all worthless to me! What is the point of my existence? Am I some damned joke to you... something you can sit up there, laugh at, and kick me while I am already down?” He shouted, gesticulating angrily at the full moon overhead. “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

That was me a little over a year ago, on the day that I lost my faith in God. What could motivate a then thirteen-year-old boy to wish that he were dead? The answer is a simple one: fear. Fear is a powerful force. An entity that is capable of producing varying reactions from different types of people. In my case, my fear and the fear of others almost destroyed me.

I am gay. I still do not understand why, but I can now at least accept that I am gay. When I first felt an attraction to boys, I was scared. My family had always expressed very anti-gay views, so I could not talk to them about what I was feeling, and I went to a school with only two-hundred people, so I definitely could not talk to anyone there about it either. I became disgusted with myself, and I promised that I would never express or act on the feelings that I was having. Thus began my path of self-denial and my near destruction through fear.

Uncharacteristically for a person of my age, my greatest fear was not death. My greatest fear was that my family would discover my secret and disown me. I had to calculate, analyze everything I said before I said it, so I would not let even a clue of my homosexuality slip. It is not an easy thing, to look your own family in the face and lie to them, even though you know that a convincing lie is often better than the horrible truth. After two years in hiding, I could no longer stand to lie to my family and friends, so I “came out” to my two childhood friends. My friends proved untrustworthy, and eventually, the entire school knew. I was still afraid of my family discovering the secret, so I told them that there was a rumor about me spreading around school. School became hell. I was insulted, tripped, threatened, and harassed so often that I could not take it any more. I began to cut myself with a razor, just to release the pain that I was feeling inside of me. I did not realize at the time that the students who did those things to me were actually afraid of me. A majority of them had never met a gay person, so they had only how gays are portrayed in the media to base their reactions on.

Later in the year, I gained enough confidence to overcome my fear enough to tell one of my sisters the truth. She accepted me, and told me that the only reason that she had engaged in the anti-gay hype was that the other family members had. Truly confident that the rest of my family would have the same positive reaction, I told my other sister. She cried incessantly. I did not know what to do expect. I felt foolish and afraid; so afraid that on that very night, I attempted suicide. My parents interrupted me in the act, and I was sent to the Stanislaus Behavioral Health Center for hospitalization.

Since then, I have told my parents the truth, moved to a new city with a new school, and prospered here. Yet I remain affected by the negative impacts that these fears have had on me. Too many people betrayed me, and I have lost my faith in humanity’s better nature. These fears, not only mine, but those would feared me, would have cost me my life if God had not intervened.

I believe that those who feared me could have quelled their fears if they had made an effort to discover what homosexuality really is, not just assuming that what they saw on television last night was an accurate depiction of homosexuality. The school should also have hosted a Day of Respect to encourage tolerance among the students.

Creating a peaceful world has to begin in the schools. The Human Relations Commission and I can create, organize, and encourage Days of Respect in schools. We must also educate my generation on the media, and how what is said and done in the media might influence who we strive to be, what we think, and what we believe and educate us on how we can resist this propaganda. An example of how the media can attempt to influence what you believe is the commercial advertisements played during Governor Schwarzenegger’s Special Election. One could be watching television and view a commercial telling how this proposition can only benefit the people of California, and view another commercial that claimed that what was said in the previous commercial was a lie and that the proposition will hurt the people of California. The media is a major source of influence in my generation, and we should try to encourage those who are prominent figures in the media to act as role models. We should also create safe environments where people can overcome their fears of the unknown by becoming familiar with the unknown. Only when you take your fear into yourself and become one with the fear can you truly conquer your fears.

Division III
First Place
Emily Matteson
Roosevelt Junior High School - Mrs. Nancy Haskett

Intern Your Fear

In December 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. then retaliated by declaring war on Japan. Many citizens of America were afraid that the Japanese American citizens would be loyal to Japan, and a threat to America. President Roosevelt was pressured to act upon the fear of these citizens; he signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized officials to put American citizens of Japanese ancestry into internment camps for reasons of national security. Our country was afraid, and as a result of their fear they interned innocent people.

Japanese American citizens were forced from their homes, and were basically told to take only what they could carry. Over half of those taken to the camps were children, who probably didn’t even fully understand what was going on. My friend is Japanese, and she would have been taken away. The camps had people who had never met each other sharing bathrooms and dining halls; they were watched by military guards, and those who didn’t follow orders were disciplined. These people’s lives were completely uprooted because Americans were concerned they could be spies for Japan.

I think that President Roosevelt and the American citizens could have dealt with this situation differently. Roosevelt was a powerful president that led our country through a depression, and helped to get millions of people jobs. One of his famous quotes is “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He could have used his presidential power and that quote to reassure Americans that we would get through Pearl Harbor, and trusting our citizens with Japanese ancestry, just like we got through the Great Depression. If he had done this I am sure he could have convinced himself, as well as America that they weren’t scared of the Japanese American citizens, but of the people in Japan who bombed them in the first place.

There were people in America working to help the Japanese American citizens. Some worked inside the internment camps, befriending the people held there, and making sure their conditions were okay. They weren’t afraid, and chose to help the interned. Other things those who weren’t afraid could have done were to talk to the people that were. Hearing an assurance from someone I knew well would have made me less afraid. If people had spent more time with the Japanese, less people would have been fearful, and more would have been trusting.

In my life, I think it is important for me to keep an open mind, so that I can move beyond my own fears. President Roosevelt and the American citizens were quick to assume the Japanese Americans would betray them and their country. If my mind is open to others, and more than one view of things, I won’t be so quick to judge. If I can move beyond the fear of what others might do, I will be able to further understand what I can do to take positive action in the world.

First Place
Division IV (grade 5-6)
Emma Heinrichs
Fremont Open Plan – Mrs. Jeanne Pollard

A Lesson on Fear

About two years ago, my mom and I pulled into the parking lot of Starbucks after school. As we were walking from our car to the entrance, a young man started to walk behind us and continued to follow us. All of a sudden, he grabbed my mom’s purse and ran in the opposite direction to the car waiting for him. They sped away and my mom and I were shocked and scared. After we caught our breath, we rushed inside and called 911. As we waited for the police, my mom started to cry. I was crying too but after seeing her just as scared as I, I was even more scared and confused. Did that really just happen? I couldn’t believe it. The police came and asked us a lot of questions; questions about what exactly happened, what the man looked like and what the car looked like.

After that, I was afraid of everything. I was constantly afraid of people; people who would try to hurt me or steal from me. I was scared of being around people and afraid to be in parking lots. Whenever we were out in public, I would look around to make sure there was no one around. I was always worried about the things I heard on the news, thinking they would happen to me. This sort of thinking made me stressed out and afraid. Besides being afraid, I was also mad. I was mad at the people who stole the purse, mad it happened to us, and mad at the world for being a place where people hurt each other.

During this hard time, my morn and I talked a lot. She explained to me that it was o.k. to he upset, angry, or even scared. She felt the same way too. But she also said that holding on to the angry part was only going to hurt me. Once I thought about it, I knew she was right. What she said was definitely a wake up call! It took some time, talking and thinking, but eventually I stopped worrying so much.

Through this situation, I realized many things. I realized that even though I can’t change the world, I can influence my part of the world. First of all I can understand that not all people have bad intentions. in fact, most people I know are wonderful people; kind, helpful, and friendly. I can be one of those people, in very simple ways. For example by helping someone at school with a new math problem instead of thinking they’re dumb for not understanding it, Also, I am on the student council and we organized a coat drive for kids in Modesto and a penny and can drive for Katrina victims.

I’ve chosen not to live in fear. I’ve chosen to promote trust and kindness by having a positive attitude and helping others. I think this will have a domino effect on those around me.

20th Peace Essay Contest


The negative power of fear was the topic for the 2006 Peace Essay Contest. The finalists have been selected from among the 637 entries and the final judging panels will meet in early February to name the winners of the annual contest sponsored by the Modesto Peace/Life for Stanislaus County students, grades 5-12. The winners and finalists will be announced in the March issue of Stanislaus Connections.

The awards reception will be held on Saturday, March 25th in the Johansen High School Theatre, Modesto, at 3 p.m.

In celebration of the Peace Essay Contests 20th anniversary, we reprinted in the last issue of Stanislaus Connections the winning essay from the first year by John Souza, then a senior at Central Catholic High School in Modesto.

We reprint below the first of Emily Sturtevant’s winning essays, written in 1993 when she was a student at Teel Middle School in Empire. The topic was: In many communities there is growing racial tension. Imagine a conflict between people of different ethnic groups in your school or neighborhood. Describe the situation and why you think it happened. Tell how such a conflict could be prevented in the future.

1993 Peace Essay Contest

First Place
Division III
(grades 7 and 8)

Emily Sturtevant
Teel Middle School

It began at the bus stop. Roy moved Mo’s books from their place in line, and then started the shouting march.

Before the boys could begin fighting the bus came. When Roy arrived at school he went to his friends and told them that he was tired of Mo’s pushing him around. At the same time Mo told his friends that Roy was another Black kid who thought he owned the bus stop. At lunch Mo got the Asian kids together and took over the benches where Roy’s group always met. When Roy’s group arrived more shouting erupted. Finally, the quad area echoed with the sounds of “Fight, Fight.”

When racial tensions erupt at school, it can begin with two rival leaders attempting to be the top dog. The personality conflict can be at the core of the problem, but what happens is that color, facial features, and cultural difference become an easy weapon. Behind the war of words may be a reflection of the intolerance that has been taught at home or in the community. The boys in this scenario can only see their differences, but what they need to see is their similarities.

Rather than punish either of the boys, a wise person would give the boys a project in which they would have to work together. Perhaps they would have to spend time in a kindergarten classroom instructing the students in manners and politeness. They would be required to write the lesson, draw some visual aids, and then allow the children to practice. Perhaps they would write a story about how people are alike and how small differences make people unique. The project itself would not be important only the outcome.

When people begin to understand that by working together it is possible to make the world a more peaceful place. For people in junior high that understanding begins with peers. When the junior high school is a peaceful place the world will reflect that bit of peace.

In conclusion, a peaceful world does not begin with other countries not fighting. A peaceful world begins in the relationships we have in our every day lives. It can begin in school or the community. When we figure out how to be peaceful on a small scale, then world peace will follow.

Peace Essay Contest 2006 has received over 600 entries from students in Stanislaus County.

2006 marks the 20th anniversary of the Modesto Peace/Life Center sponsored Peace Essay Contest for local students.

20th anniversary of Peace Essay Contest: First winning essay

1987 - Ronald Reagan was in the White House talking about the Evil Empire. Below is the First Place winning essay for the Upper Division of that first contest. The judging was completed on the same day the Center hosted a reception for the first delegation to Modesto from its future Ukrainian Sister City, Khmelnitskiy.

1987 Peace Essay Contest topic: What non-military steps would you propose in order to establish a peaceful world.

1987 Peace Essay Contest

Upper Division First Place

Where East Meets West

By John F. Souza, III

Central Catholic High School

Leo Tolstoy, as a child, was told by his older brother Nicholas that there was a green stick buried at the edge of a ravine in the ancient Zakaz Forest in the heart of Russia. It was no ordinary piece of wood. Carved into its surface were the words “which would destroy all evil in the hearts of men and bring them everything good.” Though never searching for the green stick itself, Tolstoy spent his life searching for its revelation. As a old man he wrote,” I still believe today that there is such a truth . . .” 1

I doubt if this green stick, if he were to dig it up, would provide a text never read before. It would in fact be something we have to hear again and again but which in the cycle of life lays buried deep within ourselves, where it wouldn’t trouble us too often. I mean the same words spoken in Luke’s gospel: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you . . . As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” It is a much-ignored patch of the gospel.

Today our main enemy is the Russians. Whether we work or go to school, whether we wear peace buttons or military uniforms, we’re involved in this huge enmity, this constant preparation for war. This enmity is the most likely cause of a future World War, and it is the link of so many other terrible events going on right now. We find the Russians in all directions.

Why is the United State involved in a war in Central America? Because otherwise the Russians will gain another foot hold. Why the U.S. hostility toward Cuba? Because it is an ally of the Soviet Union. Why do we send arms to the Afghan rebels? Because they use our weapons to fight Soviet troops and their government. Why do we support various corrupt, tyrannical, anti-democratic governments? Because they are anti-communist governments opposed to Moscow.

Why will there be no more civilian projects on the future U.S. shuttle launches? Because all the available space is needed by the military. Why are U.S. cities slowly rotting away before our eyes and so many Americans going hungry every night? Because the money and energy it would cost to save the poor American people would drain money from our arms race with the Soviet Union.

U.S. foreign policy and even much of the U.S. domestic policy is dominated by our enmity with the Soviet Union. Very little can be done about peace unless we pay attention to this problem.

We are called to love our enemies. What does love mean? In our own culture, it has to do with feelings. Love, most people would say, is a feeling of intense affection, or it has to do with sex. But love also has to do with action and responsibility. To love is to do what you can to provide for the life and well being of others, whether you like them or not and whether you are in a good mood or not. Love is not easy as Fr. Zosima tells us in The Brothers Karamazov. Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. People will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labor and fortitude. 2

We the American people feel threatened by Russians. Because we immediately like force with the Russians or at least Russian Communists. Through films, comics, novels and news reports, we are given vivid daily reminders of what we’re up against. News reports are what affect us most. We tend to view the press as a valid channel or communications rather than the biased agency it tends to be. The U.S. press collects stories about what’s wrong in Russia; the Russian press collects stories of what isn’t working in the United States. The information provided by the media in both countries is mainly true but generally leaves out anything that would give us a picture of sympathy, understanding, or a sense of identification. We are kept thousands of miles away from these people and lose sight of their humanness.

How do we begin an engagement with the Russians? Probably the easiest and best beginning point is to start educating children at a young age. One thing children are learning at an incredible rate is aggression and a less sensitive feeling toward violence. There was a reported 700% increase in war toy sales since 1982, and also a rise in violence in children’s television shows. Teachers say they have seen a significant increase in violent and aggressive behavior in the classroom. The also see children’s play that is considerably less imaginative, modeled more after the cartoons they watch rather than based on the children’s own thinking and creativity. Teachers have discussed ways of teaching children positive social behavior: helping them to learn about their feelings and overcoming their fears, teaching positive problem solving and peace. 3

It is important for us to get a feeling for Russian culture. Read the Russian writers, especially Russian history. Learn to cook something Russian. Pray for the Russian people. Learn the rich Russian traditions. Cut out pictures of Russian people as daily reminders of these un-met brothers and sisters.

If you can take some of these steps, love of enemies not only becomes possible, but not to love them becomes impossible. The Russians cease to be ideological objects. Even when you discover in a personal way various things you don’t understand, or that you disagree with or find appalling about Soviet structures, you can no longer speak of the people who live in the Soviet Union as enemies; and people, rather than systems, die in war.

Beginning to know personally those who are targets of war, praying for them daily, learning about their history, culture, bringing their food to your table — all these are truly disarming experiences. It becomes unbearable to do anything that might hurt them, for truly they are our brothers and sisters. We discover that their lives are now in our care—and ours in theirs—and that each of us holds in our hands the green stick that Tolstoy sought.

1 Lyof Tolstoy: An Anthology, edited with intro by Charles R. Joy. Beacon Press, Boston, 1958. 2 The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, edited by Ralph E. Matlaw, W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., New York, 1976.

3 “Violence: Is It Getting to Our Children?” L. Salk, Mc Calls, June 1986, p. 113.

4 “Violence vs. Nurturance,” R. Govney, Century, July/August 1986, p. 19.

Founding members of the Peace Essay Contest: Indira Clark, Chris Davidson, and Bunny Huddelston.