First place essay:

By Staff
The Greatest Test of All: Being the Best I Can Be
American society has changed drastically throughout its history. There have been civil and political rights movements and numerous cultural and social revolutions that have fundamentally changed the way Americans behave. Their longevity and legacy notwithstanding, these events became renowned for the emphasis they placed on the individual. Individuals have made a difference since the birth of civilization, and continue to do so today. As a result, it is essential that each citizen realize the vital role of the individual begins in school, where leaders are born and education is key. Because of this, I believe it is my and my fellow students' duty to better ourselves and fine-tune our performance in preparation for independence.
Being the best I can be begins with recognizing my potential, but also my limitations. In order to succeed I must be diligent in activities inside and outside the scholastic realm. I must organize myself and learn to prepare, activities that reduce stress and enhance performance. Observing others around me has helped me understand that our potential as a whole is virtually limitless. Nonetheless, as individuals we are constrained by limits on our time, and bombarded daily by tests of our moral convictions. These obstacles, if handled properly, can be transformed from formidable opponents to practical educational guides, but still require considerable effort and dedication.
Improving myself also involves taking risks. Political activists like Martin Luther King Jr., and even ordinary citizens like Rosa Parks, could not have changed their world without sidestepping the restraints of traditional behavior and thought. Without risk-takers our world would be a different place, static, unchanging, and unwilling to reject outdated ideals. Altering society therefore requires a certain amount of personal boldness and strength of character, attributes attainable only through open-mindedness and a willingness to work.
Naturally, any course I take towards self-improvement must also involve helping those around me. An essential quality of leadership is the ability to sacrifice one's desires for the good of many. Consequently, at a high school level I must learn to respect and assist others. Placing emphasis on community service and participation in a youth group are excellent ways to do this, but simpler acts can be equally beneficial: showing kindness and generosity to all, and respecting virtues such as truthfulness, loyalty and selflessness. Often, volunteering at an animal shelter, serving food at a soup kitchen on a cold night, or consoling a troubled friend are the most effective ways to pursue self-betterment. Devotion to others is invaluable, a foundation for later life and a remarkable embodiment of respect.
As I approach adulthood, I must prepare for the independence it entails. By striving to meet personal goals through confidence, commitment, and respect, I better myself and those around me. Concentrating on these qualities will not only allow me to enjoy life as a student and young adult, but will equip me with the tools essential for conquering the future.

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