My first essay contest could have gone better. It was 8th Grade, Mrs. K’s English class. Not exactly my favorite place to be as an awkward 12 or 13 year old who was too shy to speak up in class. But I loved reading and writing nonetheless. I was a decent student in her class and was excited when she announced that our city was having an essay contest for students to write about what made our city beautiful. It was a short essay, 250 or 500 words as I recall but I knew I was a good writer and I thought I would have a shot at one of the prizes. Still, my parent wasn’t on the PTA and we went to the “other” middle school so even if I did write a good essay I felt the cards were stacked against me.
I turned my essay in and tried my best to forget about it. Some weeks later there was great news - I had won First Place! Finally the shy, quiet girl would get a little recognition. Plus there was prize money at stake. It wasn’t a million dollars but it was something. But honestly, I hadn’t entered for the money but rather the recognition. The winning essay was going to be published in the city paper!
I think I may have gotten a day or a few hours to bask in the glory. But then the unthinkable happened. My teacher pulled me aside to deliver a crushing blow. I could see by the look on her face that she was angry with someone. She was tasked with delivering the news that I had won SECOND place, and NOT FIRST. Are you kidding me??? It was devastating to have victory snatched away like that. The kids in the class had already started congratulating me. I was left to explain later that I had only won second place. (Isn’t it funny how Second Place would have been just fine had that been the initial communication?)
To this day I don’t know for sure what happened to change my first place win to second. I heard rumors that another kid who was more well connected had been given first place at the last minute. But I’ll probably never know if that was the case or if there was just an innocent communication mishap. It was a tough blow but there was nothing I could do. Being a parent myself now, you can believe I would have been at that school getting answers. For whatever reason my mom didn't make a fuss.
The prize for second place was $100. Nothing to sneeze at in 8th grade but in silent protest I refused to spend any of it on myself. Instead I did what probably seemed like a selfless gesture (but was really partially fueled by anger) and spent all the money on gifts for my older sister who was expecting her first baby. I had already intended to spend quite a bit on her. She needed it more than me anyway.