Dillsburg teen Michaela Grinder pushed her hair behind her ears and nervously walked to the stage in shock.
Of the 333 submissions entered in the 2013 York County Student Essay Contest, her work won the $2,000 grand prize over 27 other finalists.
All 28 finalists did an excellent job, according to Josette Myers, spokeswoman for Memorial Health Systems.
Memorial Health Systems Foundation sponsored the contest and presented all the finalists with monetary awards.
In addition to the top prize won by Grinder, a senior at Northern York County High School, the other finalists also received cash awards: second-place winner Brittany Connell, a senior at Central York High School, won $1,000; Qajaniyah Miller, a junior at William Penn Senior High School, won the third-place prize of $500; and 25 finalists received $100 each.
"The thought and creativity you all put into it was so impressive. We never thought the contest would get the overwhelming response that it did," Myers said.
Money for school: Grinder said she will use her winnings for school. After high school, she will study digital media communications at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pa.When her name was called for the top prize, she thought, "Oh gosh. Wow. I can't believe it," she said.
But a love of writing and a theme she believed in landed her the first spot.
In the contest's inaugural year, students were asked to write an essay explaining the most serious challenges facing York County teenagers.
Grinder's essay, "Our Expectations of Ourselves," describes those challenges as an overuse of technology, labels and stereotypes, and negative reinforcement.
"Technology has put the world at our fingertips, yet we are undisciplined in our use of it," she said, reading her essay aloud.
She suggested county commissioners and local organizations host efforts to reduce the amount of time people spend in front of televisions, computers and cellphones.
It's better to "turn off screens and turn on life," Grinder said.
Commissioner Chris Reilly, who joked that he and fellow Commissioners Steve Chronister and Doug Hoke "are not very technologically advanced," considered Grinder's essay to be thought-provoking work.
"She raised some good points," he said.
Deplores labels: One of those points was that kids are unfairly labeled and stereotyped.
For example, too many children with short attention spans are quickly diagnosed as having attention-deficit disorder or placed on the autism spectrum. Then they spend the rest of their lives taking medicine that has a reverse-placebo effect, Grinder said.
"It reinforces something is wrong," she said. "We become what we are labeled."
But if children are believed in and encouraged, the opportunities may seem endless, Grinder said.
"When we're told we can be great ... we will exceed even our own expectations," she said.
That message is part of why she entered the contest.
"I've always believed part of what holds us back is we don't think we can do it," Grinder said. "I was happy to give my ideas to people who can do something with them."
And that's what the contest was all about, said Keith Martin, chairman of York County Communities That Care.
The contest, organized by the York County Board of Commissioners and York County Communities That Care, was open to all 11th- and 12th-graders in the county and encouraged them to offer ideas about how the community can help address challenges facing young residents.
Central themes among the 333 essays that were submitted suggested students are stressed about their plans after high school and are concerned about an overuse of technology, Martin said.
They also want more parental involvement, said Marie Yeager, a board member with Communities That Care.
"Contrary to how (teenagers) may act, they want their parents' guidance. They want them to set boundaries. They need parents to be parents," she said.
When asked if county commissioners would be interested in organizing the contest again next year, Reilly said, "Absolutely. It was a great success, and we were real pleased with the turnout."
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