2017 Winner

Danielle Baron

Upper Saddle River, NJ

For most of my life, my world has been small and frequently changing; sometimes at a pace I could not easily adjust to. It has been a spinning mess of family matters: court dates, kitchen tables cluttered with bills, therapist appointments, and too many funerals. My younger twin brothers and I were conceived by in-vitro fertilization and in our younger year we were raised by our two mothers together. When I was about ten years old, their relationship ended, which resulted in a custody battle that felt like an endless tug of war. Whilst I waited for a silver lining to appear, I learned the importance of patience and I learned to seek compromise in all high-stake situations because I saw how stress affected everyone in my family.

Not too long after I faced another tragedy. A couple of days before my fifteenth birthday, I woke up to my two younger brothers trying to shake my deceased mother into consciousness. There was a void in my life where our strong family structure once was. Ever since then, I've made sure to be empathetic toward everyone  around me because pain is not particular, it's universal.

My family could no longer afford to keep our home, a spacious house on a two- acre property with a pool, a swing set, and all our memories from growing up. We had to move to my grandmother's house in Upper Saddle River. It was over an hour away, so my brothers and I had to transfer into another school system. Even if we hadn't moved, we still would have had to transfer anyway because we wouldn't have been able to pay our old school's costly tuition. We used to attend a private institution called Rutgers Preparatory School. It's a very small school considering it only has about seven hundred students  and provides pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade schooling. Everyone knew each other personally, so when I moved to Upper Saddle River the summer before my sophomore year and transferred to Northern Highlands, a public school for four different towns, the change in class size was very overwhelming. I've been at Highlands for 3 years now and I still see a new face every single day.

The transition from smaller and more personal classes to large group-oriented ones has greatly influenced the way that I learn. As class size increases, there is less one-on-one interaction between the student and the teacher. This makes it harder to understand the ideas presented by the teacher. When a teacher is responsible for educating an entire class, they can't always take the extra time to focus their efforts on ensuring that every individual student has retained all the information. This new learning environment gave me no choice but to adapt to the changes by adjusting my old study habits and developing new ones, such as being part of study groups and making study guides with my classmates. Working in larger groups has also made me more open -minded to the perspectives of others. Where there are more people there is more innovation.

When the school years came around, I was challenged to uphold my responsibilities at home and in school. Even though my grades as an underclassmen don't represent my full academic potential, it was during tough times that I still managed to pass  all of my classes and begin to immerse myself in extracurricular activities that appealed to my interests. Since transferring to Highlands, I have discovered an array of interests of mine. I have joined a handful of clubs and have worked harmoniously with different groups of students to improve our school's campus and community. For example, the Environmental Awareness Club worked together to build a milkweed  garden in front of the school for the monarch butterflies as they embark on their annual migrations. This must have attracted many students because our club's size has nearly tripled since last school year. I am also part of the Chill (Changing How I Live And Learn) Club and we  come together once a week to discuss ways that we can improve  our community through spreading awareness of the importance of practicing mindfulness.

Over the course of five years I have lived under three different roofs, my first house, a townhouse and my grandma's house.  Switching back and forth between living arrangements has made me a less materialistic person. I have learned to give up many things to accommodate for the more important items, such as clothes, furniture and photographs. I have lost many of my childhood toys and games. Fortunately I have been able to keep with me my first teddy bear, Mr. Whiskers. Learning to treasure items of symbolic meaning brought my brothers and I closer together. We share quite a few objects now that mean a lot to us, such as a scrapbook of pictures of our mom and paintings from our old vacation house in Cape Cod.

I don't expect moving away to college to be easy; it's going to be one of the hardest things I'll ever have to do.

While I've learned to adapt to changes around me pretty quickly, It will mean moving away from my family for the first time and I'm moving away from my support system just as things are starting to go well.

I'll be studying marine based environmental science at Stockton University and my life's dedication will be to better our planet and its oceans…I'd appreciate this scholarship so much because it will help us pay for my first year of college! I can never take that for granted because this money is going to bettering my education and education is the key to change in this world.

I'll be studying marine based environmental science at Stockton University and my life's dedication will be to better our planet and its oceans. After all, the Earth is our home, we must share it, learn to live in harmony, and love every being here because there is no realistic alternative. Besides who in their right mind would want to move away from this beautiful place?

I'd appreciate this scholarship so much because it will help us pay for my first year of college!  I can never take that for granted because this money is going to bettering my education and education is the key to change in this world.

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