In the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Education’s video contest, “I Am What I Learn,” federal officials have named three winners out of hundreds of entries. While the winning students’ videos are different in subject and style, they share a common goal: to show the world why education is important.
The contest, which launched Sept. 21, asked students to create videos up to two minutes long about the importance of education in achieving their personal goals. Students from across the country submitted more than 600 videos in all, featuring stories from diverse economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds. (See story: “Ed announces student video contest.”)
After the Education Department’s (ED’s) Office of Communications and Outreach reviewed each video, officials chose 10 finalists, and these were announced on Nov. 16. The department invited stakeholders to vote for their favorites on the contest’s YouTube channel. After more than 28,000 votes were cast between Nov. 16 and Dec. 4, the top three vote-getters emerged as the winners, and each will receive a $1,000 cash prize from ED.
One winner, Rene Harris, 17, is a 12th grader at Oxford Area High School in Oxford, Pa. In her entry, Harris shares her story about overcoming personal setbacks at home.
“A lot of young people have negative stuff going on in their lives. I figured by telling my story, I may inspire others to get serious about learning so they can get to where they want to be,” said Harris.
Click above to watch Harris’ video on eSN.TV
Another winner, Alex Hughes, 16, is an 11th grader at Southeast Guilford High School in Greensboro, N.C. In his entry, Hughes discusses the importance of education in achieving his dream to become a movie director.
“Education is important to me because it will decide how I live my life. I know that if I work hard enough on my education, I will reach my ultimate goal,” he said.
Click above to watch Hughes’ video on eSN.TV
The third winner, Jordan Lederman, 13, is an eighth grader at Pine Lake Middle School in Sammamish, Wash. In her entry, Lederman discusses the intersection of education and the thing she loves most—chickens. Hoping to one day have her own farm of chickens, Lederman plans to use her award in three ways: she will save some money for college, donate some to an international organization that purchases hens for poor families, and use the rest to take care of her own chickens.
Click above to watch Lederman’s video on eSN.TV
During a press conference held at ED headquarters, participants were able to talk with all three winners via video conferencing.
“I want to thank each of you for your creativity, thoughtfulness, and for setting a great example for the country by creating your videos,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the winners. “Thousands of people voted for you, and you should be proud of the impact you’ve made.”
Harris, whose father is in jail for assaulting her mother—who recently suffered a stroke—urged her peers to “make the best of the situation they’re in.”
“I stay positive throughout all of this for my mom, and I also have great friends and teachers who support me,” she said.
Harris’s teacher, Mr. V, was with her during the video conference, and he said it’s critical for students to have the chance to express themselves and do the kind of work this contest allowed for. Harris’s teachers are the ones who heard about the video contest.
Harris said she plans to use the money she received to help her mother, as well as start her own video business with her friend, called Freedom Videos, which she urged people to check out on YouTube.
“My situation and my mom inspired me to make this video. Last year my grades weren’t what I wanted them to be, but when I made this video and talked about education, it was like a goal for myself that I was setting in stone, saying that I could succeed. Since then, my grades have improved,” she said.
Hughes, who will use his money not only to save for college but also to contribute to a leukemia fundraiser at his school, said at first he was apprehensive about entering the video contest.
“The lesson I learned and want to tell other students to remember is that you should always take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “When I heard the contest included college students, I was disheartened and put it off, thinking I wouldn’t stand a chance. But I decided to try anyway, and now look what’s happened. It’s going to look great in my college portfolio, too.”
Hughes’ parents said their son was so enthusiastic about creating the video that when they went away one weekend, they returned to find he had painted a wall of the garage to create a green screen.
“He’s always had talent with video,” said Hughes’ father. “He even helps with some of the sales stuff we have at my business.”
Lederman’s parents said they also were very proud of their daughter. Lederman’s mother heard about the video contest through a school district eMail message.
“I learned that learning can be fun,” said Lederman, “and when you know that learning can be fun, it makes you want to learn more.”
“These students have demonstrated creativity and passion in sharing their personal stories,” said Duncan. “I congratulate each of them for winning this contest, and I wish them the best in continuing to pursue their dreams.”
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