One of the most essential characteristics that distinguish a "Champion of Courage" is love, says Aidan Meehan, 17.
This year’s competition drew more than 4,000 students from grades six through 12, representing 80 area schools. From these 4,000, only 20 were selected.
“My creative writing teacher, Mrs. [Lisa] Sopher, gave our class the information about the 'Champions of Courage' competition, but it was not a required assignment,” Meehan said. “I decided to write a piece for the competition, but wasn’t sure I was going to send it in. I wasn’t expecting to win. It was the first time I had entered the competition.”
The 20 essays will be read on the air by the finalists in a 25-second television spot in February.
The competition required students to choose a person they think best showcases the ideals and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and write a 90-word essay on their chosen “champion.” These champions may be a celebrity or someone the student knows personally.
“I chose Ellen Degeneres as my champion because I am inspired by her choice to use her fame as a tool to promote acceptance of all people and lifestyles,” Meehan said. “She understands that discrimination doesn’t just come from the color of a person’s skin, but the type of life they choose to lead and whom they choose to love. She can make people laugh but she can also make them listen, using their attention to spread her messages of compassion, caring and tolerance towards all.”
Meehan, who grew up in Uganda, was taught to accept all people regardless of their customs.
“I never felt out of place in a group of people so different from me because we all accepted each other for who we were. This competition was so important to me because I want to instill that same sense of companionship in my community, where we may seem different but all want the same thing: to feel accepted.”
“I was thrilled when I learned of Aidan's success in the Champions of Courage contest,” said Sopher, 47, who has been teaching at Hereford High School for nine years.
During a luncheon ceremony at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore Jan. 29, all 20 finalists were honored and awarded $100 savings bonds. The top three essays were also awarded a scholarship and money for their schools.
Meehan can be seen on Fox 45 and the CW throughout February reciting the essay that set her apart as a finalist.