The usual chatter among students during the All-School Meeting (ASM) presentations was reduced to a hush as the student body tuned into declamations given by the Means Essay Prize competition finalists Skylar-Bree Takyi ’16, Anlan Du ’18, and Cecelia Vieira ’18.
Since its founding in 1867 by William G. Means, the Means Essay Prize is awarded to an exceptional personal essay written by a student during the course of the school year, according to the prize description.
Vieira, Du, and Takyi shared their essays entitled “The City on a Hill,” “Cherry Pits,” and “In Theory,” respectively.
Vieira’s essay, “The City on a Hill,” centered upon the contrast between her family history of addiction and the seemingly pristine town of Andover where she grew up. Throughout her essay, Vieira explored these two aspects of her identity and came to terms with the fact that there was not a stark separation between the two, as she had previously thought.
“I am from the blue-smoke, bottle-broke haze of addiction, and all its secret decorum. Each generation in my family has grappled with their own drug-fueled narrative, and while the vice of choice varies, the story’s trappings remain the same,” Vieira read during ASM.
Vieira was inspired to write her essay because of her family’s experience with addiction and the recent opioid crisis sweeping Massachusetts.
“I felt like it was really fitting time to talk about my experiences with addiction and my experiences with my town, and how it’s perceived by the student body of Andover,” said Vieira in an interview with The Phillipian.
In “Cherry Pits,” Du examined the connections between her father’s desire to conceal his ethnic identity and her close friend’s struggle with his sexuality. Using the cherry pit as a metaphor, Du compared her observations to her younger self hiding cherry pits in the back of her mouth.
Du read, “When my father tried to hide his Chinese accent he often reminded me of that cheeky, seven-year-old me trying to speak through a mouthful of cherry pits, like there was something in his mouth but he did not want anyone to know it was there… I was too young to understand xenophobia and homophobia and all the other phobias in the world, so all I knew was that his half-hidden accent sounded funny.”
In the writing process, Du first focused on her friend’s sexuality and identity, she said. Du’s cherry-pit metaphor came to her when she was reminiscing about when she hiked up a mountain and ate cherries with her friend. This was where Du’s friend revealed that he was gay. This scene on the mountain and the cherries emerged as a vehicle as she wrote more about individual moments in her friendship.
“At first I didn’t have the metaphor in mind, but it just sort of took a life of its own and broadened my father’s story and it broadened so many stories, and all of a sudden it was all about the cherry pits,” said Du in an interview with The Phillipian.
Takyi’s essay, “In Theory,” discussed the disconnect between the compliments directed at African-American women and girls and the way they are treated by others on the Andover campus.
“I’m asking that we think critically about why we feel such a need to assure others that we value black girls through our words, when we and the systems around us are so reluctant to do so through action. I am not an aesthetic. Black women and girls are not an aesthetic. We are multifaceted and conflicted and intricate, and we deserve more than to be loved in theory,” read Takyi.
Takyi in an interview with The Phillipian, “My freshman year, I remember our Means Essay [ASM] and it was so amazing. There was this one girl, Anna Stacy [’13], and she did just this amazing essay on her synesthesia. Afterward, I found her in the crowd and I was like, ‘That was so good! Can you please send me an email of that?’ And she did, and ever since then I’ve really wanted to do it myself.”
Although Takyi had wanted to write a Means Essay since her Junior year, finding a topic did not come easily to her.
“I was supposed to be writing and I struggled so hard with actually getting the words down, saying what I actually wanted to say, so I sort of just said I wasn’t going to write it. That was where I was, and an hour before the deadline, I wrote it really quickly,” said Takyi.
English Teaching Fellows Andrea Acosta, Sofia Tirado, and Garrett Richie selected the three finalists from the 40 essays that were submitted and will choose this year’s Means Essay Prize winner based off of the declamations.
Tirado said, “I felt really honored to read so many deeply personal stories. We had so many powerful essays that it made the decision that much harder. There were definitely many factors at play when judging these essays. We looked both at the quality of writing and the impact of the story, although it’s near impossible to separate form and content. The essays we chose as finalists were not only well-written, but also shared an important message or story.”
The final winner will receive a prize of 150 dollars.