‘I just wrote the essay from my heart’
| Proud moment: Tracey Simmons-Burgess hugs her son Jaret Simmons after he was announced the winner of the Tom Pettit Thanksgiving Essay Competition at Camden yesterday. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
||Winners of the Tom Pettit Thanksgiving Essay Competition at Camden yesterday. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
||Jaret Simmons the winner of the Tom Pettit Thanksgiving Essay Competition at Camden yesterday. (Photo by Mark Tatem)|
Teenager Jaret Simmons believes he has his enemies to thank for making him into the strong-willed and focused young man he is today.
The 15-year-old’s heartfelt sentiments about the “valuable life lessons” of overcoming adversity have won him the top prize in a Thanksgiving Essay Competition.
Jaret, who goes to CedarBridge Academy, spoke openly in his ‘Why I Am Thankful’ essay about suffering from depression because of verbal and physical bullying.
His personal story explained how negative influences around him had encouraged him to “look past the chaos” and “appreciate the greater things in life even more”.
Jaret fought off competition from about 90 senior school students to be named the winner of the 14th annual Tom Pettit Thanksgiving Essay Competition by Education Minister Dame Jennifer Smith at Camden yesterday.
He wrote: “If it were not for the teasing, bullying and abuse I went through, I would never be as confident as I am today.
“The name-calling taught me to ignore, the bullying taught me conflict resolution, and the overall abuse taught me to become immune to negativity.
“Surprisingly, the negative things in my life have taught me valuable life lessons instead of influencing me to do wrong”.
Jaret, of Warwick, also highlighted how many of his peers had fallen victim to gun and knife crime and how “violence, war, injustice and discrimination” plagued the world.
He added: “I see the youth of my generation falling, and to me this is traumatising. If I could, I would show them a better way to live their lives”.
Jaret said he was “surprised to win” but he hoped it showed others that you can rise above any negativity you may experience.
He said learning from his enemies was the “first thing that came to mind” when he considered what he was thankful for.
Jaret said he was bullied from the age of about seven to 13 and “it wasn’t very nice at all”. As a result he said he suffered from depression and would “come home crying and want to break everything”.
He said: “I just wrote the essay from my heart. I learned from that experience and held my head up high instead of turning sour.
“Now things have changed, things are a lot better”.
Jaret also praised his mom Tracey Simmons- Burgess for helping him through the bullying and depression by “getting my head sorted” and telling him to “think about the brighter things in life”.
Jaret hopes to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering and as a promising athlete, he also wants to continue training in track and field.
When asked whether he had a message for his enemies, he simply said: “Thank you and I love you”.
Mrs Simmons-Burgess described her son as emotional and passionate, adding that he had always been “very forward about how he feels”.
She said: “I’ve always taught him that anything is possible and he should never accept anything was above or beyond him. There also has to be a balance of love and discipline”.
Jaret was presented with the first prize grant of $1,000, with the same amount donated to his school. The five finalists won commendation of excellence awards and $500 grants.
The finalists were Jasmin Bacaba of CedarBridge Academy, Kennedy Anell Middleton of Mount Saint Agnes Academy, Amber Reid of Mount Saint Agnes Academy, Jack Ricciardi of Mount Saint Agnes Academy and Tahirah Smith of CedarBridge Academy
Dame Jennifer told the audience at the award ceremony that the essays had “raised us up and took us down again” as the students had written about their own lives.
She said: “Just remember one thing you are never too young to make a difference.
“The written word, when mastered, is a powerful and beneficial tool. It can make a difference by changing the lives of the reader.
“I am certain that the essays you have written will touch the hearts of those who read them”.
Patricia Pettit founded the competition in 1997 in memory of her late husband, Emmy award-winning NBC TV journalist Tom Pettit. Its goal is to inspire tomorrow’s journalists.
Selecting this year’s winners was a panel of judges made up of Royal Gazette senior reporter Sirkka Huish, Bermuda Sun senior reporter Raymond Hainey, well-known educator Florenz Maxwell, Ministry of Education teacher mentor Julie Foggo and Attorney General Kim Wilson.
Corporate sponsors of the competition are James Gibbons Ltd, Orbis Investment Management Ltd and the XL Foundation.