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Congratulations Sunrise and East Ventura Optimist Club Essay Contest Winners!  Sunrise Optimist Club:  1st place - Allison La

The VUSD Board of Education will honor the Sunrise and East Ventura Optimist Club Essay Winners from El Camino High School and Ventura High School at their Board of Education Meeting on Tuesday, March 14th.
Click on each student's name below to read their winning essay on Who is an Everyday Hero that Brings out the Optimism in You

1st Place Allison Laak (El Camino HS), 2nd Place Linnea Browne (Ventura HS)3rd Place Emily Sehati (Ventura HS)

East Ventura
1st Place Brynn Gray (Ventura HS), 2nd Place Rachel Alonzo (El Camino HS)3rd Place Kampton Carter (El Camino HS)


Allison Laak

796 words


     Every week – on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays - I run. Not to or from anything, but for the exercise. I take a long route, and it takes me, or at least my legs, making me regretful before I have even begun. I have seen the scene of the landscape of that route so systematically I could run through it in my sleep. The whole affair would be explicitly unremarkable were it not for the event that occurred, without fail, every run, halfway down the long side of the barranca, where I run by a bystander that stays with me the rest of the way home. 

     Here is how it begins: the gate to my backyard swings open, I run down the driveway, and I nm up the street. The blacktop feels unforgiving as I am still not committed to the fact that I am going to finish this journey. much less enjoy it. I divert off into the neighborhood. 

     I see a cat. I wave. It runs away. 

     The scent of eucalyptus hits me: once I reach the path around the barranca. I go left first. downhill. An errant scrub jay flashes blue against the melting. afternoon sky. It might be intolerably hot or cold; I do not have the energy to care. 

     I see another cat. This one does not run; this one wants pets. I oblige and revel in the fact that I am not so obsessed as to mourn a lost second. Then I start again and trick myself to mourn the lurch as if l were being exemplary and operational before that disturbance. 

     I turn right, taking the sidewalk adjacent to the road, and a dry, dead branch from a eucalyptus tree has fallen across the fence, scraping my arm as I dodge by. One more right tum. and I will have made it to the part of the run that makes me want to quit. 

     Yet I keep going every time, because I remember who is waiting on the other side. 

     I turn my glance to the trees jetting up from the barranca, hoping to see an owl or a hawk, anything that would justify my legs losing momentum to marvel at a bird that could fly this route with ease but does not need to because it is already fit enough. 

     I see nothing and I am forced to hold in my head the picture of who is waiting on the other side. 

     The air is cooling, urging me faster, past the community garden. Lam hit with the humid pungency of mulch, synergizing with the brown, crackling eucalyptus, to urge me faster still, up the path and onto the sidewalk adjacent to the other road. 

     Cars whiz by, running much faster than me, reminding me that I am not running for anybody but myself, myself and... 

     I can see her now, as I turn onto the other side of the barranca and run downhill - she is sitting, resting at the clearing where the last vestiges of light break through the eucalyptus. She is a woman with snow-white hair, clutching her walker. with eyes that dance within their crinkled frame. I wave as I approach her - she waves back, her sweater rippling. 

     I know that she has walked all the way up and around the barranca, just as I have run, starting out perhaps an hour earlier and taking one step at a time. I know this because I have been a witness to her moving with methodical passion. 

     She is five times my age, shorter than me, slower than me. 

     She cannot run. Yet I can. And I am the one complaining about tired legs. 

     “Hello!” I say – using all my energy to make my voice exist.

     “Excellent!” she replies, her voice strong and jubilant – cheering me on. 

     One word – “Excellent!” – and I remember that I run because I want to be healthier, to be more capable, to enjoy nature, to feel fulfilled by the challenge. 

     One smile – her choice from a million other ways to cast her face – and I know she understands the validity of my struggle and the gift of solidarity. 

     One person – her – and I understand what it means to be a hero, one to whom optimism is intrinsic, yet only meaningful when shared. One who revels in the beauty of ability at all levels. She possesses an inexhaustibly full heart and a perpetually empty hand, a hand to wave to the world as it whizzes past her and she merely, no, brilliantly, appreciates the joy of every second. 

     She persists in my mind long after she has disappeared behind the curve of the path. With one word, one smile, one moment of her time, he inspires me to have hope in each step. 

Linnea Browne

781 words

      Who is my everyday hero? The person that I was, am, and yet to be, provide me with hope and light. But, like anyone else, I am hugely shaped by the people and influences that make up my day-to-day life. The people who support me, teach me, inspire me, and love me all make up a part of my identity. My beliefs, environment, and experiences also play a role in who I am today and who I will become. With the support of those that I love, my optimistic ideal becomes a reality.

      I bring out optimism within my day-to-day habits. I alone am in charge of choosing where I spend my time, and I choose to spend it on meaningful activities. One example of this is practicing daily gratitude. Over the last year, I have worked on shifting my mindset into one that appreciates the beauty in the world. Now, instead of stepping outside, preoccupied with all the stresses of my day, I feel grateful for the fresh air that fills my lungs and the warm sun that beams down on my skin. I keep a gratitude journal where I write down the happy moments from my day, acting as a constant reminder that every day brings joy. Another one of my practices that brings out my optimism is choosing to show kindness to others. In my restaurant job, for example, I greet and smile at every customer. Making other people smile makes me believe in humanity’s goodness, which I believe is a basis for a hopeful future. Of course, as a human, I slip up sometimes and am not the most compassionate, patient individual that I seek to be. When I act this way, I feel pessimistic and guilty. Knowing this, I try my best to treat others with generosity and kindness in order to spread positivity to others and feel good about the person I choose to be. All in all, my uplifting routines allow me to feel content and hopeful. I feel peace knowing that even when life gets difficult, I pursue purposeful endeavors.

      I am an anxious person. At times, my worries seem endless. I get worked up, feeling like I am not doing enough or doing the right thing. I exhaust myself with these burdens and wonder where I will find the strength to keep doing challenging things. But, in moments of insecurity, I remind myself of why I do what I do: I am working towards a dream. I dream of going to university to continue my education and learn to be independent. I dream of buying a home and raising a family. I dream of being able to help my parents financially when they retire. I dream of donating to charities that I am passionate about. I also experience a deep sense of relief when I think about all the amazing people I have in my life that love and support me. This is what keeps me going. When I remind myself of these things, I feel revived, motivated, and best of all, hopeful. Hopeful about a good future; optimistic about life.

      Writing an appreciation essay to myself may seem self-centered, but that is not the intention. In fact, I write this as a “thank you” to everyone around me. I thank my parents for showing me how to love others and love myself. I thank my teachers for instilling confidence in me at a young age. I thank my friends for always being there for me and making me laugh. Others lift me up and give light to my world. I would not be the same without the people I love, but I could not be me without, well, me. So, by thanking myself for making choices that reflect my optimistic ambitions, I also thank everyone who has shaped me into who I am today.

      I am not perfect. I can be impatient. I need reassurance. At times, I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I am not where I would like to be on my self-love journey, but in all honesty, who really is? A self-love journey is an imperfect, never-ending endeavor. But, if we continuously work on ourselves, we begin to flourish. A huge step in this process is appreciating all that we do for ourselves. I appreciate that I write in my gratitude journal. I appreciate that I reassure myself when times get hard. I appreciate that I have built supportive and loving relationships. And by thanking myself, I thank everyone and everything that make me optimistic about the present and the future. We all have the power to be a hero and ll the world with optimism.

Emily Sehati

Lessons With Mammon

     Sugar cubes and strongly brewed Sadaf tea fill Saturday mornings with an allusion to another past. The same fragrances of sumac and rose water that waltzed through grandma’s kitchen in California did the same many years ago, 7,630 miles away, in a modest kitchen in Shiraz, Iran until 1979.

     Her eyes were blue. They tell a valorant story of trials and tribulations, of constant devotion to her family. She spoke with her gaze. With eyes so warm– still, after her passing, remains a connection from past to present.

     Her story, a work of art, begins in Shiraz.

     Mammon was Jewish mother of ten in Iran at a time of shifting political climate, with the unsettling reality that eventually, fleeing would be the last remaining option for her and her family. The revolution that pulsed through the country was just one of the many challenges Mammon had to overcome to become the figure she was, and is, in our family. Widowed, she was faced with the task of taking care of a household and children with just herself to lean on, and within a Persian culture that questions such power within a single woman. This, though, was just one of many hurdles that came her way. And she leaped.

     Mammon’s story has many beginnings, and to say her impact starts as a mother would be false. The eldest of five sisters, she instilled qualities of respect and compassion in every dimension of her life and being. The same instincts she would adopt in a short years’ time as a mother began when her role as an older sister emerged. I can still envision the presence of Mammon and her sisters as they sat together amongst her garden, siblings tired by life; the garden was as fruitful as the families they bore and is still growing today.

     Mammon was a role model in her own right, but there were always barriers she needed to break through. She was married off at the age of nine in an arranged marriage. Regardless of qualms with in-laws, her resilience shined as she didn’t lose sight of herself and her responsibilities as a provider. This resilience followed her as she became a mother– suddenly, at age fourteen. It was a marriage shakened with struggle, yet she continued to serve her children through a demeanor of care, devotion, selflessness and support. She would be continuously tested: she mourned the loss of three children to disease, but proved to serve her family in more ways than one, demonstrating her ability to devote herself to others.

Even After All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
"You owe me. "
Look What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

- Hafiz1

     The ancient poet, Hafiz, conducted his own art through writing, and in the same city of Mammon’s origin: Shiraz, Iran. Hafiz writes of the same themes Mammon instilled in her children and grandchildren, of modesty and humbleness. Such devotion to a higher cause, with 1 Hafiz, ‘The Sun Never Says’ endless sacrifice, was seen through her ability to redefine the roles she has taken on in her life. Boundaries aren’t broken because they weren’t made; this applies to me today as I navigate the American Dream as a first-generation American. Mammon’s blue eyes, and knowing their gaze, helps me build my visions for my future. My values are rooted in the fact that failure can’t be avoided, but rather, failure is a hurdle with a gratifying experience ahead.

     As each day turns to night, a moon with its transitions from new to full shines fresh light on a developing shadow– my developing shadow.

I said: “Be as the moon to me”;
she said: “That moon might rise, my friend”.
- Hafiz2

     However gradual in its growth, the ominous femininity of the moon always remains against a strongly shining sun. I hope to be an emerging product of Momman’s moonlit shadow– we don’t always see the moon, but it’s always there, modest and humble. Just as the moon’s phases shrink and expand, a progress staggered yet continuous, I gradually mature from adolescence. My path in Momman’s shadow began when I became an older sister. I became a role model, existing in a country that bears opportunity for women. Mammon, so sweet in memory and honor, comforts the elements of resistance in my daily life. If need be, I cool down with Mammon’s favorite, watermelon; a remedy from a briskly escalating life paired with the delicate taste of rosewater, a calming tribute to Mammon and her delicately sharp ways (after all, a rose does have thorns). The idea of treading slowly has transformed me through my own leaps as I experience personal growth, allowing me to define my own qualities, qualities written by me, so I can positively impact others. My list of roles grows daily, the same way Mammon’s did.

But I do not care for name or fame. 
- Hafiz3

     Mammon never expected anything from anyone. She demonstrated modesty and humbleness, exemplifying strength in resistance. Her being echoes within me, providing daily comfort in remaining sure of my identity. If I were to thank Mammon, she might wave me off. The light in my own being. No, Mammon did not “care for name or fame”. I am here, keeping her memory close, basking in its serenity. I now climb with my own strength, through the present and future, knowing that moonlight is always there.


1. Hafiz, ‘The Sun Never Says

2. Hafiz, excerpt from ‘The Grief is All I Feel for You

3. Hafiz, excerpt from ‘My Mad Heart

Rachel Alonzo
778 words

My Seed

“When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary When troubles come and my heart burdened be Then, I am still and wait here in the silence Until You come and sit awhile with me”
– Josh Gorban, “You Raise me Up”

     Have you ever awakened at 6 am to a vexatious alarm ringtone and raised your torso midway only with enough strength to hold your upper body, and thus, your head rests on the palms of your hands? It is at 6:01 am when you desire to call in sick to work and get your full — if not more — eight hours of sleep. But at 6:02 am, something pulls your legs out of bed, it plants them on the floor, your head raises from your palms, and with your eyes maybe still closed, you make your way to the bathroom and rinse your face. It is there when you examine the mirror of your countenance and decide to start your day, not with a smile but with a look of “here we go again.” So then, what is it that gets us up in the morning? What is the force that drives us to challenge our physical body and mental notion? It may be necessity, responsibility, or maybe routine ... well ... mine is someone. Someone whose example and words impel me to ground my feet on the dark, wooden, cold floor. Someone who before the clock strikes 5 am, is awake, ready to begin his day, and who indeed starts it with a smile — a contagious optimism to those around him. Someone whose example and teachings have lifted my head high so I can keep running till I win the race. He has taught me personal virtues and the way to conduct myself well in society – to help my community with my abilities, and in the future, with my profession.

     Prudence, kindness, patience, gratitude — are simply words made up of consonants and vowels. It is the action itself that defines them. The giving is gratitude, the waiting is patience, the reasoning is prudence, and so on. Virtues that without them, we cannot succeed in our future since they navigate us into the real world, preparing us to confront the conflicts of society. My hero has taught me every one of them, encouraging me to act righteous at all times. He has taught me that even when I am at the peak of success, to keep humble, and when I encounter those who were not granted the opportunities that I have enjoyed, to become the most sincere and simple woman. He trusts that I know these values, reminding me to continue working hard, sustaining knowledge, and contributing wisdom to those around me with prudence, kindness, patience, gratitude, and overall humbleness.

     He has taught me to be an ambitious and successful woman and to have innovative, determined, and intelligent goals. To be committed to myself and others and have the ability to think objectively. He says, “Today the horizon is open for you to stand out in your specialty,” encouraging me to compete in the professional world without limitations or fears. With love and care, he tells me I am prime in all aspects of clarity, moral strength, and willingness to achieve what I set out to do. He has taught me to consider my abilities, qualities, and worth in front of the world and that if I adopt these ideals, knowledge will never be an obstacle in my path; it will be a beautiful tool for my personal growth and social conviction. His teaching has been the light to my inspiration — to improve myself every day as I wake up and reach for my goals, no matter how high they may seem. He is the seed of my tree, and when I bringeth forth the fruit of my season, I will share with him the ripest harvest I have grown.

     And at 6:03, 6:05 ... 8, 11 am ... every step I take on the way to school, every word I type, every math equation I solve, every social interaction I participate in, every decision I make, I do it because of him. I offer the loudest applause to the author of my achievements, my education, and my personal growth. I will continue to strive to be the best, standing out in academics, art, and culture. Thank you for being the best attribution to the molding of my person: making me virtuous to act, ready to learn, and optimistic about the future. Thank you for planting in me the desire to serve my community. You have won the title of my hero, Dad.



Warner Records Vault. “Josh Groban - You Raise Me Up (Official Music Video) | Warner Vault.”

YouTube, 26 Oct. 2009,

Kampton Carter

     How does one define an “everyday hero?” Is an everyday hero someone who puts someone else’s needs above their own? Is an everyday hero a person that spreads a little bit of kindness everywhere they go and touches lives along the way? My everyday hero has shown me that genuine optimism can truly improve lives. Without her influence on my life every day, I would not be the optimistic person that I am today. The everyday hero that brings out the optimism in me is my mom.

     Optimism is allowing ourselves to see hope and the silver lining in all that we do – especially during the toughest times we face. I never cease to be amazed by everything that my mom does. One of the most impressionable things that have been made on me is her drive to stay kind, even when she thinks no one is watching. She gave up her career as a kindergarten teacher so that she could be a stay-at-home mom. She wanted to be there for her kids to help them grow into kindhearted people that knew the value in kindness and positivity. With what my mom has taught me of kindness to others, I try to help anyone and anything to the best of my ability. It matters to me how people feel and if I can make a positive difference in a life... it's a good day for me. From rehabilitating doves to saving spiders from getting squashed, or being the person my friends can lean on if they’re having personal struggles, I always try to make myself available to someone in need. Kindness to others isn’t the only thing that I try to carry with me every day, but I always hear my mom’s voice reminding me to be kind to myself too.

     Being kind to myself is something that I have always struggled with personally. From depression to elatedness, my mom has imprinted something on me that I will never forget: human emotions are normal and we need to be accepting of them. Countless days I have struggled with depression and body image issues, and she reminds me that I need to be kind to myself the way that I am to others. This made me realize that everyone deals with the broad range of human emotions, and it makes me want to be that person to all my friends that my mom is to me. I want to be a person that my friends can count on, especially if they're going through a really difficult time. The way I see it, the struggles I have learned from impacted me to always see the silver lining, even in the darkest times.

     Stepping outside of myself is something that I learned from my everyday hero. A close friend of mine had severe depression... to the point of suicidal thoughts. My friend came to me because the future seemed quite hopeless and there wasn’t anyone else to turn to. My efforts to be there and make sure my friend felt seen and heard, weren’t just my own efforts. My everyday hero was there with me behind the scenes, helping me shine an optimistic light on life for my friend. My everyday hero didn’t know my friend at all, and she didn’t get any recognition. That is what unsung, everyday heroes do. They perform genuine acts of kindness without expecting anything back.

     Many years ago, my mom and I were driving through Ojai when we suddenly came across a Cooper’s hawk in the middle of the road. The bird had been hit by a UPS truck, and no one nearby was doing anything to help it. My mom, being the kindhearted person she is, wasn’t afraid to hold the hawk and comfort it until an employee from the Ojai Raptor Center arrived to retrieve the injured animal. When I was in kindergarten, my mom rehabilitated an injured opossum and brought it to my school to teach my class about our local marsupial before releasing it. I loved how she shared the importance of being kind to animals among such a young age group. Among countless other instances of saving animals, my siblings and I always joke that our mom is an “animal whisperer,” especially since she’s never been injured by a wild animal she’s rescued.     My mom makes me want to strive to be an optimistic and kind person in this world – to see the good in all living things and positively impact others. A hero doesn’t know they’re a hero, and a hero doesn’t do anything to get something in return or get recognition. One of the biggest gifts of unsung, everyday heroes is that they inspire others to become everyday heroes too.

  • El Camino High
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