May 19, 2002 – When Megan-Jean Eusebe was 7 years old, her grandmother taught her four virtues to live by: love, trust, honesty and respect.
Megan-Jean's written essay explaining how those values helped guide and shape her life earned the Charlotte Amalie High School 10th grader a first place award in the 2002 Laws of Life essay contest sponsored by the Peter Gruber Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.
Megan-Jean and 47 other students from CAHS and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School were recognized in an emotional and upbeat ceremony held at the St. Peter Great House on Saturday afternoon. The were applauded onstage by an audience of proud parents, siblings, teachers, Education Department officials and community leaders.
The winning students received cash prizes for their written essays describing their personal moral values and how they strive to demonstrate those values in daily life. The eight first-place winning essays are posted online in the St. John Source Community/Other stuff section.
The Gruber Foundation awarded more than $12,000 to teachers and students during the program. Each high school had first-, second-, and third-place winners in each grade, 9 through 12. In addition, three students in each grade received honorable mention. Judges reviewed more than 2,000 essays from the two schools.
Each first-place winner received $500. Second-place winners received $250; third-place winners, $100; and honorable mentions, $50. Teachers of the winning students also received cash awards — $250 for first place, $150 for second place and $50 for third place.
Laws of Life is a national program created by philanthropist Sir John Templeton of the Templeton Foundation as a means of encouraging young people to reflect on their values and to commit them to paper in essay form. Created in 1987, the Laws of Life program now operates at 95 locations in more than 30 countries, according to Peggy Veljkovic, Laws of Life coordinator for the John Templeton Foundation.
The Peter Gruber Foundation and Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands conducted a pilot Laws of Life program at CAHS last school year. Ivanna Eudora Kean students and faculty participated for the first time this school year.
Many of this year's essays were moving stories of life lessons passed on by aunts, mothers and grandparents. Many students wrote about incidents in their own lives that helped shape their values. One student chose to demonstrate her beliefs through a whimsical fable containing a moral in the conclusion.
Amanda Warner, a senior at Eudora Kean, took first place in her grade for a punchy essay about perseverance. "My tendency is to never give up until I accomplish a goal," Amanda read to the audience Saturday. "Even though I may not be an ace at something, I still tend to stick with it until I become efficient in that skill."
CAHS student Alex Dennis said he was ecstatic to hear his name called as a first-place winner in the juniors category. In his essay, Alex shares how he used courage to resist the taunts and pressures of peers challenging him to use drugs. "Your values make you who you are. And I'm a leader, not a follower," Alex wrote.
Teachers worked with students to craft essays during the school year, incorporating the Laws of Life program into their English Department curricula. Dr. Thomas C. Unger, teacher of the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition class at Eudora Kean, said, "I asked them to write from the heart, and they did. I can't be more proud of them." Unger's students swept the top three prizes in the seniors category for Eudora Kean.
All three of the 9th grade winners from CAHS are students in Gayle Benjamin's 9th grade Honors English and regular English classes. "It's overwhelming, but also humbling to know that my students fared so well in a competition of this magnitude," Benjamin said.
Pat Gruber, speaking on behalf of her husband, Peter Gruber, told the audience, "We could not do this program without the support of parents and teachers. Teachers are already stressed, but they took the time to work with students on these essays."
The Peter Gruber fund is one of more than two dozen funds administered by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, which works to enhance the lives of children and families in the territory.
"Laws of Life is an example of how an organization or person can help in the public schools," Dee Baecher-Brown, Community Foundation president, said. "The Grubers provided the schools with booklets, teaching materials and prizes for motivation. The program is also a wonderful way to bring these two high schools together."
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