High School Essay Contest 2020 Results

In March of 2020, The World Affairs Council of the Monterey Bay Area announced an essay contest for local high school students. Participants wrote a 350 – 400-word essay addressing the following topic: If you could change something in current world affairs, what would it be? Why should it be changed and how would you change it? Each of the winners listed below will receive an award of $150.

Jasmine Agha

Junior, York School

Fear and Hopelessness in the Unknown

Click on the arrow to listen to the essay, as read by WACMB board member Doug Rogers.

Nine years ago to this date, a “day of rage” erupted across Syria as activists took to the streets, facing arrests and violence at the hands of security forces in the first widespread, peaceful uprisings against president and oppressor Bashar al-Assad. Today, as the conflict in Syria rolls into its tenth year, the single worst humanitarian catastrophe of the century continues to unfold.


This war has served as an arena for myriad combatants to assert their power flagrantly and without consequence, at the injustice of Syrian civilians. A precedent for future human rights violations becomes more unavoidable each day this continues. I believe that the international community needs to embrace diplomatic strategy and their humanitarian sides to ease the suffering of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, and to pave a path forward for all civilians.

After facing near-apocalyptic devastation and mass casualties, millions of Syrians in exodus along the Turkish border are in need of immediate relocation. This situation could be significantly remedied by the U.S. accepting greater numbers of refugees. In additional to traditional methods of integrating small numbers of refugees throughout communities, non-urban areas can be urbanized with sustainable planning. Former or declining urban areas (e.g. Detroit) would also provide support to many refugees and vice versa as regions are revitalized and repopulated with motivated youth, countering America’s aging population.

Syrian citizens face frequent and egregious infringements on inalienable rights from numerous fronts. Russian-backed Syrian forces launch nighttime sarin gas attacks, chlorine barrel bombs, and maiming cluster munition, frequently targeting hospitals and schools in their campaign of indiscriminate, terrifying psychological warfare. The only feasible way to end these atrocities is a deescalation through diplomatic means, not military intervention or short term aid. True security in Syria may take decades to achieve, but immediate action should maintain a ceasefire and joint patrols in Idlib. The ICC is poised to investigate possible crimes against humanity, legal teams can pursue jurisdictional openings to hold belligerents accountable for war crimes, and political retribution can serve as deterrent. Eventually a nationwide ceasefire, in align with UNSC Resolution 2254, and a UN peacekeeping mission redeployed to Syria would provide stabilization prior to rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. In the wake of other global challenges, it seems increasingly simple to overlook the Syrian people as only the victims of regional strife and hopelessness, but the civilian’s battle must not be forgotten.

Jane Hoffman

Junior, Santa Catalina School

Confronting the Climate Crisis

Click on the arrow to listen to the essay, as read by WACMB board member Doug Rogers.

An existential threat that is both one of the most pressing issues of the modern era and one that oftentimes goes unacknowledged by many on the world stage? When addressed as a hypothetical, this situation sounds ridiculous. However, this modern conundrum becomes increasingly pressing every day: revolving around the issue of climate change.


Despite overwhelming evidence of rising sea levels, (which, according to NASA, occurs at an average increase of 3.3 millimeters each year), and a massive increase in average global temperature (NASA reports that the five hottest years in recorded history have all occurred post-2010), not every nation is working with the urgency needed to alleviate the effects of and to stop the climate crisis. In 2015, nearly 200 nations signed onto the Paris Agreement, an international effort designed to lower global temperature rise to a figure only 2 degrees Celsius above the average global temperature prior to industrialization. The Agreement also provides stipulations and guidance for the Nationally Determined Contributions of different countries (NDCs), which are individual climate plans for various nations, with a focus on reducing carbon emissions and combating the ripple effects of climate change.

However, the Paris Agreement is no longer enough to keep the world in check and safe for future generations. A UN report from 2019 establishes that the NDCs described in the Paris Climate Accord are no longer sufficient, as new data has revealed that current patterns indicate a rise in average global temperature of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a continued rise in the years following. Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also describe the dramatic impacts that an increase in global temperature above 1.5 degrees celsius will have on the world, including more severe extreme weather events, droughts, and loss of habitat for many species of animals.

In order to solve this pressing issue, unprecedented levels of international collaboration will be required. Nations must expand their commitment to lowering their carbon emissions, by decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and increasing research and usage of clean and renewable energy. It has been so inspiring to see the climate activism of young people such as Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg in recent years, and through collaboration amongst citizens, nations, and world leaders, it will be possible to stop the dangerous rise of global temperatures and ensure the earth as our home for generations to come.

CJ Hunt

Sophomore, Seaside High School

The Problem of Capitalism

Click on the arrow to listen to the essay, as read by WACMB board member Doug Rogers.

The question I am asked to write on is this: what global problem most requires resolution, with most urgency, most necessity? This question’s answer is simple, for there is by many measures one problem which unifies all quantifiable problems and contradictions of social existence as it stands: the capitalist political-economic paradigm and mode of production.


This assertion is bold, but provable and correct. To demonstrate this, let us examine some of the severest problems of contemporary society, then elucidate their origin in capitalism. Firstly, the prevalence of war. The US has been at war my entire life. These wars are useless for the majority: The Iraq war’s pointlessness is such common knowledge it’s become humour, and quite recently the Afghanistan Papers revealed the reasons for that war were lies. So we ask the age old question, cui bono? Who profits from wars that don’t serve the workers who die fighting them? The answer: the holders of capital. The Iraq war didn’t “free” Iraq or stabilize the region. But what did it do? Open oil reserves to US capitalists, where they could invest capital to grow in wealth and influence. War is detestable to the majority, but a valuable asset to invested capital. Meaningless war arises from contradiction between the interests of the people and of capital.

Another example, impending climate-crisis. It is fact, given the immense amount of resources allocated meaninglessly (e.g. to war), the resources exist to solve climate change. But it remains. Why? It is certainly not true, as some misguided, or worse Malthusian, environmentalists say, that the majority are destroying the Earth because we do not care. Of course we care, we have a stake in the continued health of the world we live on. But capital doesn’t care, for it cannot. Capital has no mind, no future to think of; it is a brainless emotionless thing whose only drive is to invest itself everywhere that it may grow, in order to invest further that it may grow further. It is no surprise, then, that it is plastic production, waste dumping, and deforestation for the profit of capital that is the primary culprit in climate change. There are two of many problems of the capitalist economy’s arrangement of production solely to serve capital. To solve them (and others), we need an economy not for growing capital but for the common good!

Angelia Shi

Junior, Santa Catalina School

Our Future — A Religious Melting Pot

Click on the arrow to listen to the essay, as read by WACMB board member Doug Rogers.

When I was eight years old, I served pork to my friend who is Muslim. I had no idea that Muslims believe pigs are their ancestors and that therefore eating pork is forbidden by their faith. I still remember the tears and the redness from anger on her face. As a young child, this loss of friendship from my lack of comprehension of her faith made me naively fearful of meeting others from different religions.


Years later, I realize that the lack of understanding of my friend’s belief is such a small issue compared to world conflicts motivated by different religious beliefs. In a world with 4200 religions, adding interfaith components to the education system is what I would like to change. Not only seeing inadequate understanding of religions as a factor causing global conflicts but also my desire to work for the United Nations, I decided to take World Religions class and Peace and Justice class in high school. I learned so much both from the lectures on religions and the conversations with my classmates who hold varying beliefs.

Now, I make sure to use different utensils to get meat and vegetables for the convenience of my Hindu friends. I listen closely to the prayer my friend Gracie reads when lighting the candles for Hanukkah, and I stop at the door when my Buddhist friend Fatemah is meditating before lights out to give her peace and quietness. Even small actions like these are appreciated greatly in a diverse community. One small bandage to try to heal both microlevel and macrolevel wounds is to educate students like me in religious tolerance and diversity. Interfaith education is necessary to help people understand others’ beliefs. However, mistakes similar to serving pork to Muslims continue to happen all around the world.

One effective way is to add general religions class and the impacts of different religious groups globally into each curriculum. Similar to studying abroad programs, exchanging students into various religious communities can also give them a taste of interfaith education. More widely, publications can include more articles and news on different religions or from authors who have distinct religious beliefs. Even with baby steps, this world is on the path of improvement.