Dr. Wes: We had a record nine applicants for this year’s Double Take contest, with three juniors and six seniors, one from Free State, four from Bishop Seabury Academy and four from Lawrence High.
In addition to the challenge question, each applicant wrote a second essay at my office on a difficult question not revealed until the day of the interview. In addition to Katie and myself, our judges included Theresa Hupp and Dane Zeller (www.danezeller.com) of Kansas City Writers Group, a 16-year-old, teachers from different schools and an adult reader.
The challenge question
I’m a 16-year-old guy who has always wanted to join the military. I want to go in at 17 and my recruiter thinks I’ll be ready, but my parents refuse to sign off. They don’t even want me to go if I’m 18 and graduated. I think it’s an honor to serve my country, like my grandpa did, and high school is just not for me. My parents say too many useless wars have been fought by kids my age, and too many have died. I say it’s my life, and in a year and a half they’ll have no say. What do you think?
This year’s runner-up, Lawrence High senior Josie Myers, gave a strong performance, particularly in the second round. She’ll complete the year and receive the scholarship if the winner cannot do so. You can read Josie’s first essay and that of third-place applicant, Lawrence High senior Michaela Mack, below.
Our new co-author is Kendra Schwartz, the first from LHS since May of 2009 when her sister, Samantha, won. Anyone who read Sam’s work will agree she was among our finest contributors. Because of the blind review of the essays, however, that legacy did nothing to help Kendra. She had to win the contest in her own right. She did so convincingly and against stiff competition. She also scored a top ranking on her interview and list of topics. Kendra will serve as co-author through August 2014 and receive a $1,000 scholarship from www.Dr-Wes.com and another $100 from Central National Bank.
In response to the challenge question, she wrote:
“Your question serves as a reminder that teens’ disagreements with adults can be more nuanced than the angst-ridden, self-centered rebellions depicted in the classic movie ‘Breakfast Club’ and in the vulgar new flick ‘Spring Breakers.’ Stories like yours teach us that such conflicts can be a manifestation of a teen’s maturation.
You are lucky. Unlike many teens, you know what you want and are passionate about it. I hope you see you have something else many teens lack: parents who want to keep you safe. Parents’ fears for their sons in the military are as old as the cannon ball.
And your parents may also be concerned about your education. People with high school degrees have more career opportunities, even in the military. Your parents’ desire that you complete high school may feel suffocating, but addressing their concerns about your education can help you convince them you should enlist when you turn 18. They may be surprised to learn that people who serve in the military can get nearly their entire college education paid for.
In other words, put your energy into researching your case. Your effort will demonstrate your passion, and researching the college opportunities and other questions, such as the extent of the danger, will buttress your arguments. At the very least, you can help your parents feel better about your choice when you turn 18.
I once created a multislide PowerPoint presentation to try to convince my parents to let me get a dog, a goal quite insignificant compared to yours. I know my parents respected my efforts, and I did get an adorable Labradoodle out of it.
No matter what medium you use to communicate your message, I hope you also explain that you feel serving is a tribute to your grandfather. I found your comment moving and your parents should, too. It’s your parents job to make sure you’re OK, and their biggest concerns are that you will be thousands of miles away dodging bullets and bombs and will never get a high school degree. Try to understand their perspective as you rationally present yours.”
Runner-up Josie Myers' response:
"To lose a child is a parent’s worst nightmare.
It is this fear that drives your parents to deny your request to join the military. While you see a great opportunity for service, camaraderie, and honor, they cannot help but envision their son coming home to them in a casket. The best way to combat this is to face it head on — as a team. If you listen to everything that they have to say, you can cultivate a greater understanding for their motives, and they will be more likely to lend you greater support. The choice to join the military is yours, but forming a compromise with your parents through communication will give you a closer relationship and a positive support group while you begin your journey into adulthood.
I assume that you have spent hours upon hours thinking about how to get your parents to understand how you are feeling. I know how it feels to think, “Why should I listen to them when it feels like they never listen to me?” The best way to accomplish your goal is to truly listen to what your parents want to tell you. Being receptive to their opinions, even if you don’t completely agree with them, is the key to gaining your parents’ support.
Have your parents sit down with you for this conversation, and explain to them how important it is that they listen to everything you have to say. Then present your argument. Try to use nonaccusatory statements starting with “I”, not “you.” This lets them know that you are willing to work with them as an adult. They are well aware that in less than two years, you will be on your own, so try to avoid that argument as well. After you have had your say, allow them theirs. With this new willingness to listen, you are creating a new line of communication where both parties can have their say.
After everyone is able to talk, start working towards a compromise. You can present several ideas concerning your education: you can try to get your GED or attend online classes if public high school isn’t your cup of tea or you can take advantage of the many education opportunities open to you through the military.
Talking to your parents about joining the military will be hard, but if you can reach a compromise, you will have the best support system anyone could ask for. All it takes is a receptive attitude and a willingness to find the middle ground."
Third-place finisher Michaela Mack's response:
"Joining the military is one of the most honorable things you can do for your country. Your aspirations to follow in the footsteps of your grandfather are noble and may be a very wise choice for your initial career path. Many people have found the military to be a great opportunity for growth and personal satisfaction. That being said, there are many reasons why the military will not accept anyone under 18 without parental consent.
Our parents didn’t make us wear helmets when we first learned how to ride a bike because it was stylish, they did so because they knew how much damage a blow to the head could do. As children, we’re told not to talk to strangers, not because we shouldn’t make friends, but to ensure our safety. Your parents have touched hot stoves, developed cavities, and gotten sick from unwashed hands. They restrict and scold us for our protection. Our parents watch us grow and sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. Believe me, your parents love you. No parent wants to lose their child, and while no one goes into the military expecting to die in battle, this is a real prospect. When you become an adult, you alone will face the responsibility and consequences of the choices you make for yourself. But until that point, part of that responsibility lies with your parents. They only want what’s best for you.
As you yourself said, it’s only a year and a half. Your life can and will change between now and then. When I look at pictures from freshman year, they make me want to find the nearest bag, put it on my head, and never take it off. It’s also amazing how everything I went through then seems like it happened just yesterday.
Your goals may be different once you reach adulthood; if not, you will have gained patience, a much-needed quality in the military. Your chance to serve your nation will be here before you even have time to say, 'I want to enlist!'"