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TEAM Westport Celebrates Teen Diversity Essay Contest Winners

Pictured are (l-r) Maxine Bleiweis, director of the Westport Library; Selectman Avi Kaner; Brendan Massoud, second place winner; Jacob Klegar, first place winner; Harold Bailey, head of TEAM Westport; Teri Walsh, president of Sachs Walsh Insurance Photo Credit: Contributed
Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTPORT, Conn. – Two students have won TEAM Westport’s 2015 Teen Diversity Essay Contest, co-partnered with the Westport Library and sponsored by Sachs Walsh Insurance.

The contest was open to all high school students who are residents of Westport or attend school in the town.

Jacob Klegar, a Westport resident and junior at Choate Rosemary Hall School, won first prize. His essay entitled, “Friendship Through a Shared Love of Tennis” explores the premise that the key to breaking down “self-segregation” in the cafeteria is for schools to put “a greater emphasis on clubs, sports and other extracurricular activities and encouraging others to get involved with their passions” in an environment in which “interracial friendships are encouraged and valued at least as much as intraracial ones.” Klegar’s prize was $1,000.

The second-prize winner was Brendan Massoud, a sophomore at Staples High School. His essay, entitled, “Eat and Meet,” frames the cafeteria issue by positing, “people are comfortable with people who are easy to identify as being similar” and there is a “common perception that people of our same race act and communicate the same way we do.” So instead of feeling comfortable familiarizing themselves with others from varying backgrounds, the cafeteria "becomes a place of self-division based on those very differences.” Massoud’s prize was $750.

The prize winners read their essays on April 6 at the awards ceremony in the Westport Library's McManus Room.

Avi Kaner, Westport’s second selectman; Maxine Bleiweiss, executive director of the Westport Library; and Teri Walsh, president of contest sponsor Sachs Walsh Insurance, were present to honor the winners. Harold Bailey, TEAM Westport’s chair, presented the prizes.

“Initiatives such as this essay contest are key vehicles for enabling Westport students to focus on key issues of diversity in the world surrounding Westport. This year’s Essay Topic – ‘The Cafeteria Challenge’ -was a very demanding one,” said Bailey.

“While the school cafeteria is the most obvious place to meet new people from backgrounds and social groups outside a student’s own, it is also the place most fraught with personal vulnerability for doing so. Framing such a level of complexity while offering pragmatic remedies to resolve it in 1,000 words or less of high caliber writing is a very tall order. We applaud the insight, skill and courage of the award winners.”

Co-partnered by TEAM Westport and the Westport Library, the contest asked teens to reflect on the barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others who are different from themselves, particularly those who are of a different race, ethnicity and/or sexual orientation. Specifically the contest asked students to “describe those barriers, and identify specific steps you and other students in your high school can take to help students break down those barriers, especially in the cafeteria. Indicate what you believe are the risks and benefits of making that effort.”

Copies of the winning essays are posted to the TEAM Westport website here .

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