2018 Summer of Zen Scholarship

Congratulations to the winner and runners-up of the 2018 Summer of Zen Scholarship:

  • Winner: Faith G. - Florida

  • Runner-up: Anna Z. - California

  • Runner-up: Olivia P. - New Jersey

  • Runner-up: Sydney Z. - Wisconsin

We received hundreds of outstanding entries to this year’s prompt (“Describe your ideal day of zen. What would you do? Where would you go, and who would you go with? Why does this day feel 'zen' to you?”), and these four students’ responses stood out.

Faith’s winning entry answered the prompt with thoughtfulness and maturity. We were impressed with the precision with which she described life’s most precious moments of peace, and we loved how she emphasized the effect of sharing those “zen” moments with loved ones.

"The feeling of the warm smoothness of sand running through my toes calms me. Sitting on a towel while the sun beats down on my skin, observing my younger siblings enjoying what the summer’s ocean has to offer them, my parents enjoying each other’s company, my mom smiling at how perfect this day seems, my dad sitting on a lawn chair he bought for occasions like this, and my sisters and brother competing over who can hold their breath the longest underwater. To stay frozen in this moment, no pain, no arguments, no fights would be a gift to cherish. Only the sounds of laughter, the smiling faces, the waves of mother nature's ocean, her seagulls sitting along the bridge or walking along the sand, scavenging for their next meal, the sand between my toes and the sun warming my skin.

Peace. That's what I felt while laying there on that blue towel. Peaceful because of the positivity surrounding me, and the peace of mind I had knowing that right now, nothing could ruin this moment, that nothing else mattered. All that mattered in this moment was my family enjoying the breeze, knowing we were happy. We knew that once we left we wouldn’t be back for a while, and there would be complaints of wanting to stay for a little while longer, just a few more minutes longer. The car ride home would be different, though. Snores from the passenger seat, till the second row could be heard for miles. No loud music playing on the radio, no phones or iPads being played, only the imprint that the beach left on us—a mark of remembrance.

While we were there, though, there were no worries of leaving, of going back home. Only this moment mattered most.” —Faith G.

All three runners-up wrote stellar essays. We were impressed by their eloquent writing, unique insights, and wise-beyond-their-years perspectives:

“It begins with sunlight. After a long school year of being rudely woken up each morning by either an angry alarm clock or an angry mother, my day of zen begins with a soft blanket of sunlight gently announcing its arrival. It may be 10 in the morning, or 1 in the afternoon, but on this day time is infinite. Then I just drive. I get in my car, all the windows down, and cruise down the highway, the one that’s right next to the ocean. The one that faces the sun so directly that I have to squint through the glow obstructing my view. The one that’s wide enough for 5 cars in a row, the one that’s big enough to hold all the hopes and dreams I’ve been too scared to release otherwise. Of course I have Stella next to me, my beloved mutt, and she demands we take a stop at the dog beach. So we do. She chases the waves and runs away from the bigger dogs, occasionally returning to me for a treat. But I don’t do much. I lay there and count the clouds, burying my hands in the sand and swimming in my thoughts. I bask in this nothingness, before I return to bills and letter grades and big decisions. I stay there as long as I can, until the moon replaces the sun, until Stella gets tired of looking for crabs in the sand. On the drive home, we count the stars instead of the clouds. On the drive home, I slip the last moments of this warm day into my pocket, only to open when the inevitable cold nights arrive. —Anna Z.

"I breathe in the sweet fragrance of blooming flowers in the spring. All I can hear is birds chirping, but besides that, all is quiet. The sun is shining warmly, and I serenely stroll through the Japanese Garden. I observe the pond of koi fish, and smile at their little lips puckering. Cherry blossoms cover the ground, and everywhere I look, I see beauty, in all forms. As I sit on the little orange bridge, I think about how relaxed I am. Connecting with nature is one of the best things in life. Natural beauty is out there, and when you find it, savor the memory. This fantastic moment of peace is the ultimate moment of zen. My mind is not occupied with stress or school assignments. Instead, I sit here with only myself for company. But sometimes, taking a moment for myself and observing beautiful springtime is just what I need. I am refocused, calm, and ready to tackle anything. I just have to remember to stay zen, and think back to this moment. I come here once a month and just lie here on the bridge on my back. I look up at the sky, and at all my surroundings. I think about how lucky I am to have this garden, and to have a place where there are no distractions. Here, I feel at one with nature and there is no better zen than that." —Olivia P.

“When most people hear the word “zen”, they think of activities such as relaxing yoga, long walks on the beach, curling up with a good book on a rainy day, or other hobbies of that nature. While I do consider these examples to be calming, I do not immediately include them in my ideal day of zen. For me, I feel most zen when I am at a concert, dancing and singing the night away with my best friend right beside me. The crowds make me feel a sense of belonging and comfort despite the fact that crowds in any other environment set off my anxiety. Screaming lyrics along with the artist is soothing, especially if I am able to remember all the words. The incredible amount of energy present at a concert makes me feel alive, and knowing that my friends are dancing right beside me makes me feel loved. The noise and intensity of a concert, specifically a rock concert, is definitely not the average person’s first idea of zen, but for me, the chaos is comforting. Concerts are where I can put my life on pause and forget about what’s bothering me, and they are where I feel most at peace.” —Sydney Z.

Thanks again to everyone who entered this year’s Summer of Zen Scholarship!