Megan Demarest: Runner-up 2013 Anne MacKay Scholarship Winner
By Megan Demarest
Greenport High School
I entered the world as a shy little girl into a loving German American family. As I grew older, my family helped to shape me into an understanding, knowledgeable, and accepting individual. When I entered Greenport High School, diversity emerged as a major issue in my community. Greenport High School has a culturally diverse atmosphere that some people in my hometown, Orient, did not feel would provide the best educational setting for their children. This issue proved to be frustrating because I was taught that we are all equal regardless of skin color and beliefs. In my mind, the blending and abundance of diversity makes each and every individual special and unique in their own way. It exposes people to the greatest aspects of the world and can only contribute to our understanding of different cultures.
Throughout my studies and experiences thus far, the importance of diversity has become increasingly apparent. Two girls from Russia moved into the school district. They struggled to adjust to the setting and had difficulty learning the English language. I began to tutor the girls. As I helped to teach them about American culture, they helped to show me the beauty of their own culture. The joy the girls received from speaking of the food, celebrations, and music in Russia put a smile on my face. I began to understand and appreciate the experiences they presented me with to explore the Russian culture.
My appreciation of diversity did not stop there though. In my graduating class, there are a few students with varying disabilities. I have taken an interest and effort in attempting to aid and understand their methods of thinking. I learned that an autistic boy, who resists socializing with others, is very talented and intelligent. By making an effort to become his friend, he came to share my personal experiences with me. I discovered that he loves trivia and he deeply appreciates his family as I do my own family. Helping to include him in activities inside as well as outside of school, has taught me that just because he has a learning disability does not mean that he doesn’t have a story to share or experiences to tell. I consider myself privileged to be one of those people that know of his experiences and culture.
In high school, I also became aware of diversity in economic backgrounds. Some individuals in my community are wealthy, while others cannot afford basic necessities that most of us take for granted. When the Greenport Teachers Association held their Annual Chicken Dinner, the senior class was invited to buy a ticket and enjoy the dinner as a group. I realized numerous classmates did not attend this event, and later found out it was due to economic circumstances. This caused a classmate and me to begin planning a scholarship for those in need. As we continue to organize for the scholarship, I understand that each person has a different financial situation and we must be aware of this in order to help those in need.
Volunteering in the community provided me with a different appreciation of diversity. I am a member of the Southold Town Youth Bureau and Advisory Council. As a part of this group, I helped to organize and take part in an Anti-Bias Day. The day consisted of educating students, from three neighboring school districts, tolerance. The presentation showed the students the importance of acceptance and the harmful effects of discrimination. The day showed me that the power to educate others tolerance is a vital tool that should be fully utilized in everyday life.
Diversity is an important element in my life. All of the different backgrounds, cultures, capabilities, and economic situations that I have been exposed to in the past I believe will only aid me in the future. I plan on continuing to explore the many cultures within the world through traveling and interactions with others. Also, I hope to teach others tolerance throughout the rest of my life. Whether a person comes from a different country, has learning disabilities, or different beliefs, that person has a right to be accepted and not discriminated against. As I continue on to college and begin to study the field of criminology, I am motivated to utilize what I have learned about diversity to make educated decisions and continue my efforts of helping others while striving to immerse myself within different cultures.