Personal Essay

By Anna Szarka

2022 Anne Mackay Scholarship winner Anna Szarka of Mattituck High School.

2022 Anne Mackay Scholarship winner Anna Szarka of Mattituck High School.

I have demonstrated the actions of an upstander by serving as a teacher and role model for elementary, middle, and high school students through trainings, events, and motivational presentations. “Standing Up for Justice,” “Mental Health Awareness,” and “Substance Abuse” are among the many programs I co-created alongside my fellow Student Leaders. I wasn’t always so driven to inspire students to take stands. I persevered through bullying, depression, anxiety, and OCD along with witnessing bipolar disorder in my mother, and alcoholism in my father to shape me into an advocate. The start of my journey was in seventh grade, a time when I was anything but an upstander. One day in March, my guidance counselor who I often visited, gave me a packet that read “Long Island Teen Institute (LITI), a leadership and prevention retreat.” This was my first glimmer of hope. A chance to better myself and try something new.

When I arrived at the retreat, a Senior Student Leader from my school led my group, and quickly became a role model for me. I learned from her that I can utilize my struggles to help and benefit the lives of others. This unexpected retreat was just what I needed to see my life from a new perspective and provide positive changes for myself and others. When I returned to school the following Monday, I joined the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Club alongside my Student Leader. I then became actively involved in this club and continued to attend every LITI weekend retreat.

In “Standing Up for Justice,” I teach students how to impactfully stand up for themselves, stand up for a friend, and put themselves in others’ shoes to understand and accept them. By learning the difference between being a bystander and being an upstander, they obtain the tools to become confident young adults that fight for human rights wherever they go.

In “Mental Health Awareness,” juniors and seniors are trained over multiple occasions to break the stigma that LGBTQ+, males, and various cultures struggle with in terms of acceptance and seeking support. We push the concept of ‘the invisible backpack’ to show how anyone can be dragged down by hundreds of metaphorical ‘bricks’ on their back that you may not know about.

In “Substance Abuse Prevention,” we encourage students to resist peer pressure and learn to say no to drugs and alcohol. We make sure to educate them on the serious health risks that substances have on your body, and the negative mental impacts they have on the loved ones around you.
I aspire to continue to be an upstander through my intended major of Social Work. I hope to represent the misunderstood and underprivileged and help them move forward through their hardships. I look fondly to my future of helping others in new and exciting ways while inspiring them to become role models as well. I strive to be the change in the world that ignites various people to become upstanders and fight for what is right