“Loving someone deeply gives you strength”  –Lao Tzu 

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” The Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest recognizes the need for such “true education,” and since its inception 14 years ago the contest has been in the vanguard of providing character education for Georgia high school students.2012-2013 

The Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest is a program of the Georgia Rotary Districts Character Education Program, Inc. (GRDCEP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 

The state winner is Tania Canel, a 12th grader from Roswell High School. Below please enjoy her winning essay:

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. My mind races as we approach the parking lot of the mall, anticipating the thoughts and looks we will get from the people inside. It’s hard not being able to tell everyone how I feel and not being able to tell them what my life is really like. These are oblivious strangers and I can’t expect them to not judge me.

I slide open the door and help my younger sister get my brother’s wheelchair out of the trunk while my mom starts getting his seat belt off. I can feel it already: eyes watching as we get him ready. I can’t do anything about it. After my mom gets him in his wheelchair, I hook him up to his feeding tube. It’s time. We start for the door and I wonder if I am the only one who can feel the tension lingering in the air.

As soon as we step through the doors, I can feel all eyes on us, people turning and staring. My brother, Deandrei, doesn’t know what’s running through the strangers’ minds, but I do. They may be thinking of how sad our situation must be. These strangers don’t know how hard it is. They don’t know that the hospital is like a second home to my family. That we’ve spent holidays and birthdays in cold hospital rooms wondering if my brother was going to survive the visit. That I have spent many days waking up at 4 in the morning getting ready for school in cramped hospital bathrooms because I spent the night on a stiff sofa next to him. Each reason to visit was different from the one before: lung collapse, not eating, surgery, not breathing, lung collapse again, 45 minute seizure, not waking up, surgery, throwing up blood, seizure, pneumonia, surgery, tests, pancreatitis…

After Deandrei was born, maintaining his health became like a game of whack-a-mole: once we got past one obstacle, a new one came. Right when we thought the game was over, a new “mole” rose up. As he grew up, his conditions went from bad to worse. He was put in a wheelchair at 2 years old, he couldn’t and still can’t communicate, and he had to eat through a tube. The latter was probably the worst; for almost a year after his surgery he let out excruciating shrieks of pain that were also reflected in his eyes.

Now, as we walk through the mall, Deandrei is ten years old. All aspects of life are not what I thought they would be before my brother was born. I was forced to grow up much faster than anyone leading a “normal life” would have to. I have experienced a spectrum of emotions—such as sorrow, confusion, panic and happiness—that I didn’t know existed at such extremes. Though I have missed out on joining clubs and sports, hanging out with my friends, and vacations due to the amount of effort that it takes to even pack all of the things Deandrei needs for a simple car ride, I now know that you have to make sacrifices because “loving someone deeply gives you strength.”

As my brother and I grew older, he helped me develop into a more mature, understanding, and nonjudgmental person who I don’t think I would be if he wasn’t here. Deandrei has helped me realize that people face all kinds of problems. And despite the growing hardships and health problems, he has always had a smile on his face. I try to do the same every day and try my best at everything I do because I have the ability, potential, and privilege to, unlike my brother.

I continue through the mall with a new perspective. Although these people think our situation is sad, I think it’s blessing. Their looks remind me of how lucky I am and that’s the magic in moments like these. When I watch pitying strangers, I realize how my brother has shaped my life into something wonderful.

Dance Mixer Magic
By Beth Volpert

Love really does show on the faces of couples who are in love. That is exactly how this writer found Donna and Charles Broome. Their love for one another was obvious on a rainy, cold January morning when I walked into Parkside Bakery to meet a friend. In fact, it was magic enough to compel me to interrupt their breakfast to ask them how long they had been married.

Lacy Leathers

I cannot believe that this will be my last monthly column for the Gwinnett Citizen! I have thoroughly enjoyed writing and reporting various stories throughout this past year. I have met and had the pleasure of working with so many awesome people in our local area.

What You Can Learn From a 12 Year Old Beauty Queen

By Noel Kitchen (Aunt Noel)

grace-resizedMy niece, Gracie, is an unstoppable force of a human being.  She has an amazing love for her family, a true dedication to her friends, a freakishly intelligent brain (we are still wondering how that happened), a natural outer beauty that needs no makeup, a faith in Jesus that is rock solid, and a confidence that is mind blowing. She is also taking on the beauty pageant scene with a passion that is teaching her that beauty isn’t just skin deep, but truly the heart of the person.

When I was 12 years old I was completely and totally insecure.  Convinced by my peers I was ugly and stupid, I would have rather died a slow torturous death than to walk on a stage knowing others are judging me.  This is just one more thing that amazes me about her.  She doesn’t see it as they are judging her as a person, only by the requirements of the pageant.  Dress, check.  Hair, check.  Smile, check. Beauty pageants scare the living daylights out of me.  Again, thanks to my childhood peers, I struggle with the term beauty.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror for fear that all the times I was told how NOT beautiful I was will be confirmed through my eyes.  It’s lame, I am aware of this, but “words” did hurt me (thanks to all the other insecure people who tagged me at a young age).  I was petrified for her when she decided to do pageants because of my own insecurity.  What would this do to her if she didn’t win?  Will she know that she is beautiful without a crown?  Will she know that we are all proud of her and love her regardless of her title?  I did not want her to be as insecure as I was at her age.

Gracie is the real deal though.  She does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings…. EVER!  She genuinely wants to help others, as long as it’s not with cleaning the dishes.  She still sees the good in the world.  Although she may care what others think about her… it’s more about who she is other than what she looks like.  She doesn’t see not being titled “Queen” as a loss to her but a joy for the winner.  She “loses” soooooo gracefully and she is competitive!  Now mind you, the child has yet to go home without a crown from a pageant.  She is crowned for People’s Choice, Miss Sweetheart something or another and I’m sure there are other titles she has received.  Maybe I should ask her Mom what those titles all are and write that up for you.  I have no idea what most of these things mean.

As I have watched her on stage hearing others names called out for placements, I stalk her.  I watch her every move.  It blows me away how composed she is.  SHE IS 12 YEARS OLD!!!  She has a maturity that makes a lot of 40 year old men & women look like they belong on a playground.  I have watched some of her pageant buddies to see the difference in personality.  They don’t hold their composure as well.  I would say that I am biased because Gracie is my niece, but it is not biased.  It is an observant fact… there are those that lose and show that they cannot deal with let downs very easily.  There are those that understand it just wasn’t their time.  She is the latter.

Her time did come though.  Recently, she was accepted & performed in the Miss Pre-Teen Atlanta pageant and she left that pageant with the title of Miss Pre-Teen Atlanta 2013.  I think we are all in shock and awe of her.  She is going to the Nationals that will be held in Orlando, FL in December.  How exciting is that?!  I can’t wait to go and support her as she takes her pageantry to another level.

Beauty pageants aren’t what we always think they are.  They are not based on an outer beauty but on a grander scale.  I love that pageants are focusing on the whole person instead of the outer portion.  Gracie has gotten involved a lot more in our community than she ever would have without pageants.  It has opened her eyes to a world and a people different than her and her upbringing.  It has opened her heart to want to do more and help others.  I have no doubt in my mind she has something up her sleeve already to end hunger.  I bet she would be the one to solve this problem!

It’s funny to me that it is taking my 12 year old niece to show me that anything is truly possible if you really want it bad enough, beauty is only skin deep, and that being who God made you is perfectly okay.  You do not have to conform yourself to fit the world in order to find your place in the world.  You need to focus on the good things of this life and have compassion to bring light to those living in the dark instead of focusing on the bad.  She has taken her fair share of ugliness in this world, even from some of her friends, but she holds her head high not because she has a crown to place on her head.  It’s because she knows that the one with the crown on His head made her as perfect as He could and she is down with that.  She is rocking that knowledge all the way to Nationals!

I am a very proud Aunt of this precious child.  Gracie has a very special place in my heart.  Sometimes it is hard for me to watch her go from the little girl jumping on my bed to the young woman she is becoming.  Watch out world!!!  Here comes Gracie!

If you would like to help Gracie reach the Nationals with a corporate sponsorship or fundraiser opportunity, please contact Beth Hansen by phone: 770.362.4578. Thank you!!


Diana DeGarmo, "our little girl"

DeGarmo is still "our little girl"
By Phylecia Wilson

SNELLVILLE (July 2004) - She belongs to America and the world now, but many in Snellville and Gwinnett County will always remember Diana Degarmo as "our little girl."

I first met Diana in 1995 when she was six years old. We were planning the second Relay For Life in Gwinnett and looking for some good talent for the Friday night entertainment. Committee member Joy Purvis, owner of a talent and modeling school, told us about a little girl with a whole lot of talent that would love to be part of the event. (Joy now owns Hot Shot Kids in Atlanta).