June 8-14, 2006
The write stuff
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Cathedral student writes about inspiration, wins contest
Etched into the monument that marks the grave of Jackie Robinson are the words: “A life is important only in its impact on other lives.”
The impact of that famous Brooklyn Dodger is self-evident. His appearance on the team’s roster was a watershed moment in history both for American sports and for African Americans. Recently, students throughout Upstate New York were asked to show how another figure lived as an example of that quote. From a field of 1,200 entries, Cathedral School fifth-grader Nykell Davis’ essay on Dr. Benjamin Carson was selected to represent Central New York.
Carson emerged from a troubled childhood spent in a broken home in Detroit to become the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after studying at such prestigious institutions as Yale University and the Medical School of the University of Michigan.
As a winner, Nykell joined five other students in Cooperstown, N.Y. where they were honored at a banquet at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
The essays were read by a committee consisting of members of the New York State United Teachers, the Baseball Hall of Fame and the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. Three Cathedral students participated in the contest. Cathedral School teacher Viola Paris said such contests are valuable in developing students’ awareness of their own abilities. “It’s important that our students know their potential and how they can achieve. A lot of people think all we can do is play basketball and sing and rap,” said Paris. The student body at Cathedral School is predominately African American. Dr. Carson was an appropriate selection for Nykell. Paris gave all of the students a copy of one of his books for Christmas. As a child, he had low self-esteem and a bad temper but Carson credits his mother with channeling his energies properly. In 1987, Carson made medical history with an operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head. Leading a 70-member surgical team working for 22 hours straight, Carson completed the successful surgery. In 1997, he took a leave of absence from the medical field to address groups of young people around the country.
“Ben Carson was a man of wonders. I chose him because he encourages kids to do their personal best. He encourages them in his books Gifted Hands, Think Big and The Big Picture. He wants kids to fly like birds in the sky,” Nykell wrote in his essay on Carson. The last sentence employs a simile, Paris is quick to point out. The three Cathedral School students were encouraged to utilize literary tools they had learned in class such as metaphor, simile and idiom.
Whenever such contest opportunities present themselves, Paris is eager to encourage her students to enter them. “I have very high expectations for my students,” said Paris, who emphasizes creative writing. “It’s important for our kids to know that they can do well. If you let them, kids will rise to your expectations, I can tell you that.” “I’m very proud of it,” said Nykell who added that he enjoyed participating in the contest. “It’s fun to explore other people’s lives in history.”
Like Carson’s mother, Sonya, Loretta Davis is actively involved in her son’s academic pursuits. At one point Paris instructed the contest participants to put their essays on a disc and bring them home to work on them. Nykell was presented with a problem since his family’s home computer is not equipped with a floppy disc drive. Ordinarily, he participates in the after-school program so Paris assumed Nykell could complete his essay there. Then his mother arrived early to pick him up. Instead of insisting on leaving, however, Loretta Davis remained in the classroom with her son until he had completed the project. When he was announced as a winner, she was extremely pleased, while her son took it in stride. “I was very excited,” she said. “He was very calm and cool. I was more excited than he was.”
Nykell is not short on inspiration himself. He hopes one day to explore the stars as an astronaut. Barring that, his love of dinosaurs makes a career as an archaeologist just as compelling. He hasn’t ruled out a career in writing yet.