Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth: Amer Macedonci

The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation has established the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth, for writers aged 19 years and younger currently living or attending school in the state of Vermont.

The first-place prize of $1,500 and the runner-up prize of $500 are awarded for the article, essay or poem under 1,000 words that best answers the prompt of this year’s contest: “Is higher education worth the cost to you and your family?” In letters during his youth Calvin Coolidge wrote often seeking money from his father. In these letters many of Coolidge’s expenses are related to his schooling – first at St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and then at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In other letters, Coolidge and his father discussed the possibility of Calvin attending law school. Ultimately the family ended up deciding Calvin would “read the law” as a clerk in the office of Hammond & Field in Northampton, Massachusetts, thereby skipping the cost of law school. Students were asked to use the letters of the young Calvin Coolidge and other Coolidge-related sources to compare and contrast their situation today to that of Calvin Coolidge in his time.

The essays, which will appear in The Reader in the coming weeks, were written by nine exceptional Vermont students who were selected as semi-finalists and finalists for the 2015 Calvin Prize. The Prize is sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, and made possible by the generous support of National Life Group.

Persistence: A Bosnian-American Road to College Education

Submission by Amer Macedonci St. Johnsbury, VT

Anecdotes from my parents’ past always tend to stick with me. Through all of the lessons I’ve learned, what resonates to me is that education is almost always the theme incorporated. Once, I sparked a lesson from my dad by receiving a bad grade on a math test. Another time, my struggle with another student lead to a recollection from my mother. It was early on that my parents emphasized a value for education and the benefits that would accompany it in the future. I did not truly grasp this concept until I was in middle school.

I tried my hardest in school and my grades reflected my efforts. However, I didn’t know the underlying importance of working so hard. Engrained into my ethic early on, it seemed as though the question was unnatural. Although, when I brought this confusion up to my mother, an answer was ready. My mother told me a story about the war in Bosnia. Her and my father had lived in a school gymnasium for over a month with many other families. All they ate was bread and if lucky, a can of Spam a day. With my sister only a toddler, a substantial amount of food was given to her. My mother had learned the hard way how to value what she has and to never take anything for granted. The moral was that school might not seem of an importance to me now, but will offer me a great deal in my future. More generally, to stay in school and work hard currently means eligibility to enroll in a college education and assure a life I will treasure.

The cost of college may come at a very high price, especially in our time today. The journey for lessening this cost has been embarked upon me, but I believe that people end up paying a heap of college debts because it’s worth it. An investment they were willing to make aware of its repercussions. Willingness rooted in the fact that spending this money will earn even more money in the future, or even lead you to something spectacular. Although, a necessity to work hard is a critical attribute in order to gain a yield from your college education.

Calvin Coolidge once emphasized that the opportunity of a higher education may be defective, if you are lazy. Indeed, if one has good intentions and alongside it persistence, they will succeed with higher education. He said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence…Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”. When “lazy scholars” or one’s that didn’t optimize their higher education, came to my attention, I couldn’t help but cringe. That is, until I learned for myself how hard I actually needed to work in high school.

High school is a completely different and challenging world. Sequentially, I’ve also realized that being persistent is key. An abundance of AP classes, a search for schools based not only on merit they may be able to give me, but also where I would enjoy attending, and in the midst of this, a daily challenge of potential. My drive to conquer these difficulties resides in my mindset 24/7. I think of those alike my parents: people that do not have these opportunities. The kids that see universities on TV, or images online and dream of being there one day. The opportunity being given to me is certainly not something taken for granted.

Coolidge wrote in a letter from Amherst College: “I am simply trying to get the most out of my opportunities whether I consider them as a chance to improve by hard study or to improve in some other lines by a judicious use of the money that my circumstances affords me”. Getting the most out of my opportunities, presents how challenging it may be to continue the path I’m on currently. Then, I begin to think about the struggle my family endured, which translates to an intrinsic motivation unlike any other.

My sister grew up struggling with English and trying to fit into a new society. My parents pushed education on her, and she unintentionally pushed back, believing it wouldn’t add up to anything later on. Recently, she received a full tuition scholarship from Roger Williams University. Now working fulltime at a corporation, if I had to ask my sister if college was worth it to her, she would respond with an “absolutely”. The costs were substantially lower, but the idea of spending this money and the experience being absolutely worth it, is now a modern destination for not just myself but also my peers.

The costs and benefits of college will be a timeless argument, rich in both the advantages and the disadvantages. The price will keep rising and the value of an higher education will become more and more essential. However, I choose to approach this aspect of education with a universal perspective: a focus on grasping the opportunity, rather than wasting it. An education from a state university, which could save you up to $20,000, may offer you more of a suitable education than a highly prestigious college. Your college education will be defined by both how persistent and willing you are to clench the opportunity that is at hand.

Coming from almost nothing to establishing a life in a foreign land is challenging. The award I owe to my parents is a college degree of the highest possible standard. It is not solely the prosperity of a higher education that I ponder embracing, but the journey I will take thereafter. My willingness to achieve a higher education doesn’t rest easy simply at the fingertips of a college diploma, but rests once I’m content with the goals set forth long ago. Since recognizing my deep value for a higher education, the persistence I’ve practiced for so long has been set high on its own pedestal.