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Third place winner Samrin Ali Troy High School

Embracing Diversity

“Are they going to like me? Will they accept me? Am I simply too different?” My welcome to America, from Saudi Arabia, is one that I will never forget. Despite the language barrier, different cultures, and differences in clothing, walking into my second grade classroom was the hardest thing I would ever have to do. As thousands of questions and worries ran through my head, I entered a world that was more dramatically diverse than anything I had ever known in my life; of course at that age, I could not grasp the significance of what I had become a part of. I see now how the children I met influenced me and helped me become the person that I am today.

After I had grown accustomed to the English language and verbal communication was no longer a problem, I saw no reason why I wouldn’t be accepted by my classmates—that is until one day when my fourth grade teacher asked all of us to sit on the floor, “crisscross apple sauce,” she said. When I sat down next to the rest of the kids, a girl looked in my direction and said, “Don’t sit next to her. She’ll blow up your house.” With my sleeve, I quietly wiped away the tears that I hoped no one else would see. I could not understand why I was being compared to terrorists. What had I ever done to deserve such a comment? Although I was hurt, I soon became ashamed—not of the girl who has said this to me, but of myself. I had allowed one comment to make me embarrassed of my Islamic religion, my beautiful place of birth, and who I am.

Sitting in my room that night, I decided that I would never allow anyone to make me or anyone else feel hated for being different; I promised to embrace my diversity rather than hide it. As the terrorist jokes continued, by the same girl, I simply grew stronger. What that girl could not understand was that she was making me a better person through her hateful jokes, comments, and mockery. Because of this experience I knew how awful it felt to be ostracized by those around me, and for that reason, I knew that I would never utter a racist comment to a soul. Because of this, I felt all the more admiration and respect towards all of my teachers and friends who had never made me feel anything besides loved and accepted. Because of this, I value diversity more than anything I know. This experience taught me to make an effort to learn about different cultures and beliefs, not through textbooks, but through welcoming smiles and conversations.

Diversity is where beauty can easily be found, where knowledge can be obtained, and where all sorts of friendships can be built. To answer my previously asked questions, they made me feel loved, they accepted me, and there is no such thing as “too different.”