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Third place winner Sophia Casabonne Shaker High School

A Nameless Identity

I don't even have a name. A third-class passenger on the Titanic: that was it, all I was told. I was cast in my first-ever musical and devastated to discover that my character didn't have a name. At the first rehearsal I sat in the back of the auditorium, bitterly listening to the lead actors recite their lines. Skimming to the end of the script, a sort of numbness crept over me. I finally understood why my character had no name. She died, locked away in the lowest level of the ship as it plunged into the icy ocean, deemed unworthy to be rescued simply because she was poor.

Throughout the course of the four-month rehearsal process, I developed a distinct identity for my nameless, third-class passenger. She became Emma Grace, a thirteen-year-old girl from Ireland traveling to New York City with her family for the chance at a better life. The show quickly consumed me. Scouring countless websites and library books, I searched for any and all information I could find about passengers and their journeys. Each new story struck me with an overpowering sadness for the families that lost so much. The more I crafted Emma's identity, the more invested I became in her story. Emma taught me the most meaningful lesson I have learned so far in my life: the importance of caring for others. After all, according to Jackie Robinson, "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

A friend once asked why Emma mattered so much to me. After all, I was a freshman in high school with much more important things to worry about, like homework, grades, and friends. My response was simple- if I didn't care, then who would? I was the only one who could stand on that stage every night and tell the story of the poor girl condemned to death before she ever had a chance to really live. It was my responsibility to make sure Emma's voice was heard because she was so unfairly silenced a hundred years before.

Emma has touched my life in ways I never could have imagined when we first embarked on our journey together three years ago. The compassion for others she instilled in me is revealed most through my work with Key Club International. From the senior citizens I play board games with every Monday night to the 9,000 families I prepare Thanksgiving dinner for each year, Key Club has afforded me the opportunity to care for many people. I devote myself wholeheartedly to every service project I undertake because of Emma. Though I do not know exactly what I wish to be after college, Emma helped me realize what I want to do — I want to serve. I want others to know that I care about their stories.

My journey in theater has taken me beyond my anonymous days on the Titanic, to Brighton Beach, London, and San Francisco, to characters with names and even speaking lines. No matter what, though, I always come back to my first show and the girl who defined me as a performer and a person. Emma gave me a purpose, a reason to get back up on stage after a failed audition or mediocre review. It can be difficult; some characters' stories are more easily told than others. Some make you shed a tear. Other stories, like Emma's, have the power to transform you. I act to tell the stories of those who can no longer speak for themselves.