#UMassDBelievesClass of 2020 Provost Writing Contest Winners

Alexandra Joseph | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS 1st Place Winner

My Dream

I believe strongly that if we want change, we all have to come together and put the effort in.  I will never forget the morning I unlocked my phone, scrolled through my Instagram timeline and saw the video of Alton Sterling being shot and killed. Alton was 37 years old and had a very loving family. I literally was so confused and my heart dropped. I then started to think about Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis and Darius Simmons. Sadly, there have been way more African Americans were racially profiled and involved in violence with the police. Sean Bell was shot 50 times on his wedding day. The police thought they saw a weapon and NO WEAPON WAS FOUND ON SEAN BELL. Why was one man shot 50 times? Not once, not twice, but 50 times. When I read about things like this it breaks my heart into pieces, especially when nothing is done.

I saw a quote that stated “A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.” I strongly agree with this quote. It is disheartening but sadly, a reality. I also believe that of course things can change. I have a little bit of hope. I pray for no more violence and peace. I pray that I don’t have to hear about these tragic acts and that society changes. People complain all the time about how terrible society is… but we are society. If we all want change we all can’t sit and do nothing.  Change can be sought out without violence and killing. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”- Martin Luther King Jr. In the future one day, every citizen in America will be treated equally in the court system, workforce and anywhere else. Movements like “Black Lives Matter” exist today because not all lives matter in America. It is tragic but true. Arrest people that have committed crimes, shoot when harm is being caused, don’t arrest and shoot a person just because of the color of their skin. Things would be so much different if we all put our heads together as one and worked together to solve so many of the problems this country has.  Many people have died fighting for equality and equal rights. It’s sad how we are still fighting today. It is 2016 and the fact that we have to fight for justice is wrong. I thought justice was supposed to be served fairly.  I believe that even though all of us look different we are all still the same.  Be respectful and always humble. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, rich or poor. Your grave is still going to be 6 feet. So make your mark while you’re here and make a difference and always fight against what is wrong and speak your mind on issues even when others do not seem to care.

Kayci Richardson | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS 2nd Place Winner

I Am Not My Depression

I am not my depression. I believe that I am more than my mental illness. I believe that my depression cannot rule my life. I believe in my own will to overcome the negativity in my mind and overthrow the pessimism that penetrates my being.

While my conscious may ache and my eyes may droop, I believe in my ability to fight against the bad thoughts and the tiredness. I am more than the days I never leave my bed or the nights I stare at the back of my eyelids. My mental illness is not the defining feature of my existence. I refuse to be known as “the depressed girl.” Sometimes I need to remember that these shadows that follow me are not in my design or shape; they are distorted visions of my reality. I need to believe that if I step under the sun, the false shadows will dissipate and then my real form will emerge.

I believe that while my depression may be frustrating to others, that I deserve patience and understanding. I am diseased just like any other ill person and I need time and respect to heal in my own space. I cannot be forced into an artificial happiness or feign it to please others. I deserve to cope healthily and that takes time. I refuse to feel as if I am a burden for an illness I cannot control.

I know that everyone might not acknowledge my hardships as valid, so it is my responsibility to my own wellbeing to educate them on my illness. I believe that if they choose to stay ignorant that it is my right to keep my relationships safe and leave any dangerous people behind. People who invalidate my illness through prolonged unawareness do not deserve to make me feel poorly when my brain chemistry does that enough for everyone.  

I am aware that my depression will most likely never fully dissolve. I do believe, however, that if I can fight against the sadness, that I can be a balanced person again; that I will be able to function with positive thoughts and have happiness as my baseline emotion. I can someday be successful, social, and maybe even have a sunny outlook on life.

I must believe in these ideas as facts for if I falter in my faith to them, the consequences will be dire. I truly believe that without these small, optimistic beliefs about my illness, that I will not make it out; that I will succumb to my depression in the most permanent way possible. I believe in myself, but I do not underestimate the power of depression.

Sarah Murphy | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS 3rd Place Winner

Beauty or Brains?

Most of us have seen references, been told, or maybe even said ourselves, beauty or brains, which would you rather? It’s ridiculous in all honesty, but this idea that females can have one or another penetrates every aspect of our society. We are under the impression that a girl with straight hair and eyeliner can’t get an A on a paper, or that guys don’t like smart girls. I myself have fallen into that trap. When I was eleven years old, I had my first crush and I remember pretending I didn’t understand half the stuff I knew at the time because that’s what girls did in T.V. I figured he would like me more. It’s a classic mistake, but nonetheless insidious to women as a whole.

I speak to women in particular because of the endless archetypal characters that express this view. The first thing I notice about a girl is how pretty she is. When I was younger, I would joke that if a girl rates another girl, her sexuality isn’t called into question, but if a boy rates another boy— he’s gay. Why is that? Because it’s “a girl thing.” From a young age, we are taught to strive for the societal construct of beauty and therefore we constantly compare ourselves to other women. Men, having much less severe social expectations (I mean choosing between beauty or brains, marriage or a career, children or an education) do not have the competition to be more beautiful ingrained in their being.

The closest example I can think of for a man of any type being faced with something like ‘beauty or brain’ is in S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. The comment goes, “we all call Darry ‘superman’ or ‘muscles’ at one time or another; but one time Steve made the mistake of referring to him as ‘all brawn and no brain,’ and Darry almost shattered Steve’s jaw” (Hinton 109). In this instant, there is a male character rightfully offended that someone mentions all he has in life are his muscles. I look at this and think, well of course he can be strong and intelligent— who says he can’t have both? Exactly.

The poison that is beauty or brains might literally destroy lives. For a girl that is not naturally smart, struggles in school, or doesn’t have time to study, she might feel her only other option is to be beautiful or marry rich. Thus the quest for the impossible, but nonetheless desired “perfection” ensues. A fight to be beautiful becomes an obsession leading to self-hatred, depression and eating disorders that overcome the girl who was only given two options.

My solution? To believe in beauty and brains-and anything else a woman can or wants to be. Women are resilient, intelligent, strong AND beautiful. I believe that I can wear my favorite red lipstick and still graduate with a college degree. Any woman who wants to show off her good looks while solving calculus should be able to do so. I’ll take them all, beauty and brains.

#UMassDBelievesClass of 2020 Writing Contest Honorable Mentions
Susan Kaiser | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

I Believe in Family

There was a time when I believed my family was inseparable. When I remember my childhood, I think of all the times when I was out playing in the sun with my sisters, or going on road trips with my parents. There are so many things to look back on, so many memories I hope I never forget. At that age, family is all that’s really needed. However, as time went on, things changed and my family started to fall apart.

I was born in Indio, California in 1998. My Mom and my father separated not long after. After the divorce, there were long custody battles in which my Mom got my sister and I, and my father took custody of my brother. I don’t have any memory of when I was such a small child. My first family memories involve the man I called Dad for my whole life. My stepfather was the man my father never was. He supported my family financially, he loved my mom like nothing else mattered, and he was there for me. When I was six years old we packed everything up and moved all the way to Massachusetts. My Mom’s parents had passed and most of her family were just too distant, so there was no reason to stick around. When we moved I was introduced to my stepdad’s family. Just like that I had new uncles and aunts, and most importantly, I had very loving and supporting grandparents.

Time went by and I started becoming a somewhat rebellious and annoying teenage girl. I always wanted to be with friends, and spending time with my parents felt like the end of the world. Then, during my freshman year of high school I was taken from my parents and put into the foster care system. At first we stayed with my grandparents, but after time we started moving to new foster homes, always relocating, always starting over with a new social worker. I stepped up to take care of my little sister because nobody else was going to. It was almost too much for me. The man that raised me was in jail, I almost never got to see my mom, and my older sister just didn’t seem to care about us anymore. I managed to get through the experiences and the heartache because of the support system I had built. I had my close friends that were always there for me, I knew I could always count on them for anything. I also had my step dad’s family supporting me in any way they could. I consider all of these people my family, because family doesn’t always mean blood.

My father was never much of a dad, my friends knew me better than my own sister, and my step dad’s family became my own. I still believe in family but most of my family isn’t my own blood. I like to think my family is a lot like the fictional character Stitch’s. At one point in the movie he claims “This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken but still good, yeah, still good.”

Molly Nunes | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

I Believe in Being a Hero

One does not need to fly or wear a cape to be a hero; one just has to put the needs of others before their own. I believe that we can all be heroes in our own way. Earlier this year I lost an important hero in my life, my high school shop teacher. He sacrificed his own life to save multiple people, including a pregnant woman, in a horrific stabbing that occurred in a restaurant. In hearing this news I was completely heartbroken.  How could someone with so much life be taken away from the world? He taught me to be myself and to always follow my dreams. He was not just a teacher, but a friend. Through the grief and sorrow I tried to remember that he wouldn’t want me to be sad, he would want me to take what he did and to pay it forward. He is the hero I inspire to be.

Before this moment I had always thought, “oh well, I’ll just do it tomorrow,” but the thing is, we do not know if we will have tomorrow. You can only live every day to its fullest, put your all into everything you do, and most importantly, tell the people you love that you love them. His death has truly changed my life. I will no longer see his smiling face or hear his jokes about how the chicken crossed the road. But what I can do is take what he taught me, take the hero he was and embody that in my everyday life.  We can all be heroes in the smallest ways. Try to think of one simple act to do every day, whether that is carry someone’s groceries or even help a classmate that is struggling. We all have the potential to be a hero and inspire others to be heroes themselves.

Looking back I will always remember to be the hero he wanted and believed everyone could be. A world filled with kindness and compassion is not far away and we can make this world a reality. I believe that mankind can benefit from a few more heroes in the world and those heroes can be you and me. Together we can make the world a better place. I will forever wish that he could still be by my side encouraging me to follow my passion but I know that he will help guide me to inspire others as he inspired me.

I believe that I can become the hero he would be proud of. If there is one thing in life that I am certain about, it is that heroes come in all shapes in sizes. Some wear badges or uniforms, others teach the young minds of our future. This is the time in our life where we choose what we want to do with our lives. Be the change you want to see in the world because your actions can make a difference.  

Grace Ostiguy | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist


I believe in love. I believe that the root of every person’s faith is the same thing.

Loving your neighbor is the only solution that can be applied to any problem, by anyone, and will always work.

If the choices handed to you were as simple as choosing between loving someone and hurting someone, the obvious choice is love right? Wouldn’t we want that for ourselves, and doesn’t that make us all much more alike than we realize? Every choice in this world can be reduced to loving or not loving.

Picture this.

You’re arguing with your brother over the last piece of pizza. You want it, and so does he. Usually we look at this and think our options are: let him win and have the slice, or persevere and get that piece for yourself to enjoy.

Look at it more simply: let him have it, or keep fighting. And then even more simply: make someone happy, or have a piece of pizza.

Is someone else’s happiness really worth a slice of pizza?

Its simple things like this that make a bigger difference than we realize. I dare you to go out and try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I’ve noticed we are more drawn to love as we get older. And on our death beds, that is all that matters. Ironically all of the money and fame and items don’t seem as important as they used to, when for the majority of our lives, that is all we care about. Why is it that the only time we can see what truly matters is when our lives are almost over?

I believe everyone deserves the same happiness and love as you. No matter what someone has done, spreading love to them is not going to go to waste.

My mom always told me that you can’t change what other people do, you can only change what you do. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Set the good example. Why not give it a try? Is that piece of pizza more important to you than making someone else happy?

So yes I believe in love. I believe that love is a motivation and a reward. I believe that love will never go away. Love ties us all together and makes us one huge family.

Cheesy, but true, right? We are created from love. If you have ever experienced love you know how pure and amazing it really is.

This is how I was raised, and these are the words I live by. There is no shame in loving others. Only regret when you miss the opportunity to.

Now it’s your turn. Spread the love right here, right now, and every day. Yes, you. Because you can.

I believe in love. But mostly, I believe in you.

Victoria Paven | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

This We Believe

I believe in paper.

As an artist, paper is a vital aspect of my life. When I was younger, it was the amount of paper I still had left that gave me the motivation and inspiration to create. Now, as I head off to college, paper is becoming a driving force for my education and future career. To me, paper is similar to life. A well of never ending possibilities. Everyone starts off with a fresh piece and slowly, as they develop as a person, that paper becomes filled with who they are and what they have learned. Sometimes someone folds their paper instead of drawing. Sometimes someone decides that they need to start all over with a new sheet of paper. No matter what the paper looks like in the end, it’s the development and challenges that the creator had to face while going through it that makes it important and valuable.

Paper, however, does not only have metaphorical value. Its physical presence can be seen throughout anyone’s life, especially during years of education. Writers need paper to share their works and to crumple them when they have writer’s block, musicians need paper for their ever-continuing knowledge of their instrument and the songs they play, and, as much as they hate it, engineers and science majors need paper to write their findings and reports. Paper, in that aspect, is an integral part of society and the sharing of information, thoughts, and ideas. It promotes communication and provides a template for growth and discovery.

However, as society heads into an electronically-based world, the use of paper is going down significantly. While this is good for the environment, I cannot help but feel like we are losing something important, a sense of physicality when it comes to learning, sharing, and creating. The feeling of holding something in your hands or looking upon something in the flesh and knowing someone created this, another person decided to dedicate their time to create, and teach, and learn. This feeling is nearly lost when, on the internet, you can always see works anytime you wish as many times as you wish, without any effort on your part and usually without compensating the creators for their hard work.

Because of this, I want people to think about paper and how to incorporate it more into their lives. Whether its reading a physical book, practicing writing, or even creating their own art, I want to see paper be recognized as something important and beautiful, something to be thankful for. Hopefully with that, through novels, and drawings, and essays, and newsletters, society will continue to move forward and I will continue to believe in paper.

Timothy Rose | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

I Believe In Saying Thank You

I believe in saying thank you. Your words have an impact on how others view you. As a kid, I was constantly reminded to say please and thank you, even during times when I wasn’t actually grateful. These are manners that every child is taught at one point in their lives. Saying the words can be easy enough; however, there exists a deeper meaning beyond the two simple words—a meaning I came to realize later in life.

I grew up in a rather quiet neighborhood. Adjacent to where I lived was a small red house, and in that house lived my elderly neighbor. She was an old and delicate lady who had known me ever since I was a baby. When I was younger, she would always handcraft for me personal gifts for my birthday, spending days knitting unique and special presents. Sure enough, every year I would receive something new: a pair of mittens, my name stitched onto an oven glove, a knitted hat (which may have taken a couple of more birthdays to grow into). And every year, I would thank her for the gift, although it wasn’t usually the gift I was thankful for. The elegant designs were nice; however, the time and thought she put in for me was what really mattered.

Each Halloween I saved the best house for last—no, not the house with the best candy, or the house with the most decorations. In fact, it was quite the opposite. This house lacked decoration, aside from a giant spider web, which appeared to be the home of an actual spider. It also was without the best candy. When I knocked on my elderly neighbor’s door, I could hear her slowly but surely get up from her rocking chair and make her way to the door. She would typically hand me something healthy, like an apple. “Thank you,” I’d exclaim, and she would invite my dad and me inside to chat. It seemed as if she stayed up just for me, considering how, as soon as I left, she would turn off all the lights and lock the front door. That is what I was thankful for.

I believe words have great power. A simple “thank you” can make a difference in someone’s life. It makes me feel worthwhile when people thank me, and I think a mutual feeling is shared when I thank others. Everyone has something to be thankful for. Whether big or small, you always have an opportunity to say thank you. It shows gratitude and respect, and it is humbling when you take time to think about what makes you grateful. It’s not a complicated practice, but thanking others goes a long way. I’m grateful for my elderly neighbor, and I’m grateful that she knows it too.

Majolie Tchoumi | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

Women We Believe

What is life as a girl? There has been a great deal of change in the societal roles of women across the globe. We open up social media, and we see amazing icons such as Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson, Hilary Clinton and many beautiful faces. These idols go out of their way in order to raise awareness that it is time for women to shine. Why are women across the world, especially in third world countries, looked down upon? The real question is: what are we doing to eradicate this social injustice? I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

I grew up in an African house of four brothers, with me being the only girl. My older brothers always taught me to fight for my rights and believe in my dream of making a difference in the world. Never was I discriminated against or looked down upon because of what sex I identified myself as. Going back to my country in Cameroon, I viewed a major difference in the way women were treated versus men. Women explicitly face discrimination in third world countries. I believe we need to use every means available to end this discrimination.

We need to advocate for equality in societies where women are oppressed and diminished. This is what the woman’s movement aims to do. This movement is quintessential because women are sexualized and objected in many countries. The movement aims to eradicate the global epidemic of violence against women and abolish gender discrimination. Working together, men and women have to create a solution to this crisis. We need to advocate for equality among men and women. We need to advocate for women’s rights and give them the opportunity to gain knowledge that is quintessential to better their lives. We need to be exemplars of womanism so the younger generation can learn from us.

The women of minority demographics deserve to be heard. In third world countries, like Pakistan, women are considered to be inferior and subordinate to men. A man’s honor is in the hands of the women in his family. This makes women responsible for maintaining the family’s honor. In order to make certain they do not disgrace their family, the society limits the actions of women. The cultural definition of womanhood must be assessed. A society’s cultural norms should not dictate whether women are allowed to make independent decisions. They deprive women of basic rights, like education and many more.

Women are shunned and their role in life is simply to prepare food and give birth to children. Women should at least be given the right to go out in public without a male figure. The situation in these countries is dire.

Together we must stand in order to abrogate the inequalities between men and women across the globe. Women should be allowed basic rights that men already have. Malala Yousafzai said, “I speak not for myself but so those without a voice can be heard.” Misogyny is definitely in plain sight and we must confront it! We must be one. We must act as the voices for these women all across the world. We must challenge the definition of what a woman can or cannot do.

Kaitlynn Xavier | 2016, UMASSD BelieveS Finalist

I Want To Help People

Throughout life, mental illness has been the taboo that none will concede to accept. Media, advertisements, etc. all fail to capture the true world of living with mental illness yourself or dealing with it when present in others, causing us, society, to leave individuals alone in their confusion and prod along in our daily lives. Unsurprisingly enough, we choose to categorize mental illness as forbidden and neglect further discussion of it in homes and schools, whether from lack of experience or sheer fear of the unknown, causing a division in society with “normal” individuals and the “crazies” whom become outcasts.

At a very young age I knew my father was different. The blank stares, the outbursts, numerous arguments between him and my mother that eventually led to taking a week long “field trip” to the hospital for him to feel better. I remember the days crying, making get well cards by the dozens and feeling completely helpless that I didn’t have a partner to do everything a five year old wanted to do. I especially remember the questions I used to ask going unanswered, leaving a little girl alone in the dark while everyone else was conscious of what was happening. “Mom why is dad sick?” “When will he come home?” And always I received the same answer, “Daddy is fine, he’ll be back before you know it.” And he was back before I knew it, but he was different. He was distant and, I believed, upset that I never went to visit him, but I soon figured out that was just his new medication taking hold—relaxing him, controlling his depression.

At age 10 I discovered my uncle was different, too. One minute he’d be holding a conversation and the next he’d forget what he was doing and to whom he was speaking. In his mind, we were replaced with new identities and new purposes, what everyone called “imaginative.” He wasn’t. He was schizophrenic. He was irritable, destructive, and most of all, paranoid. He gave playtime a new meaning and altogether changed how I perceived the world. There were no more cops and robbers, there were aliens, terrorists and every mythological beast created to capture him and sell his mind and body for the secrets they contained. Family could no longer be trusted and therefore led to his own field trip to the hospital and came back his own version of the modern day zombie. At fourteen someone asked me what I wanted to do with my life and my answer was simple: I want to help people. I want to spread what I’ve learned living with individuals with mental illness and I want to alter the stigma society has created, ending their categorization as unstable individuals— as“crazies”. All of this has motivated me to pursue a career in nursing where I can help anyone suffering mental and/or physical illnesses, to spread awareness that might even reach another little girl from being kept in the dark about her friends and family.