#UMassDBelieves | Class of 2026 Provost Writing Contest Winners

Sydney Wojtunik | 2022, UMassD Believes 1ST PLACE WINNER

Understanding Love 

I believe that love is a notion that can be described in many different ways; Merriam-Webster describes it as a “strong affection for another: attraction based on sexual desire: unselfish loyal and benevolent: to feel a lover’s passion” (Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love). Additionally, love can also be felt in many different ways—from loving your parents, your favorite candy, or your dog; to that boy that came into your life at just the right time, the way your friends distract you from your own negative thoughts, or how your new pair of jeans fit just right. 

I have always been full of love ever since I was a child, willing to give it to anyone or anything that would accept it; however, not everyone is the same way. Regardless of the love I have shared with others and may or may not have received, I am never scared to continue to express my love to those around me. To some, love is a very sacred belief that they will not share with just anyone. Nevertheless, love is important to everyone. 

Everyone shows their love differently, whether it is through words of affirmation—like the boy who never forgets to tell me how beautiful I am and how much I mean to him, quality time—like my parents who never miss the opportunity to invite me to watch a show or to the store, or gift-giving—like my grandma who will buy or give anything that reminds her of someone she loves.  

I believe you can never love two things the same way due to each and every relationship in one’s life being irreplaceable. That is the beauty of life. Every relationship in my life has shown me a different type of love that can never be replicated, despite the outcome of each and despite some of them being negative. I will never love an animal the same way I loved my family’s first dog. I will never love someone the way I loved the first boy who broke my heart (if I knew what love was then). And some of these relationships were positive. I will never love someone the way I love the girl who helped me through high school. I will never love anyone the way I love the boy who came into my life unexpectedly, who would do anything for me, who constantly shows me what it is like to truly be loved unconditionally.  

Each of these relationships has helped shape me into who I am today. They allow me to experience different types of love and better understand the people around me. I am grateful to have been able to show people the love that I have.  

I believe love is the most important part of life. 

Katia daSilva | 2022, UMASSD BELIEVES 2nd PLACE WINNER

The Greatest Classroom 

Out of the 195 countries in the world, I’ve had the great opportunity to visit thirteen, each one unique and teaching me lessons which I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Every country I’ve been to has not only expanded my knowledge on varied cultures and backgrounds but has also transformed me into the person I am today, as I’ve taken bits and pieces from each of my travel endeavors.                  

Visiting Portugal has had the greatest impact on my life because it is who I am. It is my story and legacy. Walking on the intricate stone sidewalks, eating delicious traditional Portuguese meals, and traveling to the villages where my grandparents grew up has fully immersed me into every aspect of Portuguese life and connected me to the lives that my ancestors and my own mother once lived prior to their immigration to the U.S. Portugal has helped me find my identity and understand the importance of where I came from and where I plan on going. 

Traveling to Jamaica taught me that life is what you make of it and that poverty can be bliss. Although Jamaica’s poverty rate is 16.5 percent with a population of 2.97 million, compared to the United States’ poverty rate of 13.7 percent with a population of 328.2 million, Jamaicans are the most good-natured, optimistic people I have ever met. They are constantly singing, dancing, and enjoying life for what it is, even though they go with little. Jamaica has opened my eyes to the fact that life is too short to be worrying about tomorrow. My experience there has helped me to live in the present moment. 

Taking a trip to Paris during the 2016 Euro Cup taught me the significance of hope in the face of adversity and the necessity of community. On the night of the Euro Cup, after Portugal had won, riots and violence broke out in the city. It was the first time I had ever witnessed any type of terror in person rather than through a T.V. screen. I vividly remember the morning after, with burnt cars and bikes lining the once peaceful streets of Paris, empty tear gas canisters littering the city, but also the strength of Parisians who were destined to join together and restore the beauty of their city that had been tainted the night prior. France taught me the value of teamwork and unity when it seems that all hope is lost. 

Lastly, spending an eight-hour layover in Morocco taught me that stereotypes are flawed and only take into account the surface layer. Being an American, Arabic people and Muslims are often feared due to the events of 9/11. However, I only needed a few hours to correct this misconception. Americans fear and blame all Muslims for an event that took place years ago because they’ve never immersed themselves into Arabic culture. They haven’t seen them worshiping together or seen them take pride in their lifestyle and embrace what we see as “strange” clothing. Americans haven’t seen them in the way that I have seen them. I see them as individuals and human beings who simply just have a differing unique culture to ours. I see them the way I want others to see me, for who I really am beyond my outer appearance. 

Due to my travel experiences throughout the years, I’ve developed the belief that the world is the greatest classroom. Although it is important to learn structured lessons within the walls of a classroom, I believe that the greatest and most significant lessons are those which we learn from simply living and immersing ourselves in all life has to offer. 

Grace Russell | 2022, UMASSD BELIEVES 3rd PLACE WINNER

Believe in Balance 

Life is a little bit like walking on stilts. Before you ask, yes, I DO speak from personal experience. In order to master the art of stilt-walking, there are a couple things one needs. A good pair of shoes, strong legs, and a little sprinkling of fearlessness form the foundation, but the key to this skill is balance. I believe that one of the keys to a happy and successful life is balancing all the different loads you are given and stepping forward in confidence.  

These loads aren’t always burdens; in my case, they are more often the activities and experiences that I enjoy and that define different parts of me.  

I take pride in being a three-season athlete and love to compete in track and field. Competing in events that present different challenges—from the speed-based endurance of the 400m to the precision of high jump and hurdles, to the elegant force behind javelin throwing—has allowed me to adapt where others who focus on one type of event cannot.  

Being on a team or in a cast of a theater production allows me to be one moving part of a bigger goal. I have to work with others to train, build sets, and get closer to the finish line. I can be a bold and outgoing leader while also learning from others with more experience.  

In contrast, I love to read and have some time alone for myself. This helps me to remain centered and knowledgeable about who I am and what I’m able to handle. It’s impossible to stay balanced without taking time to breathe and refocus on which loads are easy to carry and which ones require a bit more attention.  

Finally, I’m working on a balance between my love of the scientifically factual and technical, and my love of expressing creativity through art. Both subjects equally pique my curiosity, and I want both to play a part in my future career. Finding this balance between two pathways I really enjoy might seem challenging now, but it’s all good practice for the future.  

Take your time, it doesn’t need to be figured out right away. Just as walking on stilts requires a sturdy hand or wall to lean on, you can look to others for advice and help with stabilizing yourself. Steps can start small, but with practice and attention grow into bigger, bolder strides.