First Place Winning Essay!

The following essay was the First Place winner in our Second Annual Scholarship Contest. It was written by Samantha Grady, a high school senior from Florida. Samantha was among 450 applicants from 44 states who wrote about a personal prayer experience and how that experience impacted their thoughts about our national tragedy of school shootings.

Prayer. A word associated with protection, faith, and hope. Protection as we travel; Faith that our pleas and petitions will be heard, and Hope that desires will be answered. While writing this essay, I asked a friend of mine what prayer meant to them. Almost immediately, they responded and said “a connection line to God”. And while that is notably and profoundly true, prayer is so much more than that. In my life, prayer is everything. Earlier this year, I had an experience which tested my reliance on prayer, and my general belief in God, which flipped my world around completely. After this particular day, the world as I knew it was never the same. On February 14th, 2018, at 2:21 p.m., someone came into my school and started shooting.

The day started out normally, with me mentally preparing to go to school to face the overwhelming amount of red and pink that Valentine’s Day ordinarily provides. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Valentine’s Day is celebrated grandly, and this day did not differ from any other that I had witnessed. The school’s atmosphere was at an all-time high and, for the most part, worry-free. The only troubling thing was the increasing pile of work that was on every student’s mind. That day, I had an AP Psychology test which I was extremely nervous about. As is my custom, before I started the test, I prayed for guidance in order to do well. After the challenging test, my best friend ,Helena, gave me a surprise Valentine’s gift of a picture of a K-pop star named Kai. This made my day and consequently started a chain of “Thank yous” that she graciously accepted, as was her nature, and we went through the rest of our day together.

Our last class of the day was Holocaust History Class in the Freshman Building. We met in there and started to chat about our day and qualms we had. Later, we were sitting together working, when we heard the first booming shots. Helena and I ran towards supposed safety, hiding in a little corner as the shooter slowly approached our classroom. He shot multiple times into our classroom, targeting where Helena, a few others, and I were hiding. In those moments, I could not do anything but hold my breath and pray. My life, and the lives of my classmates were at stake and the only person I could put my trust in was God. When I was crouching, I prayed, not for a miracle, not for survival, but for strength and for God’s will to be done. To this day, I am not sure why I prayed for this, since it is atypical of the situation, but at the time, it gave me the resilience to face the circumstances I was in.

Then I looked over my shoulder. That moment was the moment that my life started to fall apart. My friend Helena was against the wall, not breathing, with blood on her. My world shattered. I could not fathom how this occurred. I pleaded with God: “WHY? HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?” And then I prayed again. This time, for deliverance. Deliverance to get out of this situation, deliverance for Helena, deliverance for everyone who would have to live with this memory for the rest of their lives. After I was led out of the building I realized that I also was injured, and later learned that I received two bullet wounds in my chest and back.

As one can imagine, that experience is hard to forget and even harder to overcome. But the whole, unwanted catastrophe has shaped me tremendously. Not only has it shown me the extent of cruelty in this world, but it also has shown me that there is a possibility for a better future. I believe payer changes things, and in the wake of school shootings and just shootings in general, prayer must be the forefront force that drives us on to a future where I, and all children can feel, and be, safe. Through this experience, I learned that prayer helps to heal. And as I go through that day in my mind, I realized that at first, I prayed for guidance, then I prayed for strength, and lastly, I prayed for deliverance. As the lessons from that day keep changing me, I know that I will never be the same, but I will continue to grow into the person I am destined to be.