Morgan student wins essay contest

Published 3:50 pm Monday, April 13, 2009

When Alena Bearden read about Maycomb, the fictional setting of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she thought of Selma. While the Morgan Academy junior did not grow up during the Great Depression, her grandmother sure did. Throughout her young life, Bearden listened to countless stories about that era. She heard about playing outside until dark, racial inequality and a picturesque downtown.

When it came time to write an essay for her honors English class, Bearden had all the material she needed. She wrote a little more than two pages, submitted the essay to Sharon Andress and did not give it another thought. When Andress approached Bearden about entering her essay in a statewide contest, she was hopeful and excited. Then, the letter came.

“It was complete shock when I got the letter,” Bearden said.

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Bearden placed second in The University of Alabama’s eighth annual “To Kill a Mockingbird” essay contest. She received a $75 check and was invited to a luncheon on campus at Smith Hall Gallery, where Pulitzer Prize winning writer Rick Bragg was the keynote speaker.

Bearden’s essay,”Southern Charm and Southern Change,” was chosen from a group of 56 others submitted from public and private high school students across Alabama. It compares Selma’s social and economic progression with the town of Maycomb in Lee’s novel.

“I focused on Selma, and its changes from that time,” Bearden said. “It’s not like it used to be.”

Andress said she was not shocked to learn Bearden’s essay was selected as a finalist in the competition. She said she sees the student’s fine work each day in class.

“I think it takes just a little bit different slant than some others might,” Andress said of the essay. “Alena’s a great writer.”

Bearden first read “To Kill a Mockingbird” when she was a freshman at Morgan Academy. After reading the novel again during her junior year, Bearden fell in love with it. She said it taught her tolerance and how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“I really try to keep that in perspective in my life,” Bearden said. “The meaning has changed for me. I could understand it better. I love this book.”

Andress said “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of her favorite novels to teach in class. She said it is a story that crosses age, race and gender.

“I think it’s about coming of age in any society,” Andress said. “It’s about how innocence can prevail over prejudice.”