Gretchen K.

First Place Winner

As a child I spent hours reading and dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I read of Trixie Belden solving mysteries and catching the "bad guys" and would dream of being a detective like Trixie or Nancy Drew. Despite my avid reading I could never decide what I wanted to do with my life, that is, until I read of a selfless man who devoted his life to helping girls find hope in one of the most remote and war torn regions of the world.

I was 14 years old when a close friend recommended I read Three Cups of Tea. It tells of a man named Greg Mortenson who found his passion living and traveling through the remote mountains of Afghanistan building schools for girls. After the first few chapters I was captivated by Mortenson's philosophy that if you educated the girls of a nation, problems such as poverty, infant mortality, and terrorism would decrease. It was Mortenson's captivating story of the wonderful culture and stories of hope, in this war torn region that inspired me to begin thinking seriously about a career in international women's education as a way to promote peace in the Middle East. I was only 14 at the time but knew I wanted to help young girls receive an education. As I read Three Cups of Tea I noticed the use of Farsi and Arabic phrases throughout the book as a way to share the culture of the region. I became fascinated with this complex language and it inspired me to begin studying Arabic. Since reading Three Cups of Tea I have had the opportunity to travel to Jordan to study Arabic, meet the people, and learn about the culture. I continue to study Arabic in the hopes of changing lives, for as Mortenson says in his book, "Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community." It is this quote from Three Cups of Tea that motivates me and inspires me to pursue a college degree in international affairs with a focus on women's education, for through one simple act of teaching girls how to read and write I will be able to change communities and maybe one day, I will be able to inspire girls to pursue their dreams and change the situation in which they live.

Through Mortenson's book I fell in love with the language, culture, people, and communities of the Middle East. I never thought I would actually have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the characters I read about in books, but that is the beauty of literature, it makes the improbable seem possible and invites those that read to join them in their journey. Three Cups of Tea inspired me to not only join in the journey of changing lives but to take the lead.