Kerry Staurseth, May 16, 2014

Four students have been chosen as winners in the Michigan State University ?I Have a Dream? essay contest. From quesadillas to immigration to Jiminy Cricket, the essay writers used a variety of topics to join the conversation happening on the campus of MSU around ?the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to end segregation in America.?

The Academic Orientation Program (AOP) office created the essay contest in an effort to encourage students to seek out and value perspectives that are different from their own. AOP partnered with Project 60/50, an initiative coordinated by the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives for the entire university population.  Project 60/50 is in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education  and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  The essay content pushed students to be more culturally aware and to engage with Project 60/50.

Project 60-50

While the stated goal of Project 60/50 is a year-long conversation on civil rights and human rights, in practice the result has been a rich celebration of MSU?s passion for diversity and inclusion. Students, staff, and faculty are all actively involved.

Riley Sutika, contest planner and current student explains that, from its inception, the contest?s planners wanted the contest to ?pay tribute to the dreams and accomplishments [of MSU students] while keeping in mind the cultural diversity that MSU fosters.?

She states, ?At MSU, students meet many people who appear to be different from them and people who have had past experiences that vary from their own.? Sutika is ?confident that MSU students will go on to leave a positive footprint on [the] University, on [the] nation, and on the world, [and that students will help] share the Spartan perspective.?

For Sutika, choosing the winners was a challenge. She shares that as she read the student submissions, she ?had every reaction from laughter to tears? and that she felt ?extremely honored? that her peers chose to share their dreams with her. She further notes that she is ?excited to have the opportunity to share their stories with our campus and the nation.?

For the contest, students addressed one of three questions aimed at incorporating the ideas and values of Project 60/50 and how MSU supports diversity and the writer?s opportunities to explore his or her dreams and ambitions.

Because the essays submitted were so outstanding, narrowing it down to three winners was almost impossible-so, they picked four. Here are the winners:

Tiffany Khoury, from Shelby Township, Michigan, is a freshman double majoring in James Madison - comparative cultures and politics, and communications. She will serve as a resident assistant for the academic orientation program this summer and will be a Spartan ambassador and co-associate director of events for the Future Alumni Association this coming fall. Her dream for the future is to run a non-profit organization.

Probably the most creative of the entries, Khoury?s essay was inspired by a quesadilla in the Brody Dining Hall. She noted how, ?Brody Dining Hall begins every meal with the exact same food groups. It?s the different measurements, mixtures, spices, and cooking techniques that make each dish unique.? She concludes, ?At the end of our meal, as we digest our newfound appreciation for diverse people and foods, and as we look at all of the experiences and opportunities we?ve been given, we will all eventually make our march across the graduation stage (to the dessert counter).? Her essay was titled ?Full Plates.?

Sara Hughes is currently a junior from Davison, Michigan, double majoring in criminal justice and psychology. She plans to pursue a career in law enforcement at the federal level. Ms. Hughes? winning essay was inspired by her recent trip to San Diego through the Alternative Spring Break program at MSU. While there, she was able to focus on immigration reform and was surprised at how much her views were tested during her short week on the US-Mexican border.

In her essay, she shares that, despite the diversity of the group of students on the trip who traveled together, they experienced a unity and respect for one another, simply because they were fellow Spartans. Growing up a small town in Michigan, she ?was not exposed to much diversity at all.? She has found, since entering MSU, ?many [intolerant] opinions being tested. Once I came to college, I met people from all over the planet and I quickly learned that not one of us is better than anyone else; we are all people chasing our dreams? While participating in my alternative spring break trip, I realized how much my perspectives had changed and how much I had grown since being away at college.?

Zakiya Suleiman is a junior from Ghana, West Africa, majoring in human biology. Quoting Jiminy Cricket, ?If you don?t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?? she shares that her greatest dream is to become a gynecologist after seeing ?a room crowded with mothers and babies, hoping and waiting for a chance to see a doctor to take care of them?[who] went home the same way they came, helpless and in dire need of care.? This memory, she says, ?constantly drives my passion.? She credits her school with helping her fulfill her dream; she says, ?here [at Michigan State], I am treated as an individual, not as a number?. I have the opportunity to interact with people from so many different places and I have shared my culture with them just as they have shared theirs with me.?

Lana Zuck is a freshman from Dansville, Michigan, majoring in elementary education. Despite many hardships during her childhood, she hopes to inspire others to ?pursue their dreams even when their aspirations seem unattainable.? She shares further, ?At Michigan State University there are people from all over the world who are dreamers, doers, believers, and thinkers. I have found that the students, faculty, and staff here at Michigan State accept people for everything that they are because every Spartan has a story that deserves to be understood.?

The winners of the I Have a Dream essay contest will receive gift cards to the Spartan Bookstore and will have their essays published, along with their short bios, in the 2014 Freshman Orientation Booklet. Judging by their inspiring essays, these students are indeed leaving an impressive footprint on their university, their nation, and the world as they share ?the Spartan perspective.?

Check back tomorrow, when we'll post all four of these great essays here on BTN LiveBIG!