We always remember the first.
The 1st writing contest that I joined and thankfully won was an essay-writing contest during the Provincial Science Fair and Quiz in Bohol during my sophomore year in high school. I no longer remember the number of participants but schools within Tagbilaran City (including mine) and from the towns sent their representatives to join the contest.
My Biology teacher had called my attention one day and asked me if I would be interested to join the contest. I remember feeling both excited and afraid about joining. I told my mother about it the day before the contest. I also began to think by then that I would be facing much older students (junior and senior students from other schools) and perhaps it was not really a good idea to join. I have no memory whether my mother was particularly encouraging in my joining the contest. What I did remember is that she gave me tips in winning the contest.
My mother asked me if I knew the theme of the Science Fair that year. She then told me that the essay topic for contests would usually be about the theme or related to the theme. The theme that year was something about the role of Science and Technology towards progress. And so to prepare myself, I looked for books and newspapers at home which had a similar topic and read them. This was the time before the internet (late ’80s) so there was no Google to help me.
Mother gave me what I consider as a key in my winning that contest. She said that I should begin with a strong opening statement or sentence. I practised writing several ones on paper and finally told her that I think all I managed to write were weak ones. And then she told me I can actually quote a source and use what that source or writer said to begin my opening paragraph. I was happy with this advice and so I proceeded to search for relevant quotes which I also liked and one I could easily memorize! I found a one-sentence quote from an American writer which I thought I could use for the contest.
The essay topic the next day was not directly about the theme but still related to it (just as my mother said). I was indeed thankful that my carefully memorized quote and source (writer) was something I could use for the contest.
To cut the story short, I won the silver medal. The first 3 placers were sent to join the Regional one which was held in Danao, Cebu. The contest had paved the way for me to travel for the first time sans family or relatives. I went on to win a bronze medal in the regional one.
I look back with gratitude to my Biology teacher who believed in me (interestingly, my husband is also a Biology teacher), my late mother who coached me and of course, God, from whom all blessings flow. My teen years were challenging (teeming with family concerns and a good dose of adolescent angst). Winning the two contests and being able to travel away from Bohol were bright spots of hope during those years with overcast skies.