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The 2016 SimpleTexting $1,000 College Scholarship Winners

Published on February 15, 2017

Laptop and open notebook with pen on work desk

Congratulations to the 2016 SimpleTexting $1,000 College Scholarship Contest winners:

Sarah Dai
Calgary, AB
University of Toronto prospect
(jump to essay)

James Whitbread
Pullman, WA
Washington State University
(jump to essay)

Entrants were asked to write an essay expressing how their mobile device improves their lifestyle. We received more than 200 submissions from students in the U.S. and in Canada, and James and Sarah came out on top. They each took home $1,000 for their thoughtful, engaging essays, which we’ve published here with their permission:

Sarah

One night a few weeks ago, I encountered a situation that made me realize how fortunate we are to be living in an era that allows people to connect with others in such fast and easy ways.

It was about 2:00 in the morning. I was asleep when suddenly, I heard my cellphone go off on my bedside table. It turned out to be my best friend, who was sobbing on the other line due to the immense amount of stress and panic she had built up. I was glad that I had my cellphone with me so I could be there for her. We talked on the phone for an hour, and slowly, I was able to decrease her panic level. Our friendship grew stronger as a result of those meaningful conversations. It was one of those interactions that would not have been made possible without my mobile device.

Although many people argue these portable devices are detrimental to the growth of this generation, I beg to differ. Cellphones have been a powerful outlet for emotional relief to many individuals, have created a convenient method for people to communicate with friends and family that live both near and far, and have simplified people’s lives through the applications that are available.

The conversation with my friend that night began to make me realize how cellphones have led to an increased amount of positive interactions between people. There have been studies done that showcase how teens who are in a distressed state often face a reduction in those negative attitudes after talking with a friend via digital communication. I frequently text-message my friends when I am having an emotional breakdown, because I feel more comfortable opening up knowing that sense of vulnerability protection that the digital barrier offers me. Being a fairly introverted teen, I feel conflicted because although I want to interact with my friends, it sometimes scares me to converse in large groups. Texting and other forms of electronic communication has allowed me to reach out and express thoughts about things that I feel uncomfortable to talk about in person. It has strengthened the bond between myself and the people in my life because it creates another layer that adds onto the in-person connections.

For the first 7 years of my life, I lived in a loud, bustling city in China surrounded by all my relatives. We all lived near one another, so I developed close relationships with many of them. When I came to Canada, I thought that I had left it all behind, but I soon realized that I could still maintain those connections even from far away. For example, I had a cousin in China who I was so close with that I essentially viewed her as my own sister. It was difficult to get used to not seeing her every day, but with my cellphone, we were able to send regular updates on important events happening in each other’s lives. Of course, there were other ways of keeping in touch besides using my phone. However, due to both our busy lives, it would have been tough to maintain the close relationship that we kept up all these years if I didn’t have the easy access to text messages and calls that my phone provided for me.

Two years ago, I set a goal for myself: to begin eating healthy and treating my body better. I didn’t believe I could achieve it because I had attempted it in the past and I always ended up indulging in something unhealthy. That time around, however, I tried a new strategy. I downloaded an app on my phone called MyPlate. This app allowed me to track what I ate, how much exercise I did, and whether or not I met my goal for the day. Getting constant notifications from MyPlate pushed me to stay on track and not give up. It made the goal feel like a concrete plan, which enabled me to stay in control of the situation. Due to the app and my own abilities, I have been living much healthier ever since. My phone and its capability to download these tools have enabled me to accomplish tasks that I might have otherwise forgotten or given up on.

Contrary to many societal opinions, I believe my mobile device has provided many beneficial impacts and opportunities in my life, and will continue to do so. The digital communication aspect has given me the ability to express myself more openly to others, as well as allowing me to stay in touch with individuals that I don’t see often. The applications and programs on my phone presents either a source of entertainment for me or a tool that is useful and convenient.

Closeup of pencil on open notebook

James

Growing up in the technology era is an interesting experience to say the least. I remember playing on a PlayStation Original, watching my father type out messages on his black and white display BlackBerry, and having to log off the internet so that my mother could call our neighbors. Throughout my life, I have seen technology advance at an unparalleled rate, bring people closer together, allow for the efficient transmission of information, and overall better people’s lives. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the advent of the smartphone.

My parents were initially vehemently against the idea of me buying a smartphone. They worried that I would become engrossed with it and never pay attention to anything else. However, when I left for college, I knew that I would need a smartphone in order to keep up, and succeeded in convincing my parents to let me get one. The phone itself wasn’t flashy; it was an iPhone 4s, which was about two generations behind the current model. I never realized, though, how much that iPhone would improve my life outside of the purely utilitarian aspect. Easy communication has improved my life beyond what I had conceived possible, both personally and professionally.

Two years ago, when I first came to college, my mother was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Dementia, and has been rapidly deteriorating since the diagnosis. By some sick twist of fate, her diagnosis with the disease and my leaving for college occurred at the same time, and I was faced with the unimaginable situation of being absent during my mother’s final years. Most likely, this is the reason that I was allowed to get a smartphone. I am only about three hours away from my family, but even so, I am only able to get home every few weeks, but having my iPhone allows me to stay connected to my mother. Facetime has been a lifeline because it allows me almost daily to see my mother face-to-face, which not only helps me, but also makes her much happier. Even when Facetime isn’t possible, a simple phone call does wonders for the both of us. These past two years have been incredibly difficult on my entire family, including my mother, but my smartphone has allowed me to stay in contact with and close to her. What’s more, it has allowed me to be able to spend time with my mother and enjoy every second of her being with us in this life, which is something I am grateful for every day of my life. Needless to say, my smartphone has improved my own life, as well as my mother’s, in this very personal way.

As a student at Washington State University (WSU), and in order to attain my career aspiration of becoming a physician, professional development is on the forefront of my efforts most of the time. Given my background, I have made myself a self-taught expert in mental illness. Destigmatizing, educating the community about, and advocating for those with mental illness are things I have worked hard on throughout my time at university. I have even formed a student mental health awareness organization on campus so that other students can help me in these efforts. One very key aspect to this, however, is communication. Everything I have done, including Mental Health Self-Care workshops, a talk by a mental health expert, Hakeem Rahim, toward destigmatizing mental illness given to the campus community, and a Mindfulness Summit concerning all aspects of mindfulness and mental health, require coordination. Schedules have to be planned, email communications sent, marketing materials distributed, and a whole host of other activities that make these events possible. I have pride in the impact I have had on my campus and other students here, but none of these accomplishments would have been possible without my iPhone. 

It is without a doubt a fact that I would not be the person I am today or have potential to impact people’s lives without the aid of my mobile device. Those aspects of life that we share with others are more often than not the most impactful, but communication is necessary for these to occur. Without the availability of communication mediums with my mother, I would not be able to enjoy the time I have left with her. Further, without the ability to communicate with peers and important people, I would not be able to put on events or have a club aimed at educating the community about mental illness. My iPhone allows for all this, and has improved my life personally concerning my mother, as well as the lives of those on my campus through the mental health campaigns and activities I have organized.


Great work, James and Sarah! Best wishes to both of you throughout your college career and beyond.


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