Gerald R. Ford High School Essay Challenge, 2010

Winning Essays

Emilee Ritz
Forest Hills Northern High School
12th Grade

The Score

My teammates and I stood in front of the scoreboard and calculated our total. Our numbers were good, but would they be good enough? This was the Conference championship—the big one. Our goal was to win, and I understood that my score would be vital for our success. The competition was fierce; the trophy would not be handed to us easily.

The dimpled, white ball rolled into the cup with a tink. As I walked across the green towards the hole to retrieve my ball, I smiled to myself, relieved that we were finally finished.

“Nice putt. Was that for a five?” my playing partner asked me while she replaced the flagstick.

I recounted my strokes in my mind. I knew that I had actually gotten a six, giving me a total score of fifty for this nine. I wanted to break fifty so badly, and the five my partner suggested would give me that dream. Before I answered her, I needed to consider what was more important to me—a low score or honesty? I thought back to the summer, remembering how much I accomplished from practicing daily. I thought back to last week’s practice, when I finally perfected my driver. I thought back to the speech given before this morning’s play, which emphasized how golf is a game of integrity: each player is given the role of scorekeeper and rules official in addition to playing the game. I thought back to the hole I had just finished and the seventeen others before it. Everything I had learned in my golf career had led me to this moment. The choice was mine.

The scores were in; the adding was done. My eyes rushed across the board, comparing our team score to the other schools. We beat one team, two teams, three teams, then four. I had to recheck our school’s total to confirm the unbelievable truth of what I was seeing. Our team had just won the Conference tournament by one stroke. My team had taken one less shot than the runner-up. That one stroke could have been from my score. That one stroke could have come from my last hole. That one stroke could have been the difference between a five and six.

The crowd clapped and cheered for my team as we walked up to receive our award.  My smile filled the entirety of my face. I was ecstatic that we defeated all of our competition.  We had accomplished our goal of winning conference, even though it was only by a slim margin, and I had been a part of it all. As my teammates and I huddled together for a group photo, I recalled the choice that I made earlier which had brought my team to this point.

“So, what did you get?” my partner asked again.

“I actually got a six,” I replied, knowing my choice was the right one. Whether or not my team would win that day, I would still finish as a winner.

Stephen A. Jakubowski
Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School
10th Grade

Grit and Integrity

Integrity. The word carries a powerful aura about it, a feeling of strength and staunch morality, of nobility and wholesomeness. Integrity, upon initially examining it, appears foreign and unattainable, an abstract concept too great to be understood and internalized. It sits on a pedestal as a value for the titans of history, a value for the Abraham Lincolns and the Winston Churchills of the world. This definition, though convenient as an excuse for not living with integrity, is wholly inaccurate. Integrity is rather an essential facet of the well-formed personal philosophy, that voice inside us that forces us to act honorably and valiantly even if there will be no recognition or reward given for our efforts other than the ability to go to sleep at night with a peaceful consciousness.
A very important aspect of integrity is found in the syllables of the word itself: grit. Having grit, that deep sense of determination and resolve that refuses to yield to seemingly overwhelming opposition, is vital to having integrity because it represents a full effort of will and shows strength of character able to force ourselves to do what is right, especially when it isn’t easy. Grit gives us the dogged persistence to press on and persevere regardless of the penalty. It lends an unshakable mentality, needing to maintain personal dignity and respect by valuing every scrap of self-worth we have and piecing them together to make a heroic expression of ourselves and our goals and missions. Grit is essential to integrity, not only because it represents the entire third syllable of the word, but also because even if you fall and lose one of the scraps of self-worth, you still have the drive of mind to accomplish and establish yourself as a person of honor, a person of integrity.

Another key point of integrity is its personal nature. Integrity is a very selfish quality in the sense that it deals with our attitude toward ourselves as opposed to other people and our relationships with them. Integrity is unique in that it represents the foundation upon which the conscience is built. A robust, healthy conscience has a solid foundation of integrity, just as the broken, shattered conscience lacks integrity.

Integrity, then, is a relative of self-respect. It requires an objective view of the morality of a given circumstance, but then dictates the approach to that action. Integrity is shown internally, not outwardly. We are the only ones who can truly know whether or not we have integrity, and consequently, we are the only ones who can truly break our integrity. Integrity’s worth comes not from the promise of fame and recognition, but from the deep sense of self-satisfaction that comes only from the knowledge that we have done everything in our power to make the world a better place.

Integrity manifests itself in us when we have the courage to act with grit, when we reform ourselves from the inside out, and when we are able to respect our whole self, accepting our good sides with our shortcomings. Integrity is a loyalty to our morals; it is a rock to which we can cling even when we hold on alone. It is a quality of resilience, of the conviction that, to paraphrase the Bible, “though we are pressed, we are not crushed.” It means that we are able to proceed confidently in the direction our conscience steers without fear.

John Veldkamp
Calvin Christian High School
9th Grade

Holding the Line

Football is one of America’s most popular sports. Like many sports, it not only entertains, it also teaches important life lessons. Too often, the media seems to focus on negative stories about football players. Recent stories have reported that dozens of college football players illegally accepted money from agents. But many other football players have shown integrity both on and off the field. Integrity is often associated with honesty, but it is more than simply being honest. It is clinging to one’s moral convictions regardless of the consequences. Also, it is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Both are essential parts of integrity. These two aspects of integrity can be seen in the stories of two young football players from the Grand Rapids area.
One of those players was Gerald Ford. In 1933, Ford was a center on Michigan’s football team. On the same team was a much less famous player named Willis Ward. When Michigan was preparing to play at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia Tech requested that Willis Ward not play. Ward happened to be black, and in 1930s Georgia black men never played football with white men. To avoid controversy, Michigan’s athletic director complied with Georgia Tech’s request, and Ward did not play.
This upset Ford and some of his teammates. Ford, an All-American, even threatened to quit the team because he felt so strongly that Ward should not be treated differently solely because of his race. At that time, many people, including Michigan fans, did not think black players were equal with whites. But Ford and his teammates judged Ward based on his abilities and character, not his skin color. Despite criticism and outside pressure, Ford and his teammates showed their integrity by supporting Ward when it was unpopular to do so.
Many years later, Gerald Ford became the thirty-eighth president of the United States. One of his first actions was to pardon disgraced former president Richard Nixon. Ford said that his conscience demanded that he forgive Nixon for his crimes. At the time, this was very unpopular with the American public, most of which wanted to see Nixon punished. But just as he did when supporting his old teammate Willis Ward, Ford showed integrity and held unswervingly to his own values in the face of enormous pressure.
Much more recently, a Grand Rapids high school demonstrated integrity, even though it proved costly. In the fall of 2003, there was much excitement about the football team at Grand Rapids Christian High School (GRC). After many losing seasons, the football team was having a special season. They won their first five games and were well on their way to a conference title and a playoff berth.
Then, a problem arose. While doing a routine check of its records, the athletic department discovered that the football team had been using an ineligible player. The previous summer, the player had transferred from another area high school to GRC without changing his home address. In such a case, Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rules required that the transferring student must attend the new school for at least one semester before being eligible for athletics, unless given specific permission by an official. The player had not received such permission.
It would have been quite easy to ignore the problem. The ineligible player had only participated in a few plays, none of which had impacted the outcome of the games. Immediately after discovering the mistake, however, GRC athletic officials reported the problem to the MHSAA. The MHSAA ruled that GRC had to forfeit their first five victories. As a result, the football team missed the playoffs and could not win its conference title. But the school demonstrated integrity by placing the rules above their own interests. They admitted their mistake even though nobody else would likely have discovered it.
These two stories, one from the distant past and another quite recent, are good examples of integrity. The people involved demonstrated integrity by remaining true to their convictions, even when it was difficult and costly. For Gerald R. Ford, integrity meant standing for his convictions when others around him were telling him otherwise. For GRC’s football team, integrity meant doing what was right even when no one was watching. Football is only a game, but it provides society with countless examples of integrity that can be used in everyday life.

Honorable Mention

Rebekah Karel
Kenowa Hills High School
12th Grade

Integrity: A Foundation

Wednesday April 18, 1906. A massive earthquake strikes the San Francisco coast, sending the city into darkness and ruins. Twenty-eight thousand buildings crumble on impact, unable to withstand the sheer force of the tremors. Within a matter of a few minutes, vast structures collapse into rubble, their true weaknesses now visible.
Scientists were puzzled, wondering how such large structures could fall so easily. They tried to strengthen the supports but with no avail, because the true problem was hidden far from view, in the foundation of the structures. Without a secure foundation, the buildings had no stability. They were weak and unguarded – defenseless against the might of a storm.

In the same way that these buildings needed a strong core to stand firm, so to do humans need integrity: the foundation of human life. Integrity is the cornerstone of one’s character, the backbone behind an individual’s personal values. One’s integrity is what one answers to when making difficult choices. It is the rudder behind a strong ship, guiding it through dangerous waters.

Integrity is built, maintained, and strengthened over a lifetime. It is founded in truth, and points towards the fundamentally good choice. When you are a person of integrity, your words are congruent with your actions. People believe in you, trust in you, respect you, and therefore listen to you. Once you are seen as a person of integrity, people will have faith in you, because it is known that your being correlates with your actions.

A wonderful example of this can be seen in a man that achieved celebrated leadership in his lifetime. Mahatma Gandhi may be the epitome of integrity in modern times. There is a story that is told like this: In the 1930s a woman came to Gandhi asking him to tell her son not to eat sugar because it was doing him harm. Gandhi thought for a minute and then replied, “Please come back next week”. Puzzled the woman and her son left, and in a week’s time returned. When Gandhi saw the woman and child, he knelt down, took the son’s head between his hands and said, “Please don’t eat sugar, it is not good for you”. The boy nodded in understanding, and the mother and child turned to leave. Just as they walked through the door the woman stopped, puzzled, and asked, “Why didn’t you say this last week when we came?” Gandhi smiled and replied, “Last week I too was eating sugar”.  

Gandhi had the foundation of integrity embedded in his life. He could be depended upon to live as he said he would. He had an unwavering set of moral standards that kept him grounded in even the most difficult of times. Gandhi could be trusted to do what he said he would do. In fact, he once boldly stated, “If you believe in something and not live it, it is dishonest”. Gandhi was a man of integrity, and although he faced many challenges in his life, he stood tall, not crumbling under the pressures of the world, but staying true to his values and beliefs.
As a society as a whole we are losing our integrity. We have become a broken country – giving up on our values and principles in search of money, power, fame, materials, and any other number of petty reasons. We have lost sight of what matters – our foundation, our core, our principles: our integrity. We begin to get out of touch with our character and values, and with no firm foundation we crumble. Our lives tip out of balance because we have nothing to check ourselves against; our integrity has been lost.
Integrity is something found within; it is a choice, a way of life. We live in a world where people choose to live without a moral code, a building without a firm foundation. We need to live in honesty and be sound in our personal values. Just as Gandhi’s principles, public behaviors, and choices were all in alignment, so to should we be true to ourselves. Unlike the buildings lost in the San Francisco earthquake, people need to work on their personal core so that the rest of our being can be strengthened. Human beings must plant themselves firmly in integrity so that they can be grounded in strength. It is this foundation that is integrity.

Karla J. Perez
Hart High School
12th Grade

Barefooted Dreams

An admirable boy who at ten was forced to become a man, a man who had to dismiss all his childhood dreams and replace them with the wisdom of one three times his age.  Though he might not have known it at the time, the core values instilled upon him before his father’s death would help Ruperto live his life with integrity.
As the second oldest of a family of five and the first born male, he was left with a burden he did not ask for, and a parenting role that he had to fill. With four siblings to take care of and a working mother, sacrifices had to be made. After school every day he would go out to the field and help his mother, and in the wee hours of the morning, as the hues of color splattered the horizon, wake up early to check on the few animals they owned. Walking barefoot to school on the rocky dirt road, blisters would cover his feet, causing him to wince at the sight of his siblings doing the same; none however, daring to ruin their only pair of school shoes. With his head held high and courage in his heart, he continued to school, not caring about the ridicule of those laughing at his bare feet.

He worked with determination, along with his mother, to supply the bare necessities for his siblings and himself. Never did he dare steal something that was not his. The teachings of his father were unyielding, and along with them came a strong sense of morality. Several times opportunity arose when fellow classmates would drop money and although he painfully knew the money could go towards his family, he gave it back, not allowing himself to hope on “unearned money”. Countless times he had the opportunity to come to the US illegally to improve the state of his family; however, he refused, simply stating the country in which he was born was the country that was going to see him die. Although he did eventually come to the U.S, he did it the honest way by applying for a visa, and obtaining a permit. Honesty is not merely the absence of lying; it is the absence of theft and cheating too.

The values this young man had and was taught at an early age helped shape the humble, righteous character he still has today. At the age of 40, Ruperto is the prime example of integrity. A man who still wakes up every morning at 6 a.m., puts on his boots by the mere light of the pink, yellow and orange hues surrounding the white ball of flame in the horizon. He yawns, turns on the radio, shakes his wife, and walks outside to the “singing” of the roosters, petting his two dogs hello. He whistles for them to follow as he checks up on the newborn goats and calves. Briefly coming back inside to wake his children, he quickly grabs a cup of coffee before he’s off again; getting in his ratted old truck, he waves goodbye as he goes to check on the cattle and his small fields nearby.

Integrity. Integrity is something this man has developed his entire life. It’s determination, courage, honesty, morality, and character. It’s knowing that even when times are tough we must uphold these standards with a firmness only determination can sustain upright. With his father’s death Ruperto’s dreams crumbled, his life shattered to pieces, but it was the dreams and hopes of his siblings and the remnants of his own that allowed him to dream … a barefooted dream. That things wouldn’t be like that forever. It’s this man I am proud to know, and this man I am proud to call my uncle.

Emily Prins
Catholic Central High School
10th grade


We have all felt the keen sting of America’s recently wounded economy. Whether it be a father struggling to provide for his children, or a student attempting to make his way while being continuously thrust back down by the tuition payments he is unable to make, it depletes us, wears us, and yet we are asked to keep going. It is only with integrity that we are able to carry on. The true definition of integrity resides in the heart and mind of every citizen striving for resilience in the depression of today’s economy.

One of the most vivid encounters with integrity I have experienced extended from October 2008 to October 2009; the year my dad was unemployed. During dinner one fall night, my father disclosed that he had been let go from the condominium construction company at which he had been working. I remember the look of fear and sadness in my parents’ eyes; after all, they were already suffocating under the weight of debt piled on their shoulders. Despite their internal anguish, they both kept their heads up, assuring my brother, sister, and I that it all would work out and God would provide.

Throughout the year, my dad searched for any job that would pay. We constantly had stacks of classifieds covering our tabletops and counters. He had the integrity to persist, to try to make an honest living, rather than trying to find an easier way or trying to cheat the system. Eventually he found a job in restoration, peeling mold off walls and ridding houses of bat infestations. With that, he continues to work many side jobs after hours and on weekends, sacrificing time with my brother and me, and sacrificing time to sleep. Although it is rare, when he is home, he works hard to be a good model of integrity for us as we mature. He shows us that when you have nothing else, no money, no job, you can have integrity, and that alone can push you through the worst of times.

While my dad has struggled to work, my mother has watched the house come inches away from foreclosure, listened to the ignorant complaints of my brother and I as we nagged her about the off brand snacks in the cupboards. She has dealt with innumerable toll free calls looking for payments that she has no way to make, and maintained the house. Somehow, she has never gotten too harsh, or angry with us.

During these times, I was lucky enough to have many friends whose families have and still are going through exactly what I am.  I can see in their faces that even though they have pain, they do not revert to self-pity or misbehavior. They preserve their integrity as they continue to look out for others and study hard in their academics. I can look in the faces of their parents and see the same burden I see in my parents, as well as the same sense of integrity, the same need to keep their moral code intact when nothing else around them is.

The final example of integrity displayed by an average working class American is the one I find in myself. I have carried the burden of the fearful state of the economy on my own back, and felt its weight. I have come home to find pinks slips taped to the door reading, “Warning of Foreclosure”, and heard the quiet frustrations of my parents as they try to sort out a bounced check or an empty bank account. I have resisted the temptation to fall under the pressure of uncertainty by the strength of my integrity, sustaining my grades, my relationships with friends, at times with my family, and my principles. My adherence to my values, hope, knowledge, kindness, and love, helps me everyday to persist through the fog of doubt and unease.

In these times of economic decline, when life is riddled with hardship, we must remember that when we feel we have nothing, we have our integrity. If we use that integrity, we will have strength to beat on and persevere. In the words of Confucius, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” The definition of integrity is within the American population, as we continue to struggle without cheating or scamming, without the decay of our individual morality. With the integrity of each person, the vivacity of our nation and economy will be restored to its prior magnificence.