The Granite Bay Inspirational Essay Contest


2024 Scholarship Winner- Sophia Weise!

Granite Bay Wealth Management, LLC holds an annual Inspirational Essay contest for High School seniors pursuing higher education. Those interested in applying must submit a completed essay no later than May 31st, 2024. The winning essay may be published* on Seacoast Online and in local print newspapers. Essays will be judged on creativity and story content. The prize for the winning essay is a one-time $2,500 college scholarship.

Essay should be no more than 600 words. Be creative with the topic, but the theme should involve a story of inspiration or personal challenge. Essay must be inspired by true events and contain no profanity. Completed essays should be submitted to, no later than May 31st, 2024. The winner will be notified prior to June 15th, 2024.

Granite Bay Wealth Management, LLC began their annual scholarship as a way to give back to the communities that we are involved in.

*Essay to be published subject to editorial approval of Seacoast Media Group editor.

My hands strike ice-cold water as I paddle as fast as I can away from a growing wall of water. My board lunges forward as I stand up and speed towards the beach. The cool ocean breeze whips over my face as the foamy water rushes beneath my board. An intense rush of adrenaline surges through my body and I let out a shrill of excitement. 

Growing up, my dad, sister, and I hit the waves weekly, especially when we needed therapeutic escape during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Not only is surfing exhilarating and meditative, but it has served as a lesson in life. Like a surfer who has to adapt to the ocean’s conditions, surfing has taught me to adapt to the changing currents and waves that life throws me.

 For one year of my life, my surfboard became a lifeboat to escape hard realities. When I was a sophomore my sister, a senior, was diagnosed with anorexia. Her illness and long recovery caused utter chaos in my house. My parents’ attention was solely on her and I witnessed intense emotions and fights daily. Every mealtime was filled with arguments between my parents who were following the nutritionist’s strict guidance, and my sister doing anything she could to refuse their food. It was as if a demon had taken over her as she was in a constant rage against my parents fighting for her survival. 

I no longer recognized my own sister; my best friend was gone. She changed into the person I never thought she could become. Amidst the disturbances, it became evident to me that I was going to need to take care of myself. I turned to surfing to cope with the loss and challenges as the emotional waves of my sister’s anorexia crashed through my home. My goal was to stay calm, and I learned to adapt to the daily situations. Surfing taught me to control my emotional reactions one surge at a time. Waves come and go and we must handle them to survive. I realized I didn’t have control of anyone but myself, even a loved one in a storm. Whether it’s a wave coming towards me, or my sister battling anorexia, it’s crucial to handle the struggle by moving through inner strength and life balance.

 A year later, another wave came my way when two of my closest friends isolated themselves from me and the rest of the world by starving themselves to achieve unattainable beauty standards. It was unbearable to watch them go down the same treacherous path as my sister. Yet again, I had to maintain my inner peace. So, I continued to listen to my friends, but I also adapted my schedule to focus more on my academics and water polo so that I would stay busy and more balanced.

 During these painful moments of my life, surfing relieved my stress and taught me to remain calm, and not fight too hard against the turbulence. I’ve drawn heavily on these traumatic experiences of my sister and friends fighting for their lives. I am confident I have the stamina and skills to face whatever waves college brings my way because I’ve learned to manage my schedule, take control of my activities, and maintain my own personal peace and well-being. 

My dad, sister, and I smile at each other as we enjoy the serenity of being in the ocean. I see another swell approaching as I lay down on my board. Turning I start paddling and look forward to this next wave, this next chapter of my life.


The first thing Evan did when he got his driver’s license was take me for a ride. My mom was a little hesitant, but since we’d been best friends since second grade, she allowed it.

I switched the broken air conditioner to the ‘cool’ setting. “That’s pretty cool,” I said, and Evan chuckled. I couldn’t help but feel proud. His laugh was the sound I wished to hear most in this world. The sun was on our skin, Green Day in our ears, and everything was great.

The news that he was lying in a hospital bed with zero neurological function made me want to tear down the universe and everything inside of it. Just weeks after our car ride, and hours after we had last spoken, Evan was taken away from me. I wanted nothing more than to stop time, to have forever to grieve, but I couldn’t.

I realized in that moment the harsh reality that the world can’t stop turning just because I wanted it to. Evan was gone. I had to move forward with my life.

Evan helped me with everything. He consoled me through times of grief and encouraged me to better myself. We spent tons of time entertaining each other. He was the one to let me know when one of my jokes went too far. In losing him, I lost the person I would turn to. Normally, I would’ve gone to him, talked through everything, and he would’ve consoled me right away, since he could console me with just his voice. In losing him, I lost part of myself.

When he was still with me, I thought I had all the time in the world. I was planning to maybe learn another language sometime in the future, or possibly pick up a new hobby after school. Now, I realize that I might not have that kind of time. In the short year between his passing and now, I’ve pruned toxic relationships, started better ones, started dieting and even found a job. Though I still grapple with the tragedy of Evan’s death, it has been the crucible for a cascading shift in me.

While I still love Evan and the memories that we shared together, losing the ones that we love is a part of life everyone must experience at one point or another. We can’t stop it from happening. Through the loss of my closest companion, I’ve learned to make the most of every moment until I have no moments left to give. I used to give all of myself to helping others but have since learned that I need to help myself, too. I still try to help those I care about, but there are things I can’t control, and I’ve learned to focus on myself during these times.

While the past never fades, it’s the lessons we carry away from it that justify the pain we feel. Everyone will lose someone at some point in their life. It’s the worst feeling one can feel. I tried not feeling and forgetting, denying and bargaining, being angry and getting depressed, but only by finally accepting and embracing what has happened can I grow as an individual and move forward.

I still miss Evan. I’m still livid at the world for taking him away, but I can’t help but feel thankful for the memories he and I shared—for the growth that he jumpstarted. Now, every day, I strive to live a life that would make him proud; to feel the gentle warmth of his smile, of his laugh that I loved so much.

Tyler Nelson

Early Inspiration

My dad’s work allowed us to travel a lot as a family when we were young. Any and everywhere we went, I made a friend. I loved to talk and socialize with people I met on these trips. I also loved to really get involved everywhere we went.

One of my favorite trips and most memorable experiences occurred during our stay at the Peace Lodge in Costa Rica. Soon after arriving at the resort, something caught my eye, the Toucan Nature Reserve. I had to visit the Toucan exhibit as soon as I had the chance. I spent hours feeding, playing, and learning about toucans. My parents had to pry me away from this spot so that we could have lunch and allow the staff time to prepare for the next round of guests. One afternoon, the tour director knocked at our villa door. I was sure she came to tell us that we had left something valuable behind during one of our earlier tours. What she asked me to do left me with a feeling of shock and excitement. As it turned out, the director came to ask a favor of me. She explained that they were short-staffed and that one of their tour guides had to leave for a family emergency. She then asked if I would be willing to lead the final three Toucan tours for the day. Oddly, I didn’t feel nervous at all. In fact, I was ecstatic that they asked me to lend a helping hand. As the first tour gathered around, I could tell they were confused as to why they were being led by an eight-year-old dressed in bright pink. I successfully ran the next three tours that day and talked about the Toucans as if I had worked there for years. Being granted such an opportunity will always give me a sense of pride and happiness. My parents have since told me that it was that defining moment when they realized that I would someday combine my people skills with my passion for exploration and challenges.

Since then, my friendly, outgoing personality, coupled with my natural leadership skills have provided me with multiple leadership roles, including being named captain of my high school varsity ski and lacrosse teams. Although the captainship is an incredible honor and responsibility, it is the sense of being part of a team surrounded and respected by my peers that provides me with the greatest satisfaction. I am excited for the opportunity to further develop my leadership and interpersonal skills at the university level where I can grow as a person, student, athlete and leader.

Serafina Melino

As I frantically glanced around for anyone’s help, the only eyes that met mine were those that belonged to the hostile customer whose angry words were echoing off the grease stained walls and into my sense of pride. Everyone knows how important kindness is to society, but we often forget how impactful negativity can be as well. This became clear one busy night at the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant.

I had recently turned 15, and had just gotten comfortable with my duties as the dining room supervisor. One day at work, a woman approached the hostess station, glowering over me and I immediately recognized her from a previous, minor, complaint. However, the second impression was off to a rough start. The dull roar of the dining room quickly died down to a hushed whisper and all eyes were on us as she insulted me, and the restaurant, over a simple mistake the server made with their payment. I smiled at her and asked for her credit card so I could run the payment for her one last time. She suddenly slammed her purse down on the podium and shouted at me about how ashamed I should be to work at such a lousy restaurant. In that one sentence, she had torn down my sense of pride and accomplishment of achieving the position I had, and invalidated the respect given to me by my coworkers. I turned away from her as tears of sheer embarrassment welled up in my eyes.

I drowned out her harsh words and thought back to the wise idea my mother once taught me. She told me not to kill someone with kindness, but instead suffocate them; make them squirm in their skin as your warm, kind smile radiates off their cruel words. Since it’s always just been my mom and me, we have learned a lot from each other, and how to overcome the evil that tries to consume us any chance it gets. Going through life having to balance school, work, and the emotional challenges of an absent father was something I struggled with, but am so proud to now be able to conquer every day. I took the customer’s hate personally and, for a moment, questioned how worthy I was of the pride I felt. I questioned if all the work I had done was even significant. My mother’s soft voice echoed in my head, and I fought through those thoughts.

Instead of letting this woman get to me, and letting her defeat all that I had worked for, I gave her a genuine smile and chose to be kind because I have learned how easy it is to let the evil flourish inside of you, and how easy it is to let your demons take over. In order for society to function, there has to be some balance. I have learned that people have to project kindness to suffocate the negativity that lingers inside of each of us, and allow each other to lead a more positive life. That day, I was able to rely on the words my mother taught me from such a young age, and I was able to recognize that every challenge my mother faced, she simply took it on with that mentality, and was able to move forward. This experience meant a lot more than just learning how to deal with a grumpy customer, but how to make a positive change in the world around me. I vowed that this is how I would lead each day forward, and, honestly, it’s paying off.

Grace Hanson

Baseball has brought me to many places so far. I have been lost on winding roads in Kentucky and driven up and down the east coast. Each year consists of trips to New Jersey, New York, and Florida and each trip brings a new story. This past year my Nana, who is 91, asked my mom if she could go on a road trip to Florida to see one of my baseball tournaments and visit Sanibel Island. My Nana has always supported me and I was thrilled when she wanted to make this trip to see me play against some of the best competition in the country.

After surviving the 24-hour drive with my sister and mom, she was able to make it to almost every game, while still exploring and learning new things in Florida. She has taught me that you are never too knowledgeable to learn or experience something new. Life is an adventure and we should be grateful for each every day. More importantly, she has taught me to be more resilient and to never settle because you are scared of failure. Failure is where you learn, what makes you stronger and brings new opportunities.

This past fall, she really made me stop and think about challenging myself and not being afraid to fail. I sat in an AP Physics class where I would have never thought I belonged and looked at the board full of symbols and concepts that I had never seen before. In all honesty, I was always a student who went to school to get by with slightly above average grades in slightly above average classes. This was my last opportunity to change classes and I chose to test what I can do. Also, in the fall, I went out for football team and played for the very first time. I was in a very uncomfortable spot and everything felt new and I was clueless. I continued to apply myself and I refused to fail and give up while learning these new and uncomfortable skills.

Even at 91, my Nana is always taking risks, seeking adventures and gaining new knowledge and skills. However my favorite thing about her is she always finds a way to smile through anything. On hour 22 of the road trip, during a torrential downpour, my mom missed the signs on the road and got lost. As they were anxiously trying to figure out the next turn and find where they were on the map, my Nana started laughing hysterically. The most important thing she has taught me is the impact that smiling through stressful times can have. Especially when I was younger, almost every single thing I did I took seriously, and it took the joy out of many things I had loved to do. Seeing her able to smile through hard times always reminds me to appreciate the little things now, and has changed my mindset when going about life and inspired me become the person I am today.

All I can smell is wet paint, sweat, and the sweet steam coming up from the street vendor outside the barred window. The air is damp on my skin as I move to the rhythm of the rain pattering on the tin roofs surrounding us. Children are laughing in the room next to me, and between the Spanish, English, and Creole, I can only make out bits and pieces of conversation from the jump rope competition. Everything around me is both foreign and comforting, from the bug bites around my ankles to the smile lines under my eyes.

Three other students and I had just finished painting the back room of what was slowly transforming into a public library for the beach community of Cabarete, Dominican Republic. When we entered this third-floor space, it was full — full of potential, of hope, and of intelligent children with curious minds and big hearts. When we left, it was full of color and light. The kids I had only known for two days were hugging me as tightly as they could, all with smiles larger than the books they held in their marker-tattooed hands. The walls were decorated with the playful imagination of a child: butterflies, books, animals, flowers, and every color of paint we could get our hands on (and our hands in).

I looked victoriously at the freshly painted backroom. It had taken us 3 hours, two
buckets of orange and teal paint, and lots of singalongs to finish this project. We sat down in the middle of the room with a sense of accomplishment.

Suddenly I was being ambushed by paint-covered hands belonging to giggly attackers. Handprints stained cotton t-shirts and sunburnt cheeks. Amidst the chaos, a little girl with bright pink ribbons in her hair came in. Seeing the big kids playing with the paint, she decided to join in on the fun. Her hands dipped into the orange paint, and she placed them on the teal bookcase we had finished coating 10 minutes earlier.

For a split second, my stomach dropped. But my eyes quickly lit up. I took my paintstained hands and put them right there beside the little girl’s. We both laughed and prepared our impromptu brushes for more fingerpainting. More and more people began to follow her lead. Big handprints next to little ones, we created a masterpiece. Soon the entire shelf was coated in layers of white and orange.

As we looked back at this room, that was once perfectly painted, it was covered in
multicolored handprints of all different sizes. We had quite literally, left our handprints — a few kids from a quaint town in Maine — on this small Dominican community.

In this moment, I realized exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I realized that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. If painting walls and exchanging smiles could make such an impression on an entire community, what more could I do? This has pushed me to pursue a career in the healthcare field, where I can work with children in need of medical attention, in third world countries. I can only imagine how providing a life-changing surgery to a family for their child would compare to simply painting a room in a tiny village. These children have given me a sense of purpose, place, and meaning.

Upon coming home from a long twelve-hour theatre rehearsal, I began to make myself lavender tea to soothe my overworked throat. Tired and disoriented, I knocked my favorite cow mug off the counter shattering it into pieces, flying in disarray.

In denial of the potential fatality of my mug, I plugged in the hot glue gun, ready to repair. Although it was never rehabilitated to sustain all leaks, I was able to repurpose my favorite mug to hold my makeup brushes instead.

In Japanese culture, there is a great influence in tea ceremonies surrounding the preparation and presentation of matcha green tea. As accidents and mistakes are an important part of life, the mugs will experience damage and occasional cracks. Instead of the more obvious choice of replacing the mug, the cracks are filled with gold saving the mug from its own demise. In the wear and tear of the mug’s life, it inherently becomes more beautiful with every addition of the shimmering gold, telling its story. This mindset of “beauty” relying on the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete is known as Wabi Sabi.

Just as life leaves its mark on these mugs, life leaves its own marks on individuals’ lives. Although I have experienced my fair share of hardships, I have used these experiences (that had the potential to break me beyond repair) as opportunities to reinvent my character; using it to aid in a redefinition of who I am is as an individual.

Just before I entered my freshman year of high school I was diagnosed with bulimia. It would have been easy to just sweep away my broken pieces, but instead, I allowed it to aid me in telling my own story, creating beauty in this imperfection of my character. Complete control and order was an important aspect of my life and personality growing up. I would cry when my mom replaced the throw pillows on the couch due to my fear of change. This experience of loss of control gave me a new perspective on regulation: One often must go out of his or her way in an attempt to find the order in life. This has prepared me to follow the sense of action over words, initiated by the rest of my generation. I am a strong believer in paving my own way to achieve my goals, doing what’s necessary to land the wanted part in a musical and not expecting life to hand me the things I want.

In channeling my own Wabi Sabi mindset I have allowed for forgiveness and acceptance in the challenges I have and will continue to face. The importance of hardship lies not in the experience itself but in its impact moving forward. My experiences positive and negative have become an important part of who I am and have helped shape who I hope to become. With a greater understanding of how easy it can be to hide these battles from the world, I have gained a new appreciation for the expression; “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

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