One Pen Can Change the World

NWPNH sponsors a writing contest called “One Pen Can Change the World” in which New Hampshire students submit essays about their ideas about justice. This year’s contest is open now.  The deadline for submissions is May 12, 2017.   Contest instructions can be found here.

The 2016 winner and runner-up are pictured here with their teachers. You can read their essays below.

Grades 9-12

Winner: “American Hypocrisy” Ian Gollihur, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, Northwood. (Teacher Sarah Hill.)

Runner-up: “Dear Cosmetics and Clothing Companies” Kate Eastland, Souhegan High School,  Amherst. (Teacher Tony Doucet.)


Pictured left to right: Souhegan High School Social Studies teacher Tony Doucet with runner-up Kate Eastland and winner Ian Gollihur with English teacher Sarah Hill, both of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy.


American Hypocrisy

By Ian Gollihur

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am a straight White male. I have never walked into a convenience store with a hoodie on and been stared at by a White employee out of suspicion. I have never been the victim of a racist joke I was supposed to accept because the person saying it didn’t really mean it. I have never been asked to smile by a man I didn’t know when he “complimented” me in line at a coffee shop. I have never been told I can’t do something because that thing is something only men can do. I have never been bullied for my sexual orientation. I have never been told by a figure of authority I can’t be with the one I love because we happen to be of the same gender.

It is because I am straight, White, and male that I have never had to encounter these sickening moments. It is because I was born White that I have the unfair and ungodly privilege of living my life without even being touched by racism. I have the privilege to worry more about being thought of as a racist by my peers than being a victim of racism itself. It is because I am a male that I have the privilege to be paid more than my female counterparts. I have the unholy privilege to be able to attend parties with my friends without worrying that some coward will try to get me intoxicated so that they can bring me to a back room and violate my drunken body as his friends film my rape. It is because I am straight I can openly express my affections in public without people being disgusted. I have the bigoted and un­American freedom to love whom I love without worrying about a congregation praying for me and spraying me with holy water in an attempt to cast the devil from my soul. And because I was born here I can become President of these United States, while my friend who was adopted after birth by Americans but was born in South Korea can never even hope to achieve any office above senator.

Injustice isn’t just privilege toward a small class of people that get to exert power over everyone else through our Congress that is loyal only to religion and the money being tucked into their pockets from Big Industry. It’s that society denies this irrefutable fact. It’s that our society, something that is supposed to be more advanced than any other this Earth has ever seen, still persecutes gays for being gay and Muslims for being Muslims and denies it. We aren’t racist when we think that Arab ­looking guy on the bus can be a terrorist. We aren’t racially biased when we are afraid to be walking in front of a Black man in the city because he looks like a thug. It isn’t homophobic when we pass laws preventing gays from getting married. It’s just against my religion, and I have a right not to see that blasphemous thing. By God, this society has so much more progress to make.

It is when White Government looks at Flint and Ferguson and Chicago and sees the Black community being oppressed and poisoned and murdered by rogue, fascist police one by one that something finally changes. When people finally get fired. But those people are always in subordinate positions, and the masterminds of the systemic racism still keep their job and their pension and the privilege of being Mayor and Police Chief and Governor.

When I see the Confederate flags lining the streets of my adopted town it disgusts me. When we reflect that 50 years ago Mr. King and his followers fighting for civil liberty marched into our nation’s capital and think about how much we have progressed, we should remember this evil banner that is still saluted by racist imbeciles even in my proud New Hampshire. I see teenage students at my school wearing T-shirts and belt buckles that pay such disgusting homage to the Confederacy it makes me feel hatred that this venomous leech of a culture has seeped into my beloved North. It is so thrillingly and mind­numbingly shameful that American citizens who enjoy the rights of being such choose instead to wave and salute and worship and praise the symbol of a rebel government that died 150 years ago and bastardized human freedom and dignity. The fact that these people, who have lived in the North their entire lives in the state whose motto is the calling card of modern libertarianism, can subscribe to such a close­minded philosophy on race and sexual orientation and gender, is the epitome of injustice. Sense does not appeal to these people. They have sipped the dark and stagnant Kool­Aid and with its sugar filling them with ignorance berate entire cultures and shout cries for freedom from government when they are pulled over with beer in their hand, when they themselves would rather let the government control every aspect of life for someone who isn’t straight, White, male, and Christian.

Thomas Jefferson is known for once having called for our great country to stare into itself and nurture a social revolution once every decade. The last great social revolution was in the 1960s leading into the 1970s, spawning new ideas of equality for Blacks, gays, and women. Since then, this progress has regressed because we have grown lazy. Taking into consideration Jefferson’s social revolution schedule, we are about four decades behind on those great reformations. Let’s give one to sexual equality, another to gender equality, one to racial and cultural equality, and the last to just realizing that the human race is comprised of many different cultures and identities. What right do we have to say that one does not receive the same rights and privileges that we do? What right do we have to say that because you’re not straight that you don’t get to marry? What right is there that we get to say that since you’re just a weak little woman you get half as many opportunities in the working world and politics? What right do we have to look at a Black man interviewing for the same job as a White man and choose the latter because of his skin color, not his qualifications? There exist no such rights. I am straight, White, and male. I have never been ridiculed for being these things. It seems no one has ever been under attack because their skin is White and their lover is the opposite gender and because they happen to be identified by society as male.

My great-­uncle is gay. He has a partner. I love the both of them, and my entire family, while Catholic, realizes and understands that there is nothing wrong with happening to love something who is the same gender as you. If we take a look back at our Privilege Checklist, we see that my uncle has two out of the three elements of being privileged. He is White. He is a male. But he is gay. Well, two out of three is a majority, so that must mean that for the most part my uncle enjoys the same freedoms as the rest of we proud, White, straight males.

A lover of liberty and equality would hope so. But if you take one out of the equation the whole thing falls apart. Close enough only does count for horseshoes and hand grenades. My uncle still faced the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to receive a marriage license. He still faces hatred and discrimination for being gay. He still had to wait for years before he could stop calling his lover his “partner” and not his “husband.” One of the greatest injustices is the idea that the government has a right to claim some of your God­given freedoms from you. This is what the government did to my uncle. This is what the government has done and still does to gays across America. A government established by the people for the people and of the people does not get to say that my uncle cannot be officially recognized as being the husband of his lover.

Our government doesn’t get to say that poor Black people get to drink the lead­-contaminated water just so that they can save money.

Our government doesn’t get to say that women can’t serve in our nation’s military because they are too fragile and because their fellow male soldiers will make them susceptible to rape.

Our government doesn’t get to say that only Christians can serve in government, like Texas does.

And we don’t get to do that. We citizens. Not any of it. When society thinks that it can persecute certain populations of itself for the simple fact that they differ from us in one aspect, the society has forfeited civilized status. Society commits sin every single moment when it fosters injustice toward the minority. Society will continue to commit sin if the people of privilege don’t understand this. The privileged need to stand up and look outside of our sad little windows, shuttered by fear and ignorance. When we understand that people can and should be different from us without persecution, society will finally be in the right. But until the time when I can say that I am straight, White, and male and it will mean nothing outside of self­-identification, this society deserves to have to wake up to the image of that Confederate flag flapping in the window of that business across the street. Because if we don’t choose to liberate our fellow Americans and Humans from prejudice, we are equal to the Southern Confederacy of 1861. Because even though we don’t hold slaves on plantations, we victimize anyone who isn’t our definition of American to such an extent that we almost do enslave people to the knowledge that they will always be considered second ­rate Americans behind their straight, White, male counterparts. That isn’t a society that can focus on the immense progress we’ve made in the past 50 years (and we most certainly have made progress), but a society that must focus on the amount of progress left to achieve before we reach this vision.


Dear Cosmetics and Clothing Companies

By Kate Eastland

I am writing to you to complain about a largely overlooked problem with your color selection. Or, rather, a problem with your color descriptions.

Every time a woman buys a new foundation, every time she goes to buy a pair of shoes, every time she pulls on a pair of panty hose, she can see it, and I know you, the perpetrators of this silent discrimination, can see it too. I am writing to complain about the color “nude.” More specifically, the fact that a word that means simply “the color of skin” has been altered to “the color of a White person.” Nude has become the fashion as of late; nude bras, nude flats, and nude lipstick all sit on shelves with malevolent creamy beige.

Even Band­Aids cannot escape this unconscious white­washing. Why is it, that when a Black child goes to cover up her scraped knee, she has the option of Barbie, Spiderman, princess, neon green, and tie dye, but never a comforting dark brown? Why is it, when an Indian girl wants to go to ballet class like all her friends, she is condemned to an ashy tan, made as an after thought, hung up on racks only to stop the peoples’ protests? Why is it that women of color have to go to high­-end makeup brands that view $40 dollars as a reasonable price for an eyeshadow just to find a shade of makeup that will be dark enough for them?

Maybelline New York, a highly successful and popular drugstore makeup company, only sells shades of foundation up to the color of milk chocolate, when there are girls in the world who are ridiculed for blending into their black leggings. Nude lipsticks, made a trend this year by the Kardashian sisters, are designed and advertised specifically for light skinned women, when the skin of women of color can look drastically different in the same exact shade, forcing them to settle for less because no one wants to take time to think about what might look good on someone who isn’t White.

I am writing to you to ask for a change. Expand your shade range to include ALL women, not just those with a “bronze glow.” Hire more women of color and start advertising Latina girls, African American girls, Indian girls, Asian girls, and Hijabi girls wearing your products. (Also advertise men wearing your products, because makeup should not have to be gender specific.) You may say you are ignoring whole demographics for the sake of “cost efficiency” but everyone knows you have revenue to spend on shade expansion and a new set of models. It is clear that you simply just don’t find women of color of enough importance to spend time on. Most of all, stop making peach and beige synonymous with nude. There are more skin tones in the world than you deem worthy of marketing to, and refusing to create products for them is just one more factor in a society built on racist capitalism.

A consumer tired of White people’s monopoly on beauty


The National Writing Project in New Hampshire runs the One Pen Can Change the World essay contest, which asks students to respond to one of three prompts related to justice, annually.

For this year’s instructions and writing prompts, see the Writing-Contest-2016 flyer.

You can now read 2014’s winning essays in the One Pen Can Change the World booklet. We invite teachers to use the booklet in your classes.

For additional information, contact NWPNH Executive Director Meg Petersen at

The winning essays from 2014 are listed below.

Grades 9-12


“Letter From a Disappointed Teenager” Julia Brackett, Souhegan High School, Amherst

“Lou Bug” Isabella Rubin, Concord High School

Grade 8

Winner:  “Imagine” Gabby Lajeunesse, Hopkinton Middle High School

Runners Up: “Definition of Injustice” Joseph Kealy, Kearsarge Regional Middle School

“Dear Pope Francis” Noah Waldron, Kearsarge Regional Middle School

Grade 7

Winner: “Injustice: Letter from Laconia” Bryden Wright, Laconia Middle School

Runner Up: “One Pen can Change the World” Renee Corriveau, Laconia Middle School

Grade 5

Winner: “Different Lives, One Family” Ruby Lonergan, Campton Elementary School

Runner Up: “Dear Mrs. Barach” Kayla Thrasher, Pleasant Street School, Laconia