Owen King, Fall 2020 Scholarship Runner-Up

Our Fall 2020 Scholarship essay prompt asked students, “How have you personally been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and what have you learned? What have you done to help others in your community during this time? If you were in charge, how would you have addressed the concerns we’ve seen?” Owen King won second place in this semester’s contest, and will receive a $250 college scholarship to the school of his choice. You can read his winning essay below.

Owen is a senior in the Criminal Justice cluster at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, FL. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a law degree, and then practice business law. He has played on his school’s varsity soccer team all four years of high school. His team won the District Championship his freshman year and advanced to the Elite Eight in the state last year. Owen has a twin sister, but he’s the more extroverted of the two, as he enjoys spending time around others. Congratulations, Evan!

COVID-19 has infected more than nine and a half million Americans, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker. Total deaths in the U.S. will have topped 235,000 by the time you read this. The CDC scientists have advised simple ways we can protect ourselves and others: wear a mask and social distance. I have seen people, on the news and in-person, protesting wearing a mask, calling it a violation of personal freedom and civil liberties. I disagree.

I do not like wearing the masks. Who does? They are uncomfortable and irritating. But my mom has asthma and Hashimoto’s, which puts her in a high-risk group for infection. For me, wearing a mask is a small price to pay to keep my loved ones safe. I am fortunate to not have a friend or family member – yet – infected by COVID-19.

At what point does one person’s right to not wear a mask outweigh the right of another to be safe from exposure to this deadly virus? A person aged 21 or over has the right to go out and consume alcoholic beverages. Yet that same person does not have the right to get behind the wheel of a car and risk endangering other people because of his behavior. I ask: Whose rights are being impinged on? Your right to not wear a mask or my right to not have you potentially infect me – and my family – with COVID? Wearing a mask should not be so controversial, considering its beneficial role in stopping the spread of COVID.

Further compounding the mask debate is the fact that each state has discretion to pass and enforce different rules. In an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, Lindsay Wiley, the director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University, said, “State and local governments have really quite broad authority” to require the public to wear masks during a pandemic.

There have been several stories of workers being attacked for trying to enforce a mask mandate in a business. If a business has a mask mandate, all patrons must adhere to the rule. If a patron attacks a worker for attempting to enforce the mask mandate, then that patron should be arrested for assault.

Giving Back

While I have taken steps to keep myself and loved one, I have also taken steps to be a leader in my community. In your blog, “Our Guide to Applying for Scholarships (And Winning!),” you talk about the “the importance of giving back.” I agree. During this pandemic, I have donated my time and talent in three areas: food insecurity, animal rescue and tutoring students learning at home.

According to PBS Newshour, one in four adults say someone in their household lost their job due to the pandemic. With household income reduced, many families were forced to make difficult financial choices in paying bills, for needed medications and food. There has been a 400% increase in requests for assistance since people began feeling the economic impact of COVID-19, according to statistics from Feeding Tampa Bay (FTB).

I have volunteered with FTB at their warehouse in Tampa for almost two years. I help unpack donation boxes, sort foods and stock their shelves. During the pandemic, I helped their mobile food pantries and fresh-food trucks in Hernando and Hillsborough Counties. Lines of cars would arrive on set days. We put together bags/boxes of food and loaded them into peoples’ trunks. People received much-needed help in a safe, socially distanced way.

During the summer, I helped a dog rescue called Wags 2 Riches. During the pandemic, they asked volunteers to foster dogs waiting for their “furever” homes. I fostered a dog named Comet. I cared for him and trained him in basic commands and socialization. After two months, he was adopted in July and renamed Dante. I also volunteered with their other dogs helping care for them and train them in preparation for adoption. I love dogs and was so happy to see them find their new families.

I am a member of the National Honor Society (NHS). This past Spring when all students were learning from home, NHS partnered with a local tutoring company to offer free tutoring to students through Zoom. As a group, we tutored kids in all subjects. I am particularly strong in math, so I tutored kids in various areas of math from basics through pre-Calculus. I saw how COVID was affecting families when parents were nearby during Zoom calls. Frazzled moms walked by with babies and toddlers on their hips. Parents were in other parts of the house on business calls, checking in with their tutoring student occasionally. I had a student who scheduled calls around his Mom’s workday because he was sharing a computer with his mom. The upside for me was being present when kids succeeded and seeing how grateful were for the free tutoring. It really drove home the point about the importance of giving back to my community.

Lessons Learned

COVID-19 has affected nearly the entire globe. The impact of the pandemic has varied among countries based on their response. I believe there were a number of mistakes in the reopening of the U.S. There’s no doubt the U.S. had to reopen in a timely fashion to save the economy and prevent another Great Depression. However, I believe COVID became politicized, and citizens and leaders began behaving in a fashion befitting their politics rather than science. This pandemic could have been suppressed better
with a mandatory mask mandate and a stricter and extended ban on gatherings and outings. Leaders were too concerned with restarting the economy and not concerned enough with reopening safely.

Recently, President Trump and several in his administration tested positive for COVID-19. In just my school alone, 7 students and 4 teachers have contracted the disease. My hope is that going forward, all leaders will put politics aside and focus on stopping the spread of the virus. Our president, whoever he may be, must incentivize pharmaceutical companies to aggressive pursue effective treatments that are affordable and proven safe through the proper testing protocols. Until we have a treatment, the president should promote the proven safeguards, such as masks and social distancing, to help slow the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous challenges throughout the world. We must remain committed to defeating the virus and protecting each other. Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our fellow global citizens.

Steve was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As was the practice for new doctors his father worked day and night during his medical residency at Charity Hospital there. Steve comes from a long line of doctors. His father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, even two uncles were all specialists and/or surgeons in their chosen medical specialties, including internal medicine specialist, obstetrics / gynecology, neurosurgery and general practice / surgery. His great-great grandfather was the Surgeon General of Ohio during the Civil War.