Royal Commonwealth Essay 2014
LONDON - Gauri Kumar, 14, lived in London for three years until she moved home to Singapore last year.
While she was here, she had only seen Buckingham Palace from the outside. On Wednesday (Oct 26), she and fellow Singaporean Tan Wan Gee, 14, were escorted into the palace, put through a rehearsal and taught how to curtsy.
It was to get them ready to meet Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Duchess was presenting certificates to the two teenagers: Gauri came in tops in the junior category of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition, while Wan Gee was the runner-up. The senior category was won by Inessa Rajah from South Africa and the runner-up was Esther Mungalaba from Zambia.
They beat 13,500 others from nearly all the Commonwealth countries, earning themselves a "Winners Week" in London which includes cultural and educational activities such as visits to Cambridge University, Houses of Parliament, The London Evening Standard newspaper, British Library and an award ceremony in Buckingham Palace.
Gauri said she was "extremely nervous" about the royal experience. "I haven't processed it yet. Hopefully, I'll be able to understand in a few days. But I'm still really confused about what's been happening," she said after receiving her award from the Duchess.
Wan Gee described the Duchess as "incredibly nice". She had asked the girls about the inspiration behind their winning essays, which had to reflect on the theme of the competition: An Inclusive Commonwealth.
Founded in 1883, The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition is the world's oldest international schools writing competition. This year drew the most number of entries. Singapore alone sent in 4,585 entries - more than any other country.
The last Singaporean winner was Selina Xu from Nanyang Girls High School, who was senior runner-up in 2014.
The entries were judged by a pan-Commonwealth body of judges from more than 30 countries, who have described the entries as "inspirational", "imaginative" and "moving".
For her winning essay "Tales Of An Insider/Outsider", Gauri, who attends Tanglin Trust School, wrote about her experience of feeling disconnected from her relatives and culture because she does not speak Hindi well.
Wan Gee, who is studying in Temasek Junior College, wrote a poem "Are We Really So Different? Dear Santa", in which she advocated the importance of equality.
The two are voracious readers, with Gauri enjoying dystopian novels and authors like J K Rowling and George Orwell, and Wan Gee finding inspiration in Charles Bukowski and Sylvia Plath.
"There's something about their poetry that resonates with me," said Wan Gee, who confessed to hating poetry before she took a module in school last year.
"I bought a book by Charles Bukowski the other day. It's the way he makes something very ordinary feel very relatable. I really like that kind of expression."
Mr Michael Lake, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which organises the competition, said the four winners represent the "very best and brightest that the Commonwealth has to offer".
"Their essays and poems explore contemporary themes with maturity, intelligence and depth beyond their years."
About 70 guests were at the ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to celebrate the young writers' achievements. They included Mr Chia Wei Wen, Deputy High Commissioner for Singapore, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey and Ms Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark and now CEO of Save the Children International.
Watching on proudly were Gauri's parents and younger sister, and Wan Gee's mother.
The girls are only too aware that when they go back to Singapore, their friends will ask them if they met the Queen. They had words of encouragement for aspiring young writers who might now be inspired to join the competition.
"There's no harm in entering the competition and if you do well, that's the most amazing thing," said Gauri.
Added Wan Gee: "Never give up on your writing. You never know where it'll take you, for example, here."
Young writers awarded Winners of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition
Four young writers have been awarded Winners and Runners-Up of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016, which is the world’s oldest international schools writing competition and has been sponsored by Cambridge University Press since 2013. The winning essays were selected from approximately 13,500 entries spanning the five regions of the Commonwealth.
Representing nearly every Commonwealth country, entrants wrote about contemporary issues including the Syrian refugee crisis, conflict migration in Africa and finding a diasporic identity.
Senior Winner Inessa Rajah, 17, is from Durban, South Africa. Senior Runner-up Esther Mugalaba, 19, comes from Lusaka, Zambia.
The Junior Winner and Runner-up, Gauri Kumar, 13, and Tan Wan Gee, 14, respectively, are both Singaporean nationals.
Entries were assessed by a pan-Commonwealth body of judges, drawn from more than 30 different countries across the globe. Judges described the entries as ‘inspirational’, ‘ambitious’, ‘profound’, ‘moving’, ‘imaginative’ and stated that ‘the future of the Commonwealth is bright’.
The four pan-Commonwealth Winners and Runners-up will attend the traditional ‘Winners Week’ in London in October of this year; a special programme consisting of cultural and educational activities. The week will culminate in an Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace where HRH The Duchess of Cornwall will present the Winners and Runners-up with their certificates on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen. This will be the third time that the Duchess of Cornwall has taken part in the Awards Ceremony.
Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Michael Lake CBE, said: “The four young people chosen as the Winners and Runners-up of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016 represent the very best and brightest that the Commonwealth has to offer. Their essays and poems explore contemporary themes with maturity, intelligence and depth beyond their years. We are proud of them and the thousands of other young writers who entered the competition this year from all around the Commonwealth.”
Rod Smith, Managing Director of Education, Cambridge University Press: “The Royal Commonwealth Society shares our vision of empowerment through education, and we’re thrilled to be sponsoring The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition once again. The quality of the entries this year were exceptional, and all of us at Cambridge University Press would like to extend our congratulations to the winners.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
More information about the Competition, including the Winners and Runners-up can be found here: https://thercs.org/youth-and-education/the-queens-commonwealth-essay-competition/
Senior Winner: Dr. Congo-man,Inessa Rajah, South Africa, aged 17
Senior Runner-up: Let Them In: A Short Discourse Outlining How Complicated These Three Words Can Be,Esther Mungalaba, Zambia, aged 19
Junior Winner: Untitled,Gauri Kumar, Singapore, aged 13
Junior Runner up: Are We Really So Different?/ Dear Santa, Tan Wan Gee, Singapore, aged 14
The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition was founded in 1883 and is the world’s oldest international schools’ writing contest. The competition is sponsored by Cambridge University Press and received approximately 13,500 entries from almost every country in the Commonwealth.
The Junior category is open to entrants aged 13 years and under and the Senior category is open to entrants aged 14-18.
The overarching theme for 2016 was ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’, which is also the 2016 Commonwealth Year theme, and a topical theme for today’s youth. Both Senior and Junior topics gave young people the opportunity to think about aspects of the theme such as: the significance of community; the importance of diversity and difference; the question of belonging; the values of tolerance, respect and understanding; and the sense of shared responsibility that exists within the Commonwealth today. The topics were a chance to develop critical thinking and to express views in a creative manner.
The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), founded in 1868, is a network of individuals and organisations committed to improving the lives and prospects of Commonwealth citizens across the world. Through youth empowerment, education and advocacy, the RCS promotes the value and values of the Commonwealth. www.thercs.org
Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world’s oldest publishing house and the second-largest university press in the world. Cambridge University Press has been a sponsor of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition since 2013. www.cambridge.org
Anja Nielsen, Manager of The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, Programmes Officer (Youth and Education), the Royal Commonwealth Society
T: +44203 727 4306 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
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