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Manachaban student tackles heavy topics to win essay contest

Gabrielle Courte's insight and maturity belie her age.

Gabrielle Courte's insight and maturity belie her age.

The 13-year-old Manachaban student recently won first prize in the Grade 5 to 8 category of the A&E Lives That Make a Difference Essay Contest, which challenges students to write about an individual who has had significant influence on Canadian society.

Courte, not shying away from heavy topics, chose Instagram phenom Rupi Kaur, an Indian-born Canadian poet who uses her work to tackle themes such as abuse, femininity, love, self-care, and heartbreak. Kaur's prominence is anchored by two bestselling books, the fact she is a sexual assault victim and through making her work available to her more than 3.6 million followers on Instagram.

“Gabrielle used her eloquent prose to capture the impact Rupi Kaur has had on victims of sexual assault as well as the experience of immigrants in Canada and around the world,” said Sara Hinzman, vice-president distribution, A+E Networks.  “Her essay described the power of the written word, and how it resonates with young Canadians today.”

Courte said she was drawn to Kaur after reading one of her books and she believes the themes of her work has had a significant impact on society.

"The way she talks about feminism and sexual assault and immigration are really important right now, especially with the Me Too (#metoo) movement and lots of political decisions are being made surrounding immigration," she said.

Courte said to approach her subject matter, she conducted a lot of research on Kaur and the influence she has had. She then focused her essay, which was limited to 300 words, on the statistics that demonstrate why Kaur's subject matter is so relevant and how the advocate has had such far-reaching appeal.

"She shares  a lot of her work which is another thing that I thought was really important. She makes poetry available to people who wouldn't necessarily go out and buy a book of poetry," Courte said, adding Kaur's accessibility is vital.

"It opens new doors for people who maybe wouldn't have been able to connect with these things otherwise, who wouldn't have felt it would have been something they were interested in and they can relate to the things she is saying," Courte said.

Serious topics surrounding sexual assault, harassment and consent have become more common themes of discussion for young people today, which is creating more awareness that was less common for previous generations.

"People are being more open and talking about these issues more whereas it was more taboo to talk about some of these things. I know sometimes talking to my grandma we have very different opinions sometimes about sexual assault. She remembers things from when she was young that would have just been kept quiet. Nowadays, people are really coming out and talking about it to start a conversation to say it's not okay," said Courte.

Along with the distinction of first prize, Courte's essay earned her $2,000. Half of the money will be invested toward university, where she said she will pursue an education and career in a writing-related field, possibly journalism. The rest will be divided between a French immersion class trip to Montreal and Quebec City and yet to be determined endeavours. Another $1,000 was gifted to the school and how the money will be spent is pending.

Entering the A&E contest is an annual project in Frederick Taylor's language arts class, which he uses to teach his students how to properly research topics, emphasizing clarity of writing and proper citation of sources in preparation for high level learning in high school and university.

This is the second time a student from his class has won an essay contest of this magnitude. The previous winner was a few years back for a contest hosted by Maclean's Magazine.

Needless to say, Taylor said Courte received top marks for her essay, which he added is not uncommon for the high-achieving student.

Other winners included Ali Saqib, a Grade 5 student at Edenrose Public School in Mississauga, Ontario who won the Grand Prize in the Grade 5 to 8 category. Sunny Enkin Lewis, a Grade 12 student from Grant Park High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba was Grand Prize winner in the Grade 9 to 12 category, and Saskatchewan student Chloe Green in Grade 12 at École St. Mary High School in Prince Albert won First Prize in the 9 to 12 category.

Chris Puglia

About the Author: Chris Puglia

Chris is a SAIT-trained journalist with more than 20 years of experience.
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