Illinois REALTORS® Bicentennial Task Force launched the “Home Is Where the Heart Is” Essay Contest as part of Illinois Bicentennial celebrations! A total of 23 high school students across the state were awarded a combined $12,000 in academic scholarships.
Congratulations to high school sophomore Hannah Young—awarded the top scholarship of $1,000.
Young attends Wheaton Academy in West Chicago and wrote on the special role her childhood home played in her life. Her entry was among more than 450 submitted. Read her full essay below.
Additionally, the 10-member selection committee awarded 11 students $750 scholarships and 11 students $250 scholarships.
Essay finalists: $750:
Gabrielle Allen, Warrensburg-Latham High School, Warrensburg
Jade Bellairs, Woodstock High School, Woodstock
Bailey Brooks, Forreston Junior/Senior High School, Forreston
Megan Coakley, Grant Community High School, Fox Lake
Dillon Davey, Barrington High School, Barrington
Kennedy Green, Sacred Heart-Griffin, Springfield
Emma Nelson, homeschool student, Brookport
Cooper Peterson, Glenwood High School, Chatham
Amber Tomlin, Heyworth High School, Heyworth
Clare Turano, Willows Academy, Des Plaines
Camilla Vazquez, William Fremd High School, Palatine
Essay finalists: $250:
Kolten Conklen, Sterling High School, Sterling
Miranda Dianovsky, The Chicago High School for the Arts, Chicago
Sydney Minssen, Prophetstown High School, Prophetstown
Michael Murray, Joliet Catholic Academy, Joliet
Cecilia Nam, Vernon Hills High School, Vernon Hills
MacKenzie Orozco, Belvidere North High School, Belvidere
Andrew Ottoson, Waterloo High School, Waterloo
Heidie Raine, Byron High School, Byron
Kylee Rus, Sterling High School, Sterling
Melissa Singleton, Mahomet-Seymour High School, Mahomet
Ashley Wagge, Manteno High School, Manteno
Leaving a Home
By Hannah Young, Wheaton Academy
It was a small, slightly outdated, yellow house with an inviting red door. A street lined with waving billows of prairie grass mingled with a bright burst of wildflowers. A white picket fence, asphalt driveway, and old leaning apple tree out front, painted a picture of simplistic lifestyle.
That’s all it was and yet- I could hardly bring myself to part with it.
It didn’t help that we said our goodbyes forever to the little house on West Street on my twelfth birthday, but it would have been hard any other time too. I knew we were only moving fifteen minutes away, but to me it felt like the other side of the world. The new house wouldn’t have the little alcove where my sisters and I had whispered stolen secrets and shared in gleeful giggles. It wouldn’t have the wooden hallway where three young girls clad in tutus and fuzzy socks transformed into olympic figure skaters as they twirled and leaped in the narrow space attempting to keep their balance. It definitely wouldn’t have the small play area under the stairs where the lopsided block letters of friends and family were covered by masses of plush toys, dimly illuminated by an aging light bulb.
But I knew the thing I was going to miss the most was the maple tree in the backyard. It wasn’t small, but it wasn’t big either. It was just the perfect size for an introverted girl to climb up as high as she could then sit. Look. Listen. Think. I would spend hours up there observing the landscape and getting lost in my mind.
Over the years the tree became a comforting friend, a safe haven. My home. To everyone else the maple tree looked like a bunch of spindly branches stretching to the sky, but to me it was hundreds of open arms ready for an embrace. We had waved and danced together through the merry moments and it hid me in harsh ones. Like the path I wore into the branches, making the rough bark smooth, we had shaped each other. That tree helped me become who I am today. It saw me grow from a grumpy baby to a curious kid. I had watched it grow too, each season brought a new quarter of change. Green to red to yellow buds reaching just a bit higher to the heavens every time. Together, we had walked in and out of storms to stand under rainbows.
It was nearly impossible to say goodbye to the resolute figure that sheltered and guided my longing spirit. The last time I ever sat in the tree, I almost didn’t come back down.
I sat and lingered on my favorite perch, hidden from the world, for as long as I possibly could. I knew that the longer I took, the harder it was going to be. Even then I took my time lowering myself to each of the branches on the path built into my muscle memory. As my feet hit the grass and my hands unclenched the lowest branch, a sense of finality came over me. I couldn’t bring myself to look back as I walked into the house for the last time.
Slowly, I began to find that what I was longing for had always been with me. I learned that my parents were there to embrace me just as often as the blanket of leaves. My sister was always ready to dance with me, like the branches did in the current of a beautiful day. Although there wasn’t a rough trunk with spindly arms, clothed in emerald silk there to finish teaching me life lessons, I had a better place with more people.
Today, my new house has a maple tree growing in the backyard too. It’s not big like my old one, but I know it will get there one day. And my hope is that someday, when the branches are sturdy enough, a little boy or girl can climb in it and find their own safe haven, but once they climb down and into the arms of those who love them, they will realize they are home.