2021 Flag House Scholar Award and Essay Contest: Runners Up

This year, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House is pleased to recognize the runners up in for the 2021 Flag House Scholar Award. This year’s essay contest asked seniors to write a journal entry about their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a primary source for historians of the future.

The creative, exceptionally written, and sometimes emotionally moving journal entries below scored the highest of the 28 competitive essay submissions from 11 of Maryland’s 23 counties. If you haven’t already, check out the video of 2021 Scholar Award winner, Kaylee Kim.

Nimisha Seshadri | River Hill High School UCLA | Human Biology & Society

The initial two-week quarantine was supposed to end yesterday, and I thought we would be back in school today- I’m not mad about it though, I haven’t had homework to worry about! A stay-at-home order was just issued, the state is “no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home, [but] directing them to do so.” I’m not sure how long it will last, but I’m a little scared. Does this mean we can’t even take walks in the neighborhood? Masks are also pretty much sold out everywhere, so we’ve had to use my old Girl Scout bandanas and hair ties.
My screen time in the past month has gone up by 40%. I never thought I would be on TikTok or Netflix this much. All this extra time made me want to try something new, so I picked up baking! Well, not exactly, but I’ve made three types of microwavable mug cakes so far.
I should probably start studying for the SATs again, the next test date is April 20th- hopefully, COVID cases start going down by then.

It’s been almost a year since my first journal entry. I never in my life thought I would say this, but I badly want to go back to school- goodbye Prom, graduation, senior picnic, and crab fest. What was supposed to be four of the most exciting years of my life, was cut down to two and a half.
I’ll be attending a protest against the rise in racial hate crimes at the Columbia Lakefront this Wednesday. I never thought racism was so prevalent in my own community, but I’m glad awareness is increasing. Places I visit daily, like Kung Fu Tea, were targeted. When there are so many things happening in the outside world, my mind refuses to pay attention to my Calculus teacher on the tiny computer screen.
I’m supposed to get the first dose of the vaccine this Saturday, I remember last July thinking we wouldn’t even have a vaccine until 2022. I think change is coming 🙂

Julianna Bibbo | Mount de Sales Academy | Villanova University Honors Program

Hello, my dear friend, History.  Perhaps you informed us so long ago that we forgot.  Or, maybe we just did not listen when you told us how a pandemic can change life as we know it.  You gave us National Archives filled with examples; yet, somehow, most never considered the modern-day possibility–and then, it came.

History, you told us it could be like this.  Once the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, I did not enter a public place for two months.  It was three months before I saw a friend in person, but I could not hug her; I could not even see her face behind the mandatory masks.  To find some opportunity for interaction, I began working. Per federal orders, this job made me an “essential” employee–at age sixteen.  Approaching one-year of employment, I still have not seen my coworkers’ faces.  I am one of the lucky students whose school returned to primarily in-person learning after eleven months of staring at computer monitors in isolation.  Many students still wait in isolation.  Sadly, hospital Emergency Department records report that some have surrendered.

Isolation, loss of loved ones, and longing for the past replaced laughing and hope for the future.  Receiving cards from friends through the mail became the high point of many days, so much that I started my own organization, Cards2Care4Teens, to design and distribute cards to others who needed connection like I did.
Somehow, my dear friend, History, you knew what to do to help–-you educated and informed my other dear friend, Future.  Research and innovation led to vaccines in record times; I and others now await our vaccine cards we will carry like passports to hope.  Although cultural norms of handshakes and hugs temporarily have been replaced by elbow bumps and air hugs, we prepare for senior prom on a sports field.  We anticipate high school graduation in-person because we allowed History and Future to work together. 

My dear friends, History and Future, you taught us how to live through a pandemic.  I will share your stories; lives may depend on them.

Denby Frank | Montgomery Blair High School

December 18, 2020

Dear Jocelyn,

I was pleasantly surprised to receive your letter in the mail today. As you said, many Americans are mailing each other because of the proposed cuts and I absolutely agree with you that we should join them. I have been reading about the benefits of the postal service on EPI lately- I had never thought about how crucial guaranteed mail service is to remote areas! – and I am inspired to help keep USPS alive. Not to mention, living in the online world of Zoom and smartphones is exhausting and I am glad to escape the screens with some pen and paper. It seems all of my friends have taken a step back these days and adopted projects like baking sourdough bread, crocheting with plastic bags to raise awareness for climate change, and learning new skills like painting from Bob Ross. I’m not a painter myself, but Ross’s calm wisdom is certainly welcome during quarantine. It is a fascinating trend that when we were forced to rely on technology for everything from school to work to fun that we returned to using our hands to bring us peace. And inner peace is something we could really use right now. I cannot forget George Floyd or Breonna Taylor and keep thinking of all the other injustice we’ll never even hear about. I want to march in D.C., but after reading in The Guardian about the 500+ instances of police tear-gassing protestors, my parents won’t let me. I know it seems like the hardships will never end, but I’m looking on the bright side. Although you are stuck at home because your sister is immunocompromised at least you are keeping her safe; although protests are scary at least BLM is speaking out for what’s right; and although online school with our families in the house seems like the nightmare that won’t end, at least we still have an education and we know our loved ones are still here. I am humbled that these things are a privilege.

We’ll beat this virus soon! Your loving cousin,


This student asked to remain anonymous.

One way I chronicled time during the monotonous year of 2020 was through the evolution of my masks. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when we as a country were unaware of the gravity of the virus, masks were only being worn by healthcare workers. My mom works in a hospital, so the only masks I saw were those she discarded in our garage trash can when she returned from work. By April, we realized our country was in it for the long haul and everyone needed to wear masks to protect themselves. Because surgical masks were sold out, and no companies had begun selling masks to the public yet, I returned to my Girl Scout roots and retrieved our sewing machine. My mom and I made fabric masks for everyone in our family. Those became our necessary, but also fashionable, accessories. As 2020 progressed, so did mask accessibility. By the summertime, it also became clear that COVID-19 was not the only threat to the lives of American citizens. I proudly wore my “Justice is Love Out Loud” mask in support of the fight against racism. As the intensity of the summertime closed, a silver lining appeared in the form of a mask modeling photoshoot a friend had recruited me to do. As a fan of the strong female characters in the American classic, Little Women, I was excited to don a mask with a quote by author, Louisa May Alcott. By the start of my senior year, we had been away from the school’s campus for six months. School was 100% virtual. Eventually, administration allowed small groups of students to visit campus and socialize. This gift of returning to school came along with a green and gold mask embossed with the school’s emblem. Now that we have in-person instruction several days a week, I continue to wear it to school. For me, it symbolizes positive change and optimism for the future of our country. I am currently on the waitlist for the COVID-19 vaccine and cannot wait for the day I can officially archive my masks.