Having her letter to the editor on the importance of making higher education accessible for all published in the San Jose Mercury News gave grade 8 student Mahika Halepete a heightened appreciation for the power of the written word.
Halepete wrote the letter in response to an assignment in Cyrus Merrill’s grade 8 U.S. History class. “This was a part of an activity where students identify modern 2016 issues (human trafficking, gender inequality, education reform, etc.) that reflect the same issues they researched in 1850 (slavery, women’s suffrage, education reform, temperance),” Merrill explained. “They then write a letter to the editor of any paper(s) they want, as well as convert it into a letter to their state legislator, since many of these are actually state issues. They have to make connections from the past to the present in both letters.”
Halepete said she was surprised to learn that her letter got picked up by the local newspaper. “To be honest, I didn’t even consider the possibility of being published. I was incredibly excited, since I never expected this to happen!” She added that she does not believe many students are fully aware of the startling reality of how few people have the opportunity to attend college.
“We should never take for granted the blessings we have, especially our ability to pursue an education. I hope that by writing, I can help others become aware of how lucky we are,” she said.
In addition to having her letter to the editor published, Halepete won first place in the district for an essay on “What Freedom Means To Me” in the Patriot’s Pen essay competition. Sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the annual contest attracts more than 125,000 student entries in grades 6-8.
Feeling fortunate for educational opportunities is also what prompted Halepete to write in the essay that “freedom means more than a red, white and blue flag waving in the breeze as fireworks fill the sky and the National Anthem is sung.”
She said after attending a talk by Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, she thought about how much her education really meant to her. “Around the world, over 60 million young girls are denied their education because of financial and societal barriers. Families, especially in developing countries, don’t believe that their daughters have potential. If the finances are tight and a choice must be made, it is the male sibling who gets to go to school. Often times, governments encourage discrimination against young girls, simply because of their gender,” she noted.
Halepete is passionate about human rights and social justice issues, often using her writing skills to advocate for her beliefs. Last year, she wrote and sang an original song called “Walked Away” after leading a student assembly on social justice and researching undocumented immigrant families separated by deportation. Her song was inspired by those stories.
She also set up a jewelry business on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods, to raise money for World Vision, a humanitarian organization that works with communities worldwide to fight poverty and injustice. Halepete, who wrote the marketing copy on her site, was a finalist in a teen entrepreneur competition organized by Girls Life Magazine/Nickelodeon and was featured in the October/November 2015 issue.
“My life’s goal is to change the lives of other people for the better. I do believe that writing is a very powerful tool, and, if utilized properly, can make a significant difference in the world,” she said.