BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Alexandra Matthews, an eighth grade student at Columbia Middle School, is the Grand Prize Timeless Award winner of The Legacy Project's annual "Listen to a Life Contest."   

Donna Marcy, an 8th grade English teacher at Columbia Middle School, has been entering her students essays in the "Listen to a Life Story Contest" for many years. She's seen firsthand how the contest genuinely connects generations and how much students learn about the lives of grandparents and grandfriends.

"Even when students enter with a grandparent they're close to, the interview and writing process strengthens the relationship and brings it to a different level," said Marcy.

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Marcy also likes to shine the light on students interested in writing. "Often sports get all the attention; a contest like this one gives students interested in writing a chance to also be recognized," said Marcy.

Alexandra Matthews is interested in a variety of activities including skiing, music, swimming, and painting. She enjoys writing "because I can express myself in different ways." Interviewing her grandmother and writing the contest entry gave Alexandra insight into her grandmother's perseverance and strength; she has always admired her grandmother.

The Legacy Project is an independent group that works to "interconnect the dots of economic, ecological, physical and social health in the big-picture context of lifetimes across generations," said Susan Bosak, MA Social Researcher and Educator Legacy Project. The Legacy Project reaches millions of children, teens, adults, and elders in families, schools universities, community groups and other organizations across the continent and around the world.  The Listen to Life Contest is open to young people 8 to 18 years of age, with a grandparent or grandfriend 50 years or older.

Alexandra's winning entry:

"Wake up, my darling. It is time to go." 

My grandmother, 13 at the time, threw off her covers, stumbled out of bed, grabbed her bag and ran after her father. Her siblings followed, all ready to leave their home. "Goodbye, mother. We will see each other again." 

As InSook kissed her mother's cheek, she felt a warm tear brush her lips. "Be strong, my daughter." Those words have never left my grandmother.

Now 80, my grandmother lives in New York, traveling to see her family, enjoying the life she has built. This does not mean she forgets her past. At night, when the rain pounds hard on her windows, she remembers her life as a child in North Korea. She would sit around the dinner table silent until spoken to, and help her mother clean and cook. She also remembers fleeing her childhood home. The experience scarred my grandma, leaving a permanent mark.

That night back in North Korea, my grandmother was forced to push herself to lengths no child should have to. Her family scaled a metal fence, and ran away from their community. Racing to a waiting boat my great-grandfather had procured, they met a river. When InSook swims, she can hear the crash of the water on the shore and the cold water slowly filling her lungs. That is why my grandmother does not swim.

Years have passed. My grandma lives the life she was always meant to live, with her children and grandchildren. Those scars fade as each day goes by, but some experiences will never leave my grandmother. The rushing tides, the choppy waters, and the never leaving, but fading, scars. 

I will never forget what my great-grandmother said to my grandmother, "Be strong, my daughter." She is strong, indeed.