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Sydney Berbano, a junior at Hutchinson Central Technical High School, wrote the winning essay in a contest sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center and The Buffalo News. The contest was inspired by “In the Time of Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, this season’s final speaker in Just Buffalo’s Babel series of author visits.

Here is Sydney’s winning essay:

“Freedom that Literature Creates”

Janice James said, “I’ve traveled the world twice over … I’ve been where no one’s been before … All with one library ticket. To the wonderful world of books.” Literature gives the human mind the incredible power to imagine beyond reality. It permits the imagination to run wild like a kid chasing after their kite in an open green field. They run free; arms wide open, letting their bodies flow through the wind, with no mind to when they should stop. The finish line is transparent. It’s non-existent in the world of words.

In seventh grade, Mr. Bradshaw assigned the class to read at least 10 pages a day and keep a record of it. I was a competitive little girl and always wanted to do much more of what was needed. I would read a chapter or two every single day depending on my indulgence into the book. I remember staying up past my bedtime with my little night light next to me, reading. I would even wake up early in the morning to read a little bit before getting ready for the day. It was better than reality. I had a hard time adapting into a new environment back then, alienated because of insecurities and the loneliness from being away from the life I knew. I had just moved from a completely different hemisphere. The world did a whole turn around in the 24-hour difference from the Philippines to the United States. There was no one and nothing familiar in this new lifestyle. I was out of place, uncomfortable, invisible, and imprisoned by my own vulnerability. Books slowly became my comfort zone. I felt free from all my worries. I couldn’t wait to come home from school and read, the best part of the day. It’s like I was in a different world with every new book and it gave me the sense of welcome I always longed for. I belonged somewhere. It may not have been with real people or real situations, but there’s nothing wrong with having imagination. I was free to think whatever I wanted. I was free.