This is the final blog in a three-part blog series written by 2016 IWitness Video Challenge student winners.
My name is Caroline, and I am one of the winners of the 2016 IWitness Video Challenge. My friends Allison (Ally) Vandal, Maya Montell and I worked with our fabulous teacher, Emily Bengels, to create a group called Poet’s Undercover Guild (PUG). With this “guild”, we drew inspiration from testimony found in USC Shoah Foundation’s educational platform, IWitness to create our winning video “A Community of Poetry.”
We watched several inspiring eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust in IWitness. Holocaust aid provider Aldean Mason spoke about receiving a letter years after rescuing a survivor. Jewish survivor Donia Blumenfeld shared a poem about justice and doing what is right. This inspired Ally and me to write poetry for our friends who were going through tough times, whether that involved bullying or emotional trouble. Our friends were receptive, appreciative, and, ultimately, inspired by our efforts. PUG invites students to write poetry to express themselves. Consequently, these friends of ours went on to write poetry for others, and our school became bustling with kindness.
Through the support of our teacher Emily Bengels, Ally and I decided to enter the IWitness Video Challenge - an annual video contest for middle through high school students to show how they create positive impact in their community. Our talented and hardworking friend and aspiring filmmaker, Maya Montell joined our project for the IWitness Video Challenge. Together, we made a video, submitted it, and hoped for the best. Then in May 2016, we found out, our video won the 2016 IWitness Video Challenge.
After that everything was a blur. Before I knew it, I was on a plane, surrounded by people I love, on my way to USC Shoah Foundation’s Ambassadors for Humanity Gala, in Hollywood. After getting off the shuttle, and stepping into the hotel lobby, I was filled with anticipation. Immediately, we were greeted by Ariana Andrade, coordinator from USC Shoah Foundation’s education department and whisked up to our hotel rooms, where we got ample time to get ready. We were then walked down to the event. Director of education, Kori Street greeted us and introduced us to many members of the team who made the evening run. She was so reassuring, especially in the moments leading up to where we met the founder of USC Shoah Foundation Steven Spielberg.
Mr. Spielberg was so inspiring, yet humble at the same time. He’s a legendary and award-winning filmmaker yet he managed to be such a down to earth person. He gave us the attention that so many grown-ups don’t think to give to children. He is an incredible man, and it was such an honor to be able to meet him. That memory is ingrained in my brain, and it is certainly one I will be sharing with my grandchildren.
“Ok girls, now we have your video on a loop in the background, and when guests walk up to you, tell them a bit about your project.” Ariana said. The three of us lined up and began greeting the first few adults who ambled over. This is where we met the Ambassadors for Humanity honorees Mellody Hobson and George Lucas.
After talking with the honorees about our video project, I thought the night literally couldn’t get better, but a wonderful woman made me change my mind. Paula Lebovics, a Holocaust survivor, approached us. She listened to us explain our project, and told us how proud she was of us. She told us to keep spreading positivity, because “You may not think so, but children are always listening.” As you may imagine, there were tears in all of our eyes when Paula said those words. She has the most beautiful soul, and it was a life changing experience to meet her.
The three of us sat down at our table at the gala and we passed each other smiles. We listened intently to the empowering and beautiful speeches they heard that night, and tried to make every moment of the dinner last. I close my eyes, to take it all in. Everything we had done had led up to this moment. When I wrote my first poem on a piece of scrap paper, using a pencil I’d found in the hallway, I’d never imagined shaking hands with the director of Schindler’s List.
Please, don’t hesitate to start something small. In the end, it could turn out to be something bigger than you could ever imagine.
I encourage you to participate in this year’s IWitness Video Challenge.