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Riverton • It started out as just another English assignment from Joel Devey's middle school teacher but it turned into something much bigger.
"People consider me a writer," Devey said, refuting that he isn't. "I just wrote one good essay."
Not only was it good, the essay about bullying and curbing violence was so good that Devey was encouraged to enter it into a national competition. His entry stuck out among the 1,400. He became one of more than 50 finalists nationwide in Do the Write Thing Challenge as part of the National Campaign to Stop Youth Violence.
His mom, Jennifer Devey, thinks the reason her son's poem was chosen was because his thoughts came "from the heart" and its candidness.
"There is nothing like the honesty of a 13-year-old," she said.
The essays included everything from authors who either were victims, perpetrators, or had been affected by substance abuse, gang violence or bullying. While some entries were general, most of the entries were first-hand experiences of people who had been affected by sexual abuse, bullying or drugs.
Joel Devey of Fort Herriman Middle School didn't fall into any of those categories, but he wanted to write something creative and original that didn't start with the common phrase "youth violence has affected me ..." He titled his poem "A Deed Is a Seed."
His classmates jeered at his title. "That is so stupid," one fellow eighth-grade student told him.
He didn't use a five-paragraph essay style, or any formal brainstorming technique used in a typical creative process.
"I just started writing," Devey said.
He thought about how lucky he was to grow up in a peaceful neighborhood in Utah and felt sad for those who had grown up in abusive situations.
"Everyone gets teased, but I wasn't ever really bullied," he said.
Even though he hadn't been bullied to that extent, he had a premise for his poem how to stop the cycle.
"I thought if no one was ever bullied, no one would have continued it."
In his poem one excerpt states, "Instead of seeking power, seek to be a follower of good leaders. Instead of criticizing others, support others. Instead of excluding others, love and include them."
Devey said he also has experienced bullying from teachers to students in his own school. He said if students see a teacher bully or show violence, other students think it is OK.
"When teachers handle students who misbehave, they need to be just as respectful as they are to the good kids," Devey said.
When students are inattentive or trying to be silly, it doesn't help when a teacher trying to control the class turns a joke around on them or puts them down in front of their peers.
When teachers bully a student by picking on them, others "will join in and laugh every time [the bullying] happens, even though the kid being attacked doesn't think it is so funny," Devey said.
Bullying can be small at a playground, but it can escalate to a global level where people start wars. That misuse of power or bullying are examples of bad politicians or someone who invades a county, he said.
The essay contest is sponsored nationally by the Kuwait-America Foundation, formed to prevent violence in the community, and locally supported by the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice.
Twelve finalists were chosen in Utah and recognized by the Utah Board of Juvenile Justice at the Utah State Capitol back in May. Devey was one of two Utah students to also be recognized in Washington, D.C., in July and receive a custom tour of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, where a hardbound book of all the finalists' writings are being stored. He also got to see the Washington Monument, an experience Devey said was "pretty awesome."
Jennifer Devey was able to go to Washington, D.C., with her son and said she learned from reading all the student entries that bullying can vary, but comes down to one thing.
"It boils down to a lack of respect of that person as an individual," she said.
As for future writing aspirations for Joel, he doesn't want to be a writer, he enjoys band and will continue to play clarinet and piano for now.