Respect Life Essay Contest highlights the power of adoption to change lives for good

By Valerie Schmalz

‘Adoption is many things, but above all, it is a gift to everyone involved.’

This sentence from the essay by Jeremiah Daniels, student at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, was one of the 43 winning entries in the 2023-24 Archdiocesan Respect Life Essay Contest.  

Jeremiah, who was the high school grand prize winner, in that one sentence crystalized the sense of the essays and pictures submitted in response to this year’s theme “Adoption as a Concrete Way of Love.” The 35th annual archdiocesan essay contest was open to all students who live in or attend school in the three counties of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The cash prizes were donated by United for Life of Northern California.

Grand prize winner Jeremiah Daniels with Archbishop Cordileone. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

Our goal was to show the powerful good of adoption for society as a whole, and how it demonstrates the great love of all involved, both from the birth parents and the adoptive parents, and the extreme good for the children as a result,” said Maria Martinez-Mont, coordinator of the archdiocesan Respect Life and Gabriel Project ministries. The lives of the saints and popular figures including Apple founder Steve Jobs and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela were also used to highlight the positive impact adoption can have on society as a whole, she said.

About 1500 students entered the contest, and the judges had a very hard time picking the winners and the honorable mentions, said Martinez-Mont.  Many of the winning entries were written by children who are adopted. Cash prizes were donated by United for Life of Northern California.

For instance, St. Isabella student Emily Vella, grand prize winner for 8th grade, wrote about her open adoption: 

“The morning I was born my parents flew to New York to pick me up. They had to stay in New York for 10 days to complete the paperwork and while they were there, they got to know Christina and her parents got to know us. My parents never tried to hide the fact that I was adopted. They chose me and luckily Christina chose them. When I was 8 years old, I told my mom and dad what I wanted for my birthday. I wanted them to take me to meet my birth mom and they did! I had a good time meeting them but the main thing I got out of it and what I learned from being adopted is that I am right where I’m supposed to be.”

Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory first place winner for high school, Sam Meraw, wrote in response to the prompt about a child named David:

Students’ essays were displayed around the room. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

“Like David, I am adopted, and I feel grateful to my parents every day for deciding to love me, provide me with quality education, and ensure my well-being and safety. Like David, I do not resent either of my parents, but rather I hold love and gratitude for their courage to take care of me and their dedication to my life. I felt their love for me when I was 6 years old on the first day of kindergarten, when I was 14 during my graduation, and now at 17 years old when they show up to my concerts, make delicious meals for me, and support all my achievements.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrated the 11 a.m. Mass and presided over the awards ceremony on Sunday, April 28, at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

Archbishop Cordileone noted how happy he was to see so many young Catholics and their parents. “Stay strong. You will get some blowback at some point in your life,” as people who “stand for truth in a society that doesn’t accept truth. That’s how you build character. That’s how you become a person of integrity; someone that others will respect.”

“Your charity and along with your conviction and your integrity will bring souls to Christ,” the archbishop told the children.

Archbishop Cordileone and Maria Martinez-Mont at the ceremony. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

To learn more about the winning entries, go here.

Valerie Schmalz is the director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity.