West Hempstead's Aiden Sargent wins state-wide essay contest. What inspired his winning essay?


Learning about the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan during World War II — sure made a lasting impression on Aiden Sargent.

This historical experience earned the 12th-grader at West Hempstead Secondary School first place in the Stony Brook University’s statewide Japan Center essay contest, as well as the Consul General of Japan Special Award.

“Viewing historical topics through one single focus is like cropping an image: you only end up seeing what you want to,” Sargent said in his winning essay.

Sargent’s essay, entitled “Japan: Unlikely Gateway to My Educational Future,” beat out more than 200 others written by high school and college students. His writing shines with thoughtfulness and a commitment to understanding the world around him, according to his teachers.

“I’m not surprised that he won,” Jared Kufta, Sargent’s AP literature and composition teacher, said. “Just the maturity of it. He writes with a true voice. You could tell that it’s his own. It’s original. And he expresses himself super clearly.”

Sargent learned about the essay contest through his school’s guidance department. The essay invites students to discuss how any aspects of Japanese history and culture have affected their personal views and future goals. As someone who is deeply interested in history, Sargent knew just the experience to talk about.

Sargent’s essay recalled his experience learning about America’s use of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said he was shocked to learn the extent of suffering that the bombs caused. Sargent wrote that the experience led him to realize that history is complex and nuanced and must always be viewed from different lenses.

“It needs to be understood that there can be multiple perspectives on the same event, and they should all be examined to get a more encompassing view of what happened,” Sargent wrote in his essay.

A multifaceted approach is necessary not just in history, but beyond, he added.

“It applies to all areas of life,” Sargent said. “I think that it's really important to hear a story from every side, and to really have all the facts on anything that you're doing before you make a final judgment call.”

By allowing him to discuss history in his own voice, Stony Brook’s Japan Center Essay competition was perfect for Sargent’s passions and talents.

“It feels really good to me,” Sargent said. “To get recognition for just talking about something that I feel so strongly about is just really satisfying to me.”

Sargent is planning to attend the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. in the fall as a history major, and is interested in research. He said that perhaps a career as a college professor is in his future, and that this award is a sign he’s on the right path.

“It's definitely motivated me to keep writing in the future,” he said, “and to keep following what I'm passionate about.”

To read Sargent’s essay, visit tinyurl.com/SargentEssay.