Scholarship Essay that Won!
Elizabeth C. Woods, Optimist International Essay
After having witnessed a nuclear disaster, Elizabeth knew that her life was changed. She says, “It really opened my eyes. It got me away from thinking that I’m young and can live forever.” Touched, she wrote about the experience for this award to share her fear and realizations with others. A graduate of the Classen School of Advanced Studies for Performing and Visual Arts in Oklahoma City, she is studying literature, writing and the arts at Eugene Lang College in New York City.
The Tokai Nuclear Disaster
Last year on an October evening in Japan, I enjoyed the rain, walking slowly to my host family’s farm for the night. After I yelled the customary “Tadaima” and removed my shoes my host mother pulled out a heavy English dictionary. She searched for a word and then pointed excitedly. Above her finger I read “radiation.” The Tokai nuclear power plant two miles away was experiencing a severe accident. Soon trucks driving by screamed warnings in Japanese to prepare for nuclear disaster. My body was numb.
I had been to Hiroshima the week before. All I could imagine were the grotesque pictures of goiters and dripping flesh. Photographs of the burnt remains of an ancient city flashed in my head. I remembered seeing the “Daisy Girl” commercial from LBJ’s presidential campaign in government class. It slowly played in my mind, a blonde child holding a daisy, framed by a green-gray mushroom cloud. My imagination forced me to expect the worst.
The air terrified me. I thought I was suffocating. In that moment I could not understand how my life had led to this crucial moment. I had left my home for a beautiful opportunity to live in Japan and experience the culture. I had joined an exchange program in a small village by the ocean. This succession of serendipitous events led me to the only place in the entire world where a severe nuclear disaster was occurring. My choices had exposed me to the ultimate weapon of our time; I was waiting for radiation to subside. The rice paper windows and layers of silk robes provided little comfort. There was nothing I could do to protect myself from the danger. In that moment I could only learn.
The world’s issues no longer can disappear as I close a schoolbook. On that autumn evening I was suddenly a part of one of the nemeses of the twentieth century: nuclear energy. Ironically, my frightening experience was only an accident. When I decided to embrace a three-month adventure I never expected to trade in theater and friends for a serious nuclear disaster. My eyes were pried open to make me realize that the world’s issues are not separate from my American life. I realized that I had been educated about the world to understand cause and effects, the cycles of history and of the future, but I had not meta cognitively incorporated them into a worldview.
That evening reached into my mind and opened a door to the realities of this world. The Tokai disaster threatened my life, but it also demonstrated the capabilities for any person to experience the same shocking circumstances. In Japan, quarantined for days on a Buddhist farm, I could see no separation of myself from other cultures. I realized that I could no longer segregate America from other countries, my race from other races, Oklahoma from Japan. Three days after the Tokai nuclear disaster I stepped out of the farmhouse into the fresh sunshine of a glorious oriental garden.
Over a cup of green tea I determined to be committed to my new perception of the world as an entirety.