Student Cherese Smith selected as winner of national essay competition


When Cherese Smith, a Shoreline Community College student and bodybuilding champion, submitted her essay, “The Racist in the Room” to a national essay contest, she didn’t think for a moment that she would win.

In fact, the only reason Smith had entered the competition was because her English 101 instructor Sarah Zale required her students to participate. It turns out the young athlete is as good at expressing herself in written form as she is at bodybuilding competitions.

“I’m so proud of her,” said Zale of the YES Magazine essay winner. Zale had worked with her students all quarter to gain focus, technical control and critical thinking skills.  Part of the class reading was an article by Kate Sheppard about how, as an environmentalist, she found common ground with her father, a conservative farmer. Zale then assigned an essay that reflected on a similar personal experience along with submission to the magazine competition.

When Smith saw the essay question – “Has anyone close to you, a friend or family member, distanced themselves from you or severed the relationship because of what you believe?”  – she immediately knew what she would write about.

“I knew I had to write about my Grandma,” Smith said. “She doesn’t hide her feelings about Hispanics and it doesn’t feel right to me.”

“The Racist in the Room” is the outcome of an emotional phone call to her father’s mother, who Smith calls Grandma B. Before calling, Smith thought about Zale’s lesson on being a compassionate listener.

“My heart was really beating fast at first because (Grandma) gets really irate when I talk about Hispanic people,” Smith said. Drawing on her compassionate listening skills, Smith asked about her grandmother’s feelings. “It really helped me listen to my grandmother’s story rather than just feeling disappointment and anger.”

During the hour-long conversation, Smith listened to her grandmother’s story of living in the Las Vegas suburbs, growing up in a working-class family.  Her grandmother had witnessed the effect of hard labor on her relatives and respected them for never giving up. Her grandmother built a successful window cleaning company and prospered. A booming construction industry drew a growing and increasingly diverse population looking for work. It wasn’t too long before the business felt the pressures of competition.

“Grandma B said she lost bid after bid because she was not willing to work for such minimal pay,” Smith said of the conversation. At one point, her grandmother feared the company would fail, jeopardizing her children and jobs for many family members. 

Smith said her grandmother spoke of resenting the changes that were coming to the neighborhood, too. It was the first time Smith recalls hearing her grandmother cry.  

Her grandmother said she and her and siblings were teased and sometimes beat up. The experience shaped her grandmother’s later behavior toward Smith, following the children in her van while they rode their bikes to school.  “If kids came to hurt us, Grandma would jump out of the van and chase them away,” Smith said.

Smith said she began to see what was behind her grandmother’s anger, fear and stubbornness.

It wasn’t until she had hung up, that Smith realized that she had also given her grandmother a precious gift.  “None of my family has ever taken the time to listen to Grandma.  I was the first.  It touched me.”

YES Magazine editor Jing Fong wrote in a letter to Smith: “As you can imagine and appreciate, it is a challenge to make a final selection when each essay has its own unique merits and qualities. Yours stood head and shoulders above the crowd because you brought beautiful imagery to a difficult situation and conversation … I want to acknowledge the importance of your writing this essay.  I appreciate that you not only shared your opinion and experience, but also opened yourself up to having your essay judged for this competition. That’s what good writers do.”

Cherese Smith is a freshman at Shoreline Community College. She is interested in health and fitness and loves helping people, but when it comes to talking about her career goals she says that she is leaning to teaching but has a long way to go before deciding where to put her energy and compassion. You can read her essay on the college’s FACES blog at  It will be published on the YES Magazine web site later this month and in an education outreach newsletter (sent to over 24,000 teachers across the country).

Sarah Zale teaches English literature, poetry, and composition at Shoreline Community College. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and master’s degrees in literature (University of Colorado), education (Michigan State University), and rhetoric and the teaching of writing (University of Colorado). She believes that good listening is critical to understanding conflict and for becoming a more compassionate citizen of the world, and she has incorporated listening tools into the curricula of her classes. Her involvement with The Compassionate Listening Project (TCLP) began when she traveled to Israel and Palestine with a peace delegation from the organization in 2006. Her collection of poems, The Art of Folding, was inspired by her travels. She is also a facilitator of Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of theatre for non-actors that allows individuals to practice ways to resolve conflict situations.

Please enjoy SCC student Cherese Smith’s winning 2011 ( university / college division) Yes! Magazine essay at

Art student Janice Bellotti-Pace wins art contest

Accolades, Arts & Letters

The work of Shoreline Community College art student, Janice Bellotti-Pace took first place in the third annual juried Sensory Art Contest sponsored by the Lighthouse for the Blind last month.

Art submitted in the contest could be in the form of sculpture, quilts, pottery, jewelry, and other tactile arts and had to be sensory in nature so that both seeing and sight-impaired viewers could experience the art.

The piece that won Bellotti-Pace first place in the competition and $250 was a woven basket containing crocheted and woven vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, corn, eggplant and more.  She used an array of materials, weaving techniques and color applications to form the basket, considering the tactile experience that all materials would provide.

“It looks like a typical Navajo basket,” Bellotti-Pace says, explaining that the center of the basket was made from twisted paper and that yarn wound around the outside makes it sturdy. Steel blue gray, creams and brown are the dominant colo

The professional chef by trade was inspired by her work in the culinary field. The basket was made for a weaving project for a fabric design class Bellotti-Pace was taking at the college.  “The project was to learn how to weave and create a soft sculpture,” the art student says.  The vegetables were made for a soft sculpture project.

Bellotti-Pace says that what she learned in Ward’s class, Design and Materials: Textiles, was the perfect match for her submission for the LFB competition.  Students explore textiles as a medium for creative problem-solving and expression.

“The pieces had to feel dimensional,” Bellotti-Pace says who created the vegetables with materials that provided a similar touch to the real deal.  “For example,” she says, “I used a silky material to represent corn silk.”

Art instructor Laura Ward was impressed with the piece and encouraged her student to enter her work into the LFB competition.

Ward says that her student shows great potential in her work. “Janice excels as a student and brings creativity, inspiration, enthusiasm and previous skill to the class,” Ward says of Bellotti-Pace.  “She approaches each project with careful thought, planned drawings and material test pieces she chooses to create her designs from based on research and trial and error.”

Bellotti’s basket and other winning artwork were on display at an art show held in conjunction with the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute Conference at the Seattle Renaissance Hotel March 11-12, 2011.  Works will be donated and sold at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind Foundation’s annual Redefining Vision Auction on May 21, 2011.

Bellotti-Pace plans to complete a transfer degree.  She takes classes on a part-time basis at Shoreline Community Collegeand is an active member of the college’s Art Club.  She graduated from Shoreline with honors and a Business Technology degree in August 2009.

SCC literary magazine, Spindrift, wins national award

Accolades, Arts & Letters

Shoreline’s Literary Magazine, SPINDRIFT, has been accepting student art and literature since 1966 and has spindrift2012earned many awards over the years. Most recently, SPINDRIFT 2010 won FIRST place in the Community College Humanities Association’s Pacific-Western Division competition and was named a national winner in the CCHA Literary Magazine Competition. This is the second consecutive year for SPINDRIFT as the national winner, and the sixth year to place in either 1st or 3rd position in the regional competition.

Congratulations are in order for the following student editors who produced the book: Amanda Duong, Destiny Swift, Hannah Newman, Christian Stewart, and Sigourney Toyonaga. Humanities Faculty Advisors Mariam Merrin and Bob Hutchinson deserve extra praise for not only joining Spindrift organization during a budget-challenging year, but also leading the students to first place.

An award ceremony will take place at the CCHA conference at Seattle’s Hyatt Hotel on November 13, 2010.