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April 22, 2011

Story of bullying, action wins student $50,000

Cleveland--One young gay man from Parma will have some help when he heads to college in 16 months: a $50,000 scholarship from the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s third annual Stop the Hate: Youth Speak Out essay contest.

Alexander Stojsavljevic, a junior at Normandy High School, was the grand prize winner out of a pool of 1,700 students from across seven northeast Ohio counties. He will now have $12,500 a year for four years in scholarship funds to help with his aspirations to go to Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati or Bowling Green State University.

The students, from grades 6-12, wrote 500-word essays on creating change. Those essays are scored on “content, writing, originality and creativity and utilization of the theme of personal responsibility.”

The top ten finalists then read their essays aloud for a panel of judges that included last year’s winner, Andrea Bestor, civil rights attorney Avery Friedman, Case Western Reserve University faculty Ramex Islambouli and Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Plexus president Eric Lutzo, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland vice president Stephen J. Ong, Young Latino Network vice president Ruth Ramos and Plain Dealer editor Debra Adams Simmons.

Stojsavljevic’s essay was deeply personal, discussing the horrible ramifications of anti-gay bullying. He was a target throughout middle school and high school.

“All of these events led to my attempted suicide in April 2009,” he wrote. “When I was being rushed to the hospital, I realized that every time I got depressed or was afraid to come to school, hatred had won.”

“I was just living my life, being me,” he continued. “The individuals who led their life by acting hateful and cruel were the ones with the problem, not me.”

A period of reflection followed, which spurred him to action.

“I decided to reach out to those students who felt the way I did,” he wrote. “I co-created a Gay Straight Alliance at my school.”

He and a friend organized a gay rights rally at Parma city hall, which elicited an email from another student at Normandy thanking Stojsavljevic “for showing him there are other people out there like him. I felt so wonderful that I could help just one human being.”

He writes that he wants to enact a bullying awareness week for students and teachers to discuss aspects of bullying and how it affects students. He also wants the addition of sexual orientation to the school’s antidiscrimination policy.

“It is my hope to create a world free of hatred and harassment but I know I cannot do it alone,” he concludes. “It is through the support of friends and family that I know we can change my community and the world. I have high hopes that one day I can look down upon the world and be glad in knowing that I had a part in it. In that regard, I believe I am just an ordinary teenager--I am living my life and creating a world that I would want to live in.”

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