2019 ThiNK at Yale Essay Contest Winners


In February the Education Committee challenged high schoolers to write an essay with one of three prompts.

Two Grand Prize winners were selected:

Hana Kim, a junior from Stuyvesant High School, with her essay on the impossibility of a student's naivete on North Korean affairs, and

Aima Ali, a sophomore from Brooklyn Technical High School, with her letter to President Trump imploring him to fight for the humanitarian crisis in North Korea.

Here are the winning essays

Hana Kim

As a child, when I thought about North Korea I didn’t think of Kim Jong Un or labor camps or the ongoing Korean War—I thought about Choco Pies. It was a sort of dream-like perception, one brought to life by photos of balloons attached to bags containing dozens and dozens of the cherished childhood snack. I envisioned these balloons soaring through the skies past the border, easily bypassing stone-faced soldiers where they would touch down to a crowd of confused yet awed North Koreans. It was a childish thought, for sure, over-simplifying the dangers of these campaigns. But it was a glimmer of hope for my younger self, who was convinced that the Choco Pie was simply a tasty metaphor for the Koreas; though separated by a marshmallow filling, the two chocolate cakes that sandwiched it were the same. As the daughter of two South Korean immigrants, however, my views on North Korea and its civilians did not—could not—stay so innocent. For as wonderful as it would be to only think about the possibility of hope in North Korea, the acknowledgement of “hope” itself required a deeper understanding of why it was so necessary for them. So came the stories of the labor camps and all of its horrors. The surveillance of all of its people, unable to trust your own neighbor. The three-generation-rule that dictated if a person was indicted for a crime, the next two generations of their family would be sentenced to a labor camp for life. The unyielding grip the dictatorship had on its citizens, isolating them from the rest of the world. It was nauseating, horrific, and certainly not as palatable as the dream of flying Choco Pies. Yet even now, it’s still the image of hope—not tragedy—that remains most prominent when I think about North Korea. Perhaps this is how we should address the humanitarian crises of the country: through sowing the seeds of hope from the bottom. Dozens of humanitarian groups already tackle this issue, smuggling in relief supplies and helping North Korean citizens defect, but there needs to be a wider worldwide push for aid. Maybe the metaphorical Choco Pie will never be complete, two halves always separated by that marshmallow filling. But I’m looking forward to the day when Choco Pies in North Korea are a common reality rather than a relief effort.

Aima Ali

Dear President Trump, In order to successfully provide aid for the citizens under the oppressive rule of Kim Jong-un, it is imperative to both educate the public on the humanitarian crisis in North Korea and to collaborate with surrounding countries to maintain global peace. As North Korea has nuclear weapons at its disposal, steps that are taken must be carefully executed and meticulously planned to ensure that North Koreans are freed as soon as possible, and the rest of the world remains safe from the threat of nuclear war. The first step is to listen to the stories of North Korean escapees. There are numerous accounts of North Korean defectors detailing their heartbreaking experiences. Although you have acknowledged North Korean defectors, such as when you told Ji Seong-ho’s story in your State of the Union, there has been little other action taken. The stories of the defectors must not only be publicized, but they also must be acted upon, as defectors have firsthand experience, and therefore, can provide valuable insight. Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector and human rights activist, suggests helping North Koreans gain access to information on the outside world. She is working with humans rights organizations to follow through on her ideas, but funding from the federal government would allow this project to be implemented on a larger scale. Although the United States of America is indeed a powerful country, it is not possible for it to solve this problem on its own. President Trump, you and your administration must work to maintain the U.S-South Korea alliance, for, helping the people of North Korea while simultaneously avoiding nuclear war, without the assistance of alliances, is inconceivable. This situation is delicate in that a small mistake may have insurmountable outcomes. International alliances limit the likelihood of such mistakes, as every decision is carefully reviewed. It is the responsibility of the United States of America, and you as president, to bring to life the ideas of North Korean defectors, and to maintain international alliances, in order to solve the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. Sincerely, Aima Ali