May 21, 2013, Pittsburgh, PA – "Is it worth it?" This is the question posed by the anti-texting-and-driving video produced by McGuffey High School Senior Jesse Vensel. His video was selected as one of this year's winning entries to the Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest.
The contest challenges students across Western PA to create programs discouraging their peers from underage drinking, drunk driving, or texting while driving. Students had the option of submitting entries in the form of videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, essays, or any other creative format of their choice.
Vensel's video portrays a series of heavyhearted interviews with family and friends impacted by the loss of a family member who was killed while texting and driving. "My hope is that other people would see the video and that it would pull at them," says Vensel. "Unfortunately texting and driving and drinking and driving happen every day, but if you could save at least one life by showing this video it would be worth it."
Attorney Edgar Snyder personally presented Vensel with the $2,500 scholarship at an awards dinner Monday. Prior to the dinner, Vensel and the other scholarship recipients participated in a live Google Plus Hangout with Attorney Snyder to talk about the inspiration behind their projects and future plans for college.
"The projects are extremely powerful," said Attorney Snyder. "We see the realities of what happens when people get in accidents, but I believe these students' presentations can really affect change."
Vensel recruited his family's help to produce the video and was under tight time constraints. His older brother helped with filming and editing while his friend, sister, and mother brought it to life with their acting. "It takes a lot of work to come up with just a couple minutes of video. My brother is gone for weeks at a time with his work schedule, so when he came back we had to shoot, finalize, and edit the video within three days."
Vensel's hard work paid off, as his video stood out from more than 300 entries that were submitted this year. Vensel plans to attend Pfeiffer University in North Carolina study accounting, attend graduate school, and then work as a CPA—if his dream of becoming a professional golfer falls short.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges who advocate teen safety in their communities: Corporal Christopher Murray of the PA State Police; Maddie Seel, a junior at Shaler Area High School; Deputy Sheriff Jason Tarap of the Allegheny County Sherrif's Office; and Chris Vitale, manager of the injury prevention program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh UPMC.
"They all covered the information really well. But what is interesting is how they came up with different ways to tell their story in a personal way," said Vitale, a second-year judge for the competition. "They seem much older than high school kids. There's a lot of wisdom that comes out in the projects that is always surprising."
Corporal Murray was especially impressed by the time and effort put into all of the projects. "It's encouraging that there are teens out there that recognize a problem and are doing something about it," he said.
Six other winners were recognized for their submissions at the dinner ceremony. Katherine Zhou of North Allegheny High School (Allegheny Co.) took home the grand-prize scholarship of $5,000. Two additional scholarships for $2,500 were awarded to Matthew Clark of Pine-Richland High School (Allegheny Co.) and Lindsay Spinabelli of Peters Township High School (Washington Co.). Three $1,000 scholarships went to Alexandria Denne of Gateway Senior High School (Allegheny Co.), Brady Sheehan of Windber Area High School (Somerset Co.), and Michael Trowbridge of Bellefonte Area High School (Centre Co.).
Since the scholarship contest began in 2007, Edgar Snyder & Associates has awarded 63 scholarships totaling $86,000. To view the winning entries and to learn more about the Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest visit www.edgarsnyder.com/giving-back/drive-safe/scholarship/2013.