The cool salt air mingled with weed and cigarettes and body spray and greasy food. It was only a year ago, but all I can remember is standing there outside the Dumpser’s Dairyland, watching the jittering lights and listening to the milkshake machines. I’m sure we walked the boardwalk’s slippery brown planks, I’m sure we bought some food, I’m sure we looked at tacky t-shirts, but it’s all an artifice I’ve created. I’ve filled in details to plug the gaps. If I had fun that night I haven’t remembered it.

Winner of the UMBC English Department's Malcolm C. Braly Prize, this piece depicts a high-school camping trip gone wrong. It captures a young man's longing for belonging, and his failure to ever get there. As we follow the five kids on their trip and watch the anticipation and excitement turn to disillusionment and disappointment, we too wonder what we have to do to belong. 

Even though they were talking in public, the women didn’t want my input on unplanned pregnancy. I wasn’t supposed to participate in that conversation. But I think if we start to notice the barriers, to notice the canyon dug in between different groups, we can at least start to talk about it, and stop pretending that the campus is wonderfully diverse, a utopian Eden where black and white children hold hands. We’re still separate in this society, and we need to think about what that means.

This essay engages with the problem of discussing race in the United States. Too often it is ignored, swept under euphemism or impracticality. After a conversation two cashiers had about a pregnancy, it became clear that people from different socioeconomic backgrounds have had entirely different life experiences. This provocative essay encourages the conversation to continue, not to be hushed up as it has in the past. 

As I looked into his desperate face, I wanted to tell him something else. I wanted to tell him that I could help him, that I could make an exception to the policy for him. I wanted to tell him his evening wouldn’t be ruined. But more than all of that, I wanted to keep my job.

As we lead our lives, we will our heads with dozens of contradictory ideas. For example, we might have to reconcile how we feel about a hot-button issue with our personal attachment to an individual involved. Service jobs bring one of these contradictions to the fore: the need to juggle personal sympathies and a fanatical devotion to enforcing policy. This piece chronicles an interaction between an irate customer and a student employee. It outlines the struggle between individual empathy and corporate unfeelingness, leaving the audience unsure of whom to side with. 

In that long, hopeless moment, even as I tried to turn the wheel and hit the brake, we jumped up the curb and slammed into a panel of fencing. A loud creaking noise cut the calm evening, and I smelled crushed pine branches behind the fence. The cart stopped, and the engine noise cut out. Silence...I could feel blood draining from my head and money draining from my bank account.

This started out as an essay about a place, but as it was being written it became an essay about a person. In the sweaty days of summer, a bad summer job and a bad summer friend became somehow start to matter. As you'll see, there is nowhere like the water park in summer. The screaming kids, the mist of sunscreen, and the clash of young people whose brains are still developing come together to make an excellent summer, and one crashed       golf cart. 

Every day, Mom goes to work, does her job, and spends time making small talk around the coffee machine...But no matter how much small talk Mom makes, once she goes home, some nights she still hears it. Some nights, when she floats in the glossy black sea of semi-consciousness, a few mournful, croaky meows float through the moon-soaked hallways. There, in the night, Martha might still walk out of the shadows. But when the sun rises, it rises with hideous infallibility over a plain bluestone slab inscribed with a few simple words: Martha. 1997-2013.

A death story, for someone very special. 

The lot was deserted. Lines of tall bare trees surrounded it, trembling slightly in the breeze like a candle’s flame, afraid of being extinguished. A few diseased orange streetlights washed the worn, cracked pavement in triangular patches. The abandoned face of the school rose to one side, its darkened windows staring down at my black Toyota, all but masked in darkness, perched pathetically on the edge of this orange abyss. The engine was clattering with the cold. With a bucktoothed grin, I pushed the clutch to the floor.

This piece explores the protagonist's relationship with his father. As he begins getting his own ideas, going out on his own, and learning to drive, he reflects back on the times they spent together, bonding in and around the car. But they've both changed, and he can't go home again.