12:27 PM

The Big Read Essay Contest Awards Ceremony Kicks Off HSI Week


The University hosted an awards banquet for the winners of The Big Read freshman essay contest as the kick-off to National Hispanic Serving Institutions Week on Monday evening.

UHD is one of the select institutions awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the literacy and community engagement program. As noted by the evening's host, Department of Arts and Humanities Chair Edmund Cueva, The Big Read has four major goals: to introduce students to UHD's culture of academic inquiry, to create a common academic experience for all participants, to communicate the demands of college reading, and to engage the community in a conversation about the selected text.

This year's book selection for The Big Read is "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines, a story about injustice against African-Americans in the rural south during the 1940's, the importance of literacy, and the power of community. Contestants participating in The Big Read essay contest were prompted to write about the strong female characters in the novel and to examine the influence of the women in their own lives.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 248th District Court Judge Katherine Cabannis were invited as special speakers for the evening. Garcia spoke about the importance of blind justice in our society. He said the novel portrays "a time in our history that we hope we have left long behind," and the book reminded him that law enforcement officers "still have work to do to gain the complete trust of the public that we will always do the right, fair, and true thing."

Garcia also noted that one of the most important themes in the book is the obligation of every citizen to his or her community. He encouraged award recipients to pay forward their opportunities by volunteering to read to students at local elementary and middle schools. "Success is short-lived if we don't take the time to reach behind us and pull others forward," the sheriff declared.

Judge Cabannis, a community leadership expert, proclaimed, "the power of the book is in the conversations surrounding it." Tying in with the theme of the essay contest, Cabannis discussed influential women in the history of Texas law, including the first female juror and prosecutor, stating, "Just as theirs were giant steps forward, The Big Read is a big step toward the future of UHD and the Houston community."

During the event, award recipients enjoyed light appetizers and desserts with family and friends. John Hudson, director of the UHD Center for Student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, awarded the certificates and cash prizes ranging from $100 to $750 to the contest's top five winners and honorable mentions. Award recipients include:

1st Valerie Figueroa

2nd Aimee Garcia Soto

3rd Elton Tang

4th Gilbsun Sunny

5th Jennifer Lara

Honorable Mentions: Alexa Najera, Benjamin Ramirez, Karsin Fei, Santa Palacios, Vianey Bravo, Elizabeth Flores, Estefania Rodriguez, Edith Aldaba, Lorena Marquez, Stefany Comayagua

UHD's Center for Public Service and Family Strengths (CPSFS), Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS), University College and Student Services will lead the University's Big Read activities on campus and in the community between Sept. 2014 and June 2015.

Some of the contest winners pose for a photo with District Court Judge Katherine Cabannis after the ceremony. Contest winners with District Court Judge Katherine Cabannis