HRM’s Scholarship Essay Contest Exhibits Heartfelt Appreciation For Hampton Roads

On the heels of our hugely successful first annual Top Teachers Search—a contest that honored some of the region’s most notable educators—we established the Hampton Roads Magazine Scholarship Essay Contest, an exclusive opportunity for high school seniors to describe Hampton Roads as if they were portraying the region to someone who was unfamiliar with the area. Advising students that this should not be a geography lesson, we invited them to share their favorite sights, tastes, smells and aspects about living here. In short, we wanted to know what makes Hampton Roads home to them.

Our desks were piled with essays that ranged from humorous to humbling, scholastic to sentimental. While all of the essays effectively reminded us what makes the 757 special, our grand prize winner, Hayley Davis, was able to eloquently express an attitude we’ve all experienced at least once—acquiring a greater appreciation for something that was once taken for granted.

The Winning Essay:

Landstown High School Student And Essay Winner Hayley DavisSome dream of becoming doctors, some lawyers. Some simply dream of the day when they finally get to walk across the stage and receive their diploma after 12 years of “same old, same old.”

What most people dream of at my age is getting away. Seniors are restless. We often find ourselves wanting to see, do and be everywhere all at once, and we always feel grown enough to do things on our own—finally. It’s natural for most of us to be eager to leave the nest and get as far away from it as possible.

The thing is, most people never leave Hampton Roads, and those who do almost always come back. So as I filled out my last college application to an out-of-state school months ago, I found myself wondering why that is.

What I found was that Hampton Roads is a place of richness. There is a flavor and culture here all its own. We are a place of treasures that are well-known but underappreciated until they’re no longer readily available. And growing up here, I now realize that my life has been recorded in each special place.

I remember the magic of the Virginia Zoo in the summertime, pointing and laughing at baboons with my big sister and jumping feet-first into giant fountains. I remember second grade field trips to the Virginia Aquarium and running away from sharks in the giant tank—as ridiculous as it was. I remember going to Ocean Breeze for the first time as a fifth-grader and all of the wedgies that came with the gigantic water slides—you all know what I’m talking about. I remember riding roller coasters at Busch Gardens with the flowers blooming on all sides and trees far below me. I remember going to the Children’s Museum at 13 and feeling 4 years old again as I made a gigantic bubble around myself. And now that I’m finally grown up, I know what it’s like to walk through the Chrysler Museum of Art and be able to appreciate all of the history and genius hanging on its walls.

I look around Hampton Roads, and I see my life. I recognize the sounds of the planes flying around Oceana Air Base. I am lucky enough to know the smell of the ocean like the back of my hand. I know how to professionally spot tourists in Virginia Beach during the summer. I know why Doumar’s is a local landmark.

But most of all, I know that Hampton Roads is home. And as I go away to college, I will look forward to long breaks when I can finally come back to it and appreciate everything I have taken for granted.

—Hayley Davis, Landstown High School and Technology Academy

Hayley will attend New York University this fall where she plans to major in English and Creative Writing.

Honorable Mentions:

Conor Davidson Warwick High School
I left Florida for Hampton Roads when I was in kindergarten. We stopped at Disneyworld on the way north. I was supremely bummed to be leaving Mickey & Co. behind. What five year old willingly moves out of Florida?

My parents reassured me there would be plenty of fun things to do in our new home, and it turns out (just this once) they were right. Imagine my relief the first time I passed through the gates at Busch Gardens and figured out Florida had no monopoly on theme park excellence. Apollo’s Chariot tops Space Mountain any day.

Twelve years later, I realize I live in a place that is full of more wonders than the place I was so reluctant to leave. We have beaches here, too, but we also have rivers to fish and jet ski in, a Triple A baseball team that plays in the sweetest little ballpark, awesome jets that fly in formation over my house on their way to Langley AFB, and plenty of places to chill with friends on a Friday night, be it open mic night at Aroma’s in City Center or Laser Quest in Virginia Beach.

I love that I can get away with shorts and a hoodie on some January days. I’ve even worn flip-flops to high school in the middle of winter – shades of Florida!

My home is in Hilton Village, where the elementary school has a riverfront view, and you can ride your bike to one of the most popular fishing spots in Hampton Roads – the pier next to the James River Bridge. We can walk to a terrific bakery in our little downtown that makes these cupcakes called “chocolate overload,” a name that really doesn’t really do begin to describe the amount of caloric indulgence you’re about to consume.

I plan to study history in college and I think my interest sprang organically from where I grew up; it’s hard not to acquire an interest in history when you live in a place where you can run into Thomas Jefferson at McDonalds (this happened to me once in Williamsburg) or see the very redoubt at Yorktown battlefield where Rochambeau, figuratively speaking, hastened the decline of the British Empire.

I don’t know where college is going to take me yet, but I already know the thing I’ll probably be looking forward to most once I get there: my first visit back to the 757, my home. And one of those chocolate overload cupcakes, of course.

Michaela Fitzgerald, Home School
I’ve lived in Williamsburg for over three years now and have had plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas. There are so many places to tour and activities to do. So far I have really enjoyed them. For people like me, who love natural beauty, the history of American culture, and regions overflowing with diversity, Hampton Roads is a perfect place to visit.

One of my favorite parts about living in the Hampton Roads area is how beautiful the land is. Poplar, oak, dogwood, and gum trees flush reds, yellows, oranges, and browns in winter and sprout vivid green leaves in the spring. Countless creeks and streams wrinkle the earth, and rivers like the James, Susquehanna, and Potomac cut in from the bay. In some areas it’s hilly, others it’s flat. One moment it will be pouring rain with thunder rolling overhead, the next the sun rules the sky. Some describe the weather as “highly unpredictable” or even “freaky,” but I find it to be “the spice of Virginia life.”

The Historic Triangle is another of my favorite things about Hampton Roads. First is Colonial Williamsburg, which is set up to look just as it might have in the 1700’s. Some of the original foundations of the shops and houses line the cobblestone paths and dirt streets where people in period costumes reenact colonial life. Next, Jamestown consists of a museum, a fort, replicas of 18th century ships, and the stone remains of the very first church. Lastly, Yorktown is the site of the actual Battle of Yorktown. Walking around the replica camp, one can smell the wafting scents of campfires, cooking stew, straw bedding, cotton uniforms, and gunpowder. It would take weeks to experience everything at the Triangle, but, nonetheless, even a glance is worth it.

Venturing south into the bigger city areas of Newport News and Virginia Beach, there is even more to see and do. Newport News is where I go to find all the good restaurants; it’s where I go to shop at the enormous, two-story Patrick Henry Mall; and it’s where I go to ice skate at the indoor rink! Further down, Virginia Beach is lined with a boardwalk–which I love to rollerblade down in the summer–towering hotels, and quirky little shops. The view of the Atlantic Ocean off the piers is breathtaking as the setting sun illuminates its horizon from behind. Whatever the time of day or year, the city and beach areas of Hampton are ones not to be missed.

Maybe the great outdoors is what makes Hampton Roads so special. Maybe the distinctive Historical Triangle is what captures so much attention. Or maybe the new cities or the East Coast does the trick, but I’ve loved it all. If ever anyone desires to plan a trip to a unique part of the country, I would recommend an extended stay in Hampton Roads and hope that person gets to see it all.

Colburn Greathouse, Great Bridge High School
The 757, the Seven Dirty Cities, or just Southeastern Virginia; Hampton Roads goes by several different names, but I can describe it in two words, “my home.” Hampton Roads is the collective name of the Virginian cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, and Virginia Beach, and while it may not have the national attention of some of the larger American cities, it has much more to offer. Hampton Roads, just like any place, is not my home because of one place. I call it home because it makes me feel safe and comfortable, and from serenity to chaos, always offers something to do.

Picture this: a white-sanded beach, stretching as far as the eye can see, shaped by the calm, oscillating waves. This is the serenity of Sandbridge in Virginia Beach. While many people enjoy the bustle and activity of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, I prefer the peace and quiet that Sandbridge offers. No matter when I go, I can always find a quiet, isolated spot where I can just relax and get away from all of my daily stress. The warm sun on my back and the hot sand sifting through my toes make my body feel alive, and when the heat becomes unbearable, I run and jump into the cold, salty water, which immediately revives my body and gives me a surge of energy. At the end of the day, when the cool breeze grows stronger and the sun begins to set, a masterpiece of colors cover the sky and reflect off the clouds, showing the sheer beauty of the Earth.

When a little bit more action is needed, Hampton Roads also offers numerous show venues, including my favorite, the NorVa. As soon as I enter the warehouse-like concert hall, the blasting music from the opening acts fills my head and lulls me away. The screaming fans, deep, thumping bass lines, and melodic overtones raise my heartbeat and give me a sense of excitement as I sing along to my favorite songs. At the end of the show, everyone leaves and walks towards the parking garage together, talking about the show and thirty dollars well spent.

The friendly atmosphere and community ideals make Hampton Roads the perfect cross between “northern sophistication” and “southern comfort.” The people are friendly and eager to share our home with the rest of the world. Regardless of its size or popularity, Hampton Roads is our home; it offers us chaotic fun and serene relaxation, safety and comfort, and a place where we will always feel welcome and able to call home so long as we live.

Laura Kahler, Kecoughtan High School
It was once said that “there’s nothing half so pleasant as coming home again” and anyone from the Hampton Roads area would agree with this statement if they were away for a long period of time. When I am driving home from the airport after a long trip away in the summer, I make sure to roll my car windows down as soon as I hit the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel so I can take in the scents of the Chesapeake Bay as I travel back towards my home in Fox Hill. The smell of the saltwater is unique and brings a sense of comfort equivalent to that of your favorite blanket. As we approach the bridge, in just a few short moments my attention is directed to the sunlight that glistens off of the Chesapeake Bay. The way the light hits the waters in a patchwork of blues and greys, is almost hypnotizing as you are driving across the bridge. There are always seagulls available for entertainment as they glide above the water looking for their next meal. Sometimes depending on the time of day, you may even see fins burst through the water as the dolphins come into the bay after following one of the local fishing or scallop boats. The combination of the seawater and all of the beautiful natural stimulants brings forth the comfort of knowing that I am home.

The locals may no longer be entranced by the back drop of Naval bases and shipyards, however after being away for so long, it is a nice reminder of what the Hampton Roads area has to offer. Each aircraft carrier and submarine that is docked at either the Naval base or Huntington Ingalls Industries (aka “the shipyard”) is a reminder of our freedom and the amount of military that we have in the local area. We are definitely a melting pot of different nations. We live here together and strive as a population who supports our American troops. We have all types of military here in the area, from Navy to the Air Force. The sense of pride you feel from seeing the American flag wave in the breeze at each coastline, and military facility is overwhelming. You very rarely go anywhere without seeing one of our American troops out and about. We are proud to be Americans and Hampton Roads knows how to show it.

There are thousands of things about our area that I could say are inviting and intriguing, however I believe I have targeted two of my favorites. No matter what neck of the woods you are in, you are just a few miles from a beach. You can plant your toes in the sand in the blink of an eye. But most importantly, we are home to thousands of military troops and their families. Individuals who have given their full commitment to fight for our freedom, for my freedom to travel safely, and always have a place to come home to.

Codi Massey, Ocean Lakes High School Math and Science Academy
I'm now in high school, but it seems like just yesterday I was five sitting in the middle of the soccer field picking daisies, while my parents encouraged me to get up and run after the ball. Even as I write this, I wonder how in a blink of an eye seventeen years have come and gone. In thinking back, reminiscing through those years, I can’t help but smile. I have been lucky to have spent those seventeen years here in Hampton Roads. As a kid you can’t ask for a larger playground. When I think back, I realize so much of my personality and who I am today has evolved through the impact of this area. There is just so much to do, like family bike rides through the historical battle grounds and parks, laying out at the beaches, boating on the Chesapeake Bay, concerts in outdoor amphitheatres, relaxing at Harbor Fest, shopping on Atlantic Avenue, competing in sand soccer tournaments, walking up and down the board walk, visiting the art shows, watching the outdoor movies in Phoebus, and attending sporting event; all bring back memories of my childhood in Hampton Roads.

There is always opportunity for adventure in our community and always company along the way. I think one of the memories that I relish the most, is the compassionate people and the sense of community I have seen along the way. We are a community with our share of national companies such as Stihl, an enormous US military presence including NATO and NASA, public and private universities and colleges, and a vast number of small businesses from little one-of-a-kind mom and pop shops to restaurants of all ethnicities. It is because of this diversity, that we are so appealing. We are not one community just because of our shared history and stories, but we are because we recognize the uniqueness of our towns together creating the feeling of community.

Hampton Roads is one of the largest populated areas in our nation, yet you feel as though you are in a small town. The word “relaxing” comes to mind when I think of my home town. Sure we have our share of tall and bustling cities, but we also boast thousands of acres of open pastures and farmlands, suburban communities, miles of beach front, while being within hours of some of the most visited sites in our nation.

I am very excited about the next step in my life, going off to college, confronting new challenges and expanding more opportunities; but, I will always know that it all started in Hampton Roads. I have not even left yet, but anticipate the excitement of coming home, driving through the Hampton Roads or Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel , visiting family and friends, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of the waves hitting the shores. I will know then, I am back home.

John Winall, York High School
Hampton Roads is one of the most historical places in the country. You can walk through time, starting at Jamestown where the first settlers came over from England. There you can meet Native Americans, walk aboard ships like those that came across the ocean, and go into a mock fort with tradesmen and cannon demonstrations. From there you can go to Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg is filled with artisans and reenactors. After that you can do my favorite thing, which is to walk the battlefields of Yorktown, the site of where our country won its independence. Everywhere you go the effect of the water on everyday life here is evident. Hampton Roads has a long history of waterman, some families have been working the water for over a hundred years, some still work the rivers and the bay today. These men and women get up early, and go out in their beat up deadrises to pull up crabs, oysters, and clams. There is also the Newport News Shipyard which is an evolution in itself. Just by looking at the buildings you can see how it has expanded over the years. You would never expect from the buildings, some dating back to the 1930's, that this shipyard is the only place in the world that produces super carriers. Along with the carriers we have a huge military presence, we have every branch represented here, with only the marines not having their own base, and the CIA on Camp Perry. We also have an amazing theme park, Busch Gardens, voted most beautiful for over ten years in a row, and a great water park Water Country USA. Virginia Beach is a tourist hot spot and Hampton has some great museums and restaurants. Everyone in every part of Hampton Roads is friendly, they work hard for a living. No one around here is afraid to get a little dirty to get things done. We are a north meets south collision, with some southern hospitality and ideals, and a northern city and industrial feel. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Mary Easton, Walsingham Academy
“What’s so special about Hampton Roads?” my future roommate innocently asks. As I look at her, pondering the question, I wonder how to respond. The flood of thoughts and emotions overwhelm me as I consider her request. I finally take a deep breath and begin my explanation: Hampton Roads is my proud home not only because of its rich history, but because of the warm friendliness of its citizens.

Hampton Roads is often described using factual statistics: population of 1.7 million, 36th-largest metropolitan area in America, 400 years of inhabitation. The numerous military bases stabilize our economy, while the myriad waterfront properties shore up our tourism industry. But more important to me is the fact that Hampton Roads is a living, breathing history lesson. Williamsburg, my hometown, teaches children and adults alike everyday about the birthplace of our revolution and beginnings of our independence as a country. Poquoson is one of the earliest sites of the Native American Algonquians, while Suffolk remains known by many as the birthplace of Mr. Peanut. In any given part of Hampton Roads, opportunities for intellectual growth and new understanding are present.

Perhaps at this point, my roommate will comment that I have yet to discuss the people of Hampton Roads. Significantly, the people are what distinguish this area as such a wonderful home. Despite the growing economic and cultural importance of Hampton Roads cities, residents retain a small-town sociability that permeates the area. Even after rush hour on the HRBT and MMMBT, an easy smile crosses the face of Hampton Roads residents, whether it is my neurologist at CHKD in Norfolk, my teacher commuting from Newport News, or the sub sandwich maker at my local deli.

Maybe it is the classic beauty of Hampton Roads that makes our residents so satisfied. The clear waters and fine sand of Virginia Beach are matched only by Chesapeake’s Great Dismal Swamp Canal. The Colonial Parkway provides a scenic drive complete with gorgeous views of the sunset at dusk. Portsmouth’s ferry provides an inimitable sight of the Elizabeth River. The carefully crafted architecture of downtown areas gives a sense of gravitas as one considers Hampton Roads’ long, varied past.

On the other hand, it is possible that Hampton Roads’ citizens are drawn to the tactile joys of living here. After trying authentic Colonial Williamsburg Root Beer, or relishing Doumar’s juicy barbeque, or cleaning your plate of the mahi-mahi at Catch 31, other cities’ offerings must pale in comparison.

Hopefully, my explanation will convince my roommate that Hampton Roads is more than just a geographic region. Diverse and thriving, it is a cherished home for those who value historical meaning and a true sense of belonging. Either way, our discussion will surely convince her that the best way to experience Hampton Roads is to visit and see its amazing virtues for herself!

Marissa Wheeler, Hampton Roads Academy
If Virginia is for lovers, then Hampton Roads is where opposites attract. The modernism of Newport News and the history of Colonial Williamsburg stand out and yet intertwine like the yin and yang. The natural beauty of the Colonial Parkway contrasts and yet compliments the built-up industry of Norfolk and the other illustrious cities of Hampton Roads. In such a complex environment, no two places are the same, but their differences create a unique diversity.

In Hampton Roads, vibrant communities and foreign cultures celebrate their individuality with festivals and events that foster local, national, and international pride. Locally owned restaurants offer specialties and dining experiences found nowhere else in the world. Shopping centers such as New Town, Merchant Square, Peninsula Town Center, and MacArthur Center provide an escape from the everyday hustle and bustle. Hampton Roads’ competitive universities, flourishing industries, and naval base frequently attract national attention. Landmarks such as Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield, and Civil War sites such as Lee Mansion put Hampton Roads on the map for their important presence in American history.

The individuality of each city makes Hampton Roads unique, but above all, the differences come together to create a close-knit community. The cities depend on each other for commerce and local government, and the sense of trust extends to the citizens. I feel very safe knowing I’m surrounded by honest, hard-working people, whether I’m in Norfolk, Suffolk, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Chesapeake, or Virginia Beach. With the many influences that distinguish and yet unite the citizens of Hampton Roads, it’s no wonder that this is the place I call home.

Meredith McKee, Maury High School
I fall asleep to the lullaby of train whistles, and wake up to the salty river air. My house sits on a quiet park just a bike ride from the buzz of downtown. I go to school in a one hundred year old building, my fortress of wisdom. I work in a restaurant just two blocks away that transports diners to another continent in a single bite. The secret of Hampton Roads is found in its incomparable combination of earth’s pleasures. Where nature meets industry, the beach meets the city, the modern world meets raw history, and the comfort of a hometown meets exciting blends of culture, Hampton Roads is the mid-Atlantic dreamland. Born and raised in Norfolk, I know the difference between the Bay and the Ocean, the rivers that you can swim in and the ones you can’t. I know that there are two Cedar roads, that Virginia Beach used to be just cornfields, how to avoid tunnel traffic, train traffic and draw bridge traffic, and I know that South Norfolk really isn’t Norfolk at all.

After my seventeen years in Hampton Roads that shaped me into the girl I am today, the thought of living somewhere else seems unfair. But, as I graduate to college and my parents put our century old home on the market, the unwelcomed idea has transformed into a reality. This fall, I will be transplanted into a new environment, a place far away from the salty river air and the quiet park. As I leave behind the train whistles, the ocean, and each unique city of Hampton Roads, I recall my life thus far within a community rich with blessings. Brought up so generously cultured in the pleasures of life, I cannot see why I would ever want to continue my life, finding a career and starting a family, anywhere else. And although I will soon call a new city my temporary home, my heart lives and breathes Hampton Roads. A wise man once said, “Home is not about the place you live, but the place you feel most fully alive.” I am proud to call Hampton Roads my community, my hometown, and the place I feel most fully alive.