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Growing up as the daughter of an environmental health specialist, I have a deep respect for all things recyclable. It hurts me to watch people litter, and I've been known to chase down offenders and give them lectures on how they're contributing to the downfall of western civilization. While I annoy tree-hugger-haters to no end, I hope to make the world a better place by encouraging others to be environmentally conscious. I promote recycling at my high school. I'm copresident and cofounder of the Green Team, a club that provides community-service opportunities while promoting environmental awareness. This year, we accomplished our goal of reinstating the paper-recycling program at our school. Paper recycling is not mandatory, and there's no money to be gained by doing it (only cans and bottles make money). Our club provides paper-only bins for each classroom, and we take them out weekly with the help of school custodians. Our club takes part in service projects such as beach and canyon cleanups, and we volunteer regularly with I Love A Clean San Diego.

Aside from the Green Team, I'm doing my part to become a more active member in the environmental advocacy community. During the summer of 2005, I was a student worker at the County of San Diego's Department of Environmental Health, in the hazardous materials division. Though I did more paper pushing than paper conserving, it was interesting to be exposed to the business side of environmental advocacy.

Ultimately, my goal is to educate others of the dangers of pollution. According to Greenpeace, 80 percent of ocean pollution is caused by land-based sources, such as storm-drain pollution. Most people don't understand that storm drains are meant only for rainwater (not their cigarette butts and candy wrappers). By teaching others that storm-water runoff is not treated before it reaches open water, we can insure the future of the Pacific Ocean and local rivers and lakes. -- Vicki Molina-Estolano, Bonita Vista H.S. I haven't found a cure for cancer, ended a war, or fed all the starving people, but I have tried to improve the world since I was six. A girl in my class named Laura would always pick on me and my friends. One day, when I came home crying, my dad sat me down on his lap and said, "Emma, you just have to kill her with kindness." So, the next day I went to school and when Laura stole some of my Play-Doh, I smiled at her and handed her half of what I still had left. During the next week, whenever Laura took something of mine, I offered to share more with her. When she insulted my drawings, I complimented hers. Soon, Laura started acting nicer to everyone. I've always remembered my dad's words of wisdom. Last week, I followed his advice again. A notoriously cynical cellist says mean things to everyone. Recently, when she was practicing with her quartet for an upcoming concert, one of the girls got nervous about the performance. I wanted to say a few kind words of encouragement, but when I did, the cellist gave me the evil eye and harshly exclaimed, "We don't want your advice, and you need to leave!" The cruelness of her words almost made me cry. As I left practice, I remembered my dad's advice: instead of wishing horrible things upon her, I prayed that her group would do well in the concert.

After the performance, I congratulated the cellist. She said, "Thanks, you did well, too." Then I decided to take a chance and I asked, "Did you know you were going to play without music? I know how hard it is to memorize a piece, and you sounded really, really good." She looked at me and said her teacher never lets her use music in concerts. For just a moment, I saw the kind and genuine person under all her bitterness. Maybe, next time someone irritates her, she will respond out of kindness. -- Emma Seemann, Carlsbad H.S.

Though the news media is often criticized for being biased, it is the provider of information to the public. The people who work for the media who respect their jobs bring issues to light in order to make a significant difference in the world. This is what I strive for as the editor of my high- school newspaper. I recently completed a story on several laws passed by the California senate. Each law puts dietary limits on food that is allowed to be sold on high-school campuses. The laws are meant to regulate the amount of sugar, fat, and calories that each food item can contain. These new regulations will prevent our student store from selling much of the food that it currently offers, which will lead to financial consequences.

Finding a balance between successful fundraising and students' health has not been easy. In my story, I spoke with many sources to get all of the arguments for and against the issue. One thing that became clear to me is that it takes bravery to accept monetary losses in hopes of creating a healthier nation. No matter what opinion readers have on the issue -- or on any issue -- good journalism can convince them to take action.

In the future, I hope to make a difference not only in my own community, but throughout the world. Last summer, I was in Costa Rica for a month. I spent much of my time interacting with the locals, many of whom did not live in the affluent environment that we do. My group, 18 teens from around the U.S., helped to build a sewage system for a small village. We performed trail maintenance in the understaffed rainforests. I hope to return to Costa Rica and other places in need of assistance. I enjoy the work, and to come back and inspire others to do the same is almost as important. -- Naomi Serling-Boyd, Mt. Carmel H.S.

While working as a teller at Washington Mutual, I am constantly amazed and heart-warmed by the pleasantness that certain customers show me, just in the way they may ask about my day or compliment something I'm wearing. Their words are powerful to a certain extent, but what really makes my day is the way these people talk to me; they exude a sense of caring. Sharing a smile or a laugh with someone gives a person the most lovely, carefree feeling. It is easy to go around focusing on bad things that happen to us, but all we need to brighten a day is a friendly gesture. When I began to consider this assignment, I realized that a means of improving the outlook of our world is within my grasp, and it will not only lighten others' loads, but mine as well. So, I am resolving to transform even the smallest interactions with others into positive experiences to brighten everyone's days.

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