Amirah Elayan, who graduated summa cum laude from William Paterson University in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in English, has been nationally recognized with the third place Prize in Ethics from The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity’s prestigious annual contest. The Foundation, created by the late Elie Wiesel soon after he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, aims to combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice through international dialogues and youth focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding, and equality.
The Foundation recognized Elayan for her essay, “The Moral Dilemma of Living,” wherein she tackles the complexity inherent in just being alive: both the joy and difficulty that comes from loving our families and carrying their burdens; both our desire to stop bad things from happening in the world and the sadness that comes from knowing such bad things will continue to happen; both the comfort that comes from not having to face challenges like hunger, apartheid, or a lack of resources, and the question of whether we actually feel any comfort when we know others are struggling.
“Joy is ephemeral but so is pain. Life is so long and yet so short. I am 21 years old, and that is such a long time, but there is still so much time left,” Elayan writes in her essay. “The dilemma is larger than life, or perhaps just large enough to contain it- why do we live, why do we choose to keep on living,” she continues, concluding, “We discover and create meaning as we live.”
Last week, through The Elie Wiesel Foundation, Elayan took part in an all-day seminar in New York City, during which the students honored with Ethics awards this year spoke about their essays and inspiration and related it back to the Foundation’s namesake. “I was the only winner from a small state school,” Elayan notes, proudly. The first-place winner is from Yale University, and the second place from Amherst College. Two honorable mention prizes went to students from University of Chicago and Syracuse University.
“I don’t think that it even really set in, like what I won, and the prestige of the scholarship I won, until I was at the dinner, and I had people coming up to me, explaining the feat of what I’ve done and how much they loved my piece,” she continues.
Elayan, of Washington Township, New Jersey, concentrated her English major coursework at WP in creative writing, and was a member of the University's Honors College. She aims to become a literary agent.
She was one of five students nationwide who was recently selected by Literary Agents of Change for the Association of American Literary Agents Fellowship, which afforded her the opportunity to intern with Salky Literary Management this past summer. The fellowship strives to diversify the world of literary agents, which is mostly white. Elayan is Palestinian-American.
“Personally, I have always known myself to be a writer, and I don’t underestimate my abilities in any way,” Elayan says.
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