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Tinley Park sophomore wins state award with letter about addiction

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Amira Hammad has kept a journal since she was a child, but recently her writing talent got a much wider audience when she won first place in the statewide 2024 Letters for Literature writing contest.

She competed against 483 high school entrants in the contest, which is sponsored by the Secretary of State’s Office and Office of the State Librarian. Amira was presented a plaque and $200 by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias after she read her essay at a May 1 ceremony in Springfield. Tinley Park High School, where she is a sophomore, received $100 to purchase books for the school library.

Amira wrote a letter from her heart about the challenges of addiction to David Sheff, author of “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction.” The book is a memoir by a dad who tries to help his son through a methamphetamine addiction.

The book inspired her to write to the author because she also witnessed people close to her struggle with addiction.

“She really poured her heart and soul into the letter and it talked about her experience, strength and hope,” said Kathleen O’Connor, who teaches Amira in her Honors British Literature class. “Through her experience she became stronger and more empathetic.”

Amira Hammad, a sophomore at Tinley Park High School, is flanked by Illinois State Library Director Greg McCormick and Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulious during a recent ceremony in Springfield where Hammad was presented a first place award in the statewide Letters About Literature contest. (School District 228)
Amira Hammad, a sophomore at Tinley Park High School, is flanked by Illinois State Library Director Greg McCormick and Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias during a recent ceremony in Springfield where Hammad was presented a first place award in the statewide Letters About Literature contest. (School District 228)

The assignment that led to the award was to write a letter to an author of a book about it or the impact it had on the student’s life. O’Connor said some authors even responded to the letters.

“It resonated with me because I had a lot of people like that in my life,” Amira said. “I tried to convey although addiction is a very public topic, it’s much deeper than just meets the eye. It’s not like a one size fits all disease. But there is hope out there, we aren’t doomed.”

Amira had plenty of writing practice even before the class. For years she has written in her journal about significant things events in her life along with observations as simple as an outdoor scene.

“I try to ascribe meaning to everything in my life,” she said.

Though this topic was a personal one, Amira said she had help from O’Connor.

“I think I had a very good support system,” Amira said. “I felt comfortable having my writing be out there.”

While Amira is considering studying medicine in college and becoming an anesthesiologist, writing will always be a part of her life. She said the award ceremony and reading her piece in front of a large audience was nerve-wracking but also gave her a boost.

“It was a very nice experience,” she said “I felt like I had made it.”

O’Connor said she noticed Amira’s talent for writing early on.

“Her letter was so well written, I was like, is this AI?” she said.

But after a few assignments, she realized it was the real deal.

“It’s really not every day that I feel so inspired by a student,” the teacher said.

Janice Neumann is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.



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