EDITOR’S NOTE: Iredell Free News is excited to publish the winning essays in American Renaissance School’s end-of-year “I Can” Essay Contest. Participating students were encouraged to write essays inspiring their fellow students to adopt an “I Can” attitude in the upcoming coming school year.


“I can” are two extremely powerful words, and so is their counterpart, “I can’t.” Each of these words hold a certain opposing power, the power to change one’s mind. I can make straight A’s, I can’ make straight A’s. I can make a difference, I can’t make a difference. I can make someone’s day, I can’t make someone’s day. I can make it through 9th grade, I can’t make it through 9th grade. The difference between these two phrases is immeasurable.

“I can” and “I can’t” are complete polar opposites, and all that changes between them is a t. That t makes such a big difference in the feeling the word gives, it’s incredible. The duality between “I can” and “I can’t” is paralleled only by the duality of day and night, positive and negative, bright and dark, good and evil. Everyone’s life gets hard at times. The key is to persevere and no matter how simple or difficult the solution may be it will always be within your grasp.

The transfer to 9th grade will be difficult for everyone, especially after the train wreck of 2020, but having the proper mindset can make an immense difference. Many of my fellow students (myself included) are going to be going into various early college programs, and to make it through every single one of us are going to have to shove “I can’t” aside and embrace “I can.” Every challenge in life can be overcome with mental fortitude and a good mindset. It’s like the saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Everyone has the power to change their own mindset simply through choosing to either use “I can” or “I can’t.” If you choose right, it can completely change how you view yourself and the world around you. “I can” and “I can’t” — it’s all just a matter of perspective. The way you look at problems in your life heavily affects the outcome. You can sit there all night looking at your math homework and thinking “I can’t do all these questions, they’re too hard and it’ll take me all night to finish them!” Or you could simply pick up your pencil and start thinking, “I can do these questions. I have all night to finish them!” Any challenge in life no matter how big or small (whether it’s that your car won’t start or that your brother left the sink on and flooded the bathroom) can be made easier by staying confident and just trying. I mean even this essay started with me thinking, “I can write a great essay.” Anyone can succeed in anything they try if they think they can.

As I’ve extensively pointed out in this essay, mentality is everything you need to succeed in life. So my plan going into 9th grade is simply, “I can and will succeed this year. I can stay caught up with my work. I will be the best student and baseball player I can be. I will reach my full potential this year.” By doing these things, I will be able to maintain a positive mindset and be able to succeed in every way possible next year.

– Daniel Carrender, First Place


Where I come from we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but we always told ourselves we will get through everything. We always had hope and we had faith that things would get better and they did. We lived at Fifth Street Ministries for about three years and we found an apartment complex, Myrtle Place Apartments. The point of me saying that was because we said “I can” all the time. My mom actually told me when I was younger say “I Can” instead of “I quit” or “it’s too hard.” My mom taught me everything in life will never come with unicorns and rainbows and I took that and it helped me growing up. I play sports and saying “I Can” gave me confidence and motivation to work hard so I will be able to play pro when I grow up. When I go pro, I want to start my charity called “WE CAN” and it’s based off of this competition. I want to bless organizations like PowerCross and other ministries that help young kids off the streets and get them to believe they can do anything they put their minds to. I feel as if the world would be a 20x better place if we all said “I CAN.” I’m currently in 8th grade going into into the 9th and in high school things are going to be totally different and I’m going to have to say “I CAN” a lot for success.

I’m going to start a little club and try to get other kids to be confident about themselves because looking back at my history I had to have a lot of confidence and faith that things would eventually get better. Playing sports, I feel like I can get the word out and some day I may be a role model and people may take consideration to help others and make this world a better place. In life I really want to achieve my goal: Going to the college, making it to the pros, and starting my own charity. I know I can do it if I just keep my mind right and say “I Can.”

– Ethan Peet, Second Place


“I can” to me means that you should always believe in yourself. Sometimes that is a hard thing to do, and lots of times you feel like giving up but if you believe in yourself at all times then you can accomplish anything.

We all have different struggles and different things we think we are bad at, or don’t think we can do. Some of us have insecurities that prevent us from doing things we like to do, but if you believe in yourself it shouldn’t matter what others say, because you CAN do it!

It’s like riding a bike for the first time, at first you doubt yourself because you are learning a new thing and it’s harder than it looks, but then once you get the hang of it and believe in yourself you can ride a bike without any problems. Sometimes though, you can hit a rock or a rough patch in the road and fall, it may take a while for you to believe in yourself after that but you eventually see that there is nothing to worry about and you believe in yourself again. This compares to some people’s lives because at first you may not believe in yourself, but then once you do, you don’t care what other people think of you, you forget about the struggles you were faced with before, and you don’t care if you’re bad at something as long as it’s fun. Sometimes you can hit a bad patch in your life, but don’t let that stop you from believing in yourself.

To all of the 8th graders going into high school, if you believe in yourself you will do great things in life and in your schooling and career. High School is challenging for everyone and believing in yourself will help you get through the hard and trying times in high school.

No matter what, if you believe in yourself there will always be light at the end of the tunnel, you can be happy, you don’t have to feel insecure or not do something you want to because you are afraid of what people might think, because guess what? All that matters is that YOU believe in YOURSELF.

– Tori Ervin, Third Place


“I Can” is basically the motto of the school and I’ve heard it for a few years now. What I learned from it is “I Can”, is very special to many people, including me. It helped me out when I first entered this school. I felted lost, confused, and most of all scared. I tried to blend in with everyone, trying to like rap music, Harry Potter , and in the end I couldn’t be myself, eventually I got on my two feet and started being myself.

People found out and started liking me but some get mad for no reason just to throw me under a bus. It’s hard for someone to succeed in life when there stuck in this fire breathing dragon where people just watch me and say this to me “Failure”. I felt lost, until I remember the family that support my goals, my friends who are around in school and the local people around me. Then I got my sword and cut open the dragon and I was free for the first time. The pandemic is the biggest reason why many people are depressed, friends and family’s are dying, schools, stores, theaters and our normal life’s are just gone. But let me tell you this and I want you to remember this, do not give up on your dreams. If you want to dance don’t say, ” I Can’t” say “I Can”. If you want to play video games, draw, be a youtuber, sing, make a movie, own a store, start a app or be a teacher, then never say “I’ll try”, say “I can”, and never forget about those words.

– Justin Sarria, Honorable Mention


The words “you can.” The words that I’d forgotten about. The words that were empty, encouragement that no one really meant. They were a lazy attempt of pretending to be interested. Something you’d say to someone while thinking “couldn’t care less” or “yeah right.” Words that were nothing more than a parse, just words. Words you’d say with a void smile and then quickly change the subject. So I started hating the words, “I can.” I didn’t care for those words; they didn’t mean anything to me. I scoffed at them while smiling and thanking people for their support. But as the disaster known as 2020 hit, things started to change. I truly thought those words were meaningless but then I heard a news reporter saying something along the lines of “ A pandemic outbreak.” From then on, my daily life along with hundreds of others lives changed. There was the toilet paper war and the Karens. The schools learning to use zoom. Also not being able to go out was one of the hardest things. People we all lost too, people I look up to and won’t ever forget. But another pandemic also came with this one, boredom. I found myself trying new things and failing and trying again. I think that’s about when I thought I can do it. I found myself coming back to the words “I can” and then pushing for my goals. It’s weird.

The words “I can”, they mean to keep going, to work for you goals. To stand up, look at yourself and think what do I want for myself, for my life. My parents always told me “you grow up too fast.” I don’t think I’m old enough to be preaching that, but I decide to live in the moment. Enjoy what little youth I have and reach out and take my goals. That is what I can means to me.

– Emily Pearson, First Place


“I can” is a short message but it is an important one. What can you do for yourself, for others, and for our community? What can you do for yourself? Well, you can believe in yourself, trust yourself, and be honest with yourself. The list is long but the main point is to love yourself. Physical health is important, but I think your mental state matters far more. You can talk to others and take their advice, but also trust yourself in what you think. Something I like to do for myself is go outside or listen to music. Both are enjoyable for me and help me relax. Connecting to nature might help you see life differently. Albert Einstein said “Look deep in nature and you will understand everything better.” Outside is free, and you can find time to go outside for a few minutes, even if you don’t do anything outside. Helping yourself is the first step to helping others.

So how can you help others. Well, to start, just talk to them them. Don’t be pushy or rude; just say “Hi.” Help people through hard times and try not to judge them even if you disagree. I had a friend that was struggling with something. They were uncomfortable talking about it using a phone or talking in person. So we sent letters to each other. You can always spend time with someone. Talking and spending time with each other is beneficial to both of you. If covid has proven anything, it’s that social interaction is almost vital for people. Bill Watterson said, “things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”

So now what can you and your friends do for our community? Simply put, be involved. Gt to know your community. Of course if you live in New York City, you won’t get to meet everyone. However, you can make friends and learn the history of where you live. Also, make sure you live in a community you like. Another thing you can do is help with local fundraisers or projects. Try to buy things that are locally made as well. It is better for the environment and you might be supporting someone’s passion. We can all help each other make a better place to live and follow our dreams. This is what I think we “can” do to help yourself, others, and your community.

– Sadie Martin, Second Place


The phrase “I can” is a very powerful phrase people use everyday. This phrase means so much to me that when I was at my low I told myself “I can” instead of saying “I couldn’t”. The phrase “I can” means that you can do anything you set your mind to, big or small, it does not matter. This phrase also means that people can feel brave and confident doing something difficult or something they are not comfortable with doing. I plan on using the phrase “I can” to make a positive impact on me, my friends, my family, and the world around me. I plan on using the phrase “I can” to make people and myself feel confident. I also plan on helping people say “I can” instead of saying “I can’t”. When I go to 8th grade I plan on saying “I can” for when I’m in a stressful situation so I can give myself confidence. I have been in some situations where I have doubted myself and that was probably the worst thing I could do in that situation. If I could go back in and tell myself I could, I would do it in a heartbeat. In the future, I hope more people believe in themselves instead of doubting themselves, because in the long run, doubting yourself is not going to do anything.

– Trista Hutchens, Third Place


I can! I can do lots of things! I can cook, dance, sing, and lots of other things. But there is one thing I can’t do, and that’s bully others for what they can’t have or afford. As a person who has been bullied harshly, it’s not a good thing at all. Being told you’re ugly, fat, irrelevant, you should’ve never been born, go die, why are you so dark? Are all examples of what I’ve been told. And yes, I have tough skin but not a tough heart. So, as much as it hurt, I had to tell myself I can!

I can get through this! I can! I can! I can! I will get through this because, people will say anything bad about you just so they can feel a little better about themselves, just to end up feeling worse. And for anybody going through what I have gone through, you can!

Because at the end of the day, we can! Don’t commit what you’ve been thinking about doing since the beginning of the year because, you can! And I can! So now… WE CAN! Tell the people that have hurt you I can and I will! Because I am beautiful and perfect the way I am.

I can push through your harsh comments, my brain’s suicidal thoughts, the boys and girls that tell me I can’t well, I say that I can. You may think you’ve got me but, I can! I can win this fight! I can feel beautiful! I can do anything because… I can! So when you tell me I am dark, ugly, irrelevant. I call myself a beautiful human being who can. So, I push you away and raise myself because … I can.

– Zaniyah Blackwell, Honorable Mention


A challenging transition that I faced was not getting to see people that I wouldn’t get a chance to see again. I didn’t get a chance to say “bye” nor did I get a chance to say “bye” to my teachers who taught me flawlessly. I only got the opportunity to say “hello.”

Something that I discovered about myself during quarantine was that I want to be BOLD. I want to defy rules that say women are supposed to act and look a certain way. I want to show everyone that what society says doesn’t matter. Be you because you can. Or better yet, we can.

I also will apply an “I can” attitude. I will do this by believing that no matter how many times people say no, someone will say yes. We can do anything if we work together. We can get that 100. We can get into our dream college. We can be ourselves. We can’t NOT try.

– Mikayla Lenahan, First Place


I have learned many things about myself. I have also accomplished many things I can celebrate. One thing I have learned is I can overcome a global pandemic. I can celebrate that I have almost straight A’s without going to school for half of the year. I may have gotten two 88’s and one 89 out of the whole year, but I won’t beat myself up about it. I am surprised that I held myself up for this long, not being able to see my friends or family outside the house can be hard. In the beginning I was very stressed because I didn’t know what to do and the work was very confusing, now I have the hang of it and I can celebrate that too. My household is very distracting with my two sisters, two brothers and two cats but I survived. This year has been hard, I think everyone can agree but we are getting through it, we are surviving a global pandemic which nothing like it has been this bad for decades. Now we are more aware of what can happen just from a little mistake like eating the wrong thing, the whole world can be at risk. We are also more careful, for example we have learned that hand shaking is a very good way to spread germs so we won’t do it as much anymore. I now have a better understanding of how dangerous the world can be and how harmful a little act could do.

Through all of this and more I have gotten up everyday, gotten onto zoom for my classes and had a long day of work. I have learned a lot of things about myself just from this, having the perseverance to do the work well and efficiently. I will use the hope from this pandemic to help me get throughout middle school and maybe high school because I don’t think it will be fully gone next year. If I can make it through this year with all of the hurdles and obstacles then I can get through the rest of middle school with flying colors and hope.

I have also accomplished many things in Scouts BSA. I have gotten Scout and Tenderfoot, I’ve gone to many campouts and even went to summer camp. I have learned a lot of useful skills that I could use in everyday life. I recruited Peyton Reavis and helped her and Autumn to get Scout. I did all of this in one year during Covid. These are all things I have learned about myself and that I can celebrate.

– Brooke Strunk, Second Place


Hello, I am a person who you may not know but you may know more about me after you read this. I feel like I always put stuff off until it’s due. I think the “I CAN” can help me have more courage in myself. I always have low self-confidence. It’s always hard to do something like this. I always put a lot of doubt in myself. I think this will also make my parents very proud. I just really want to see if this will be my time to shine. I’ve never been the popular kid or the star of the school. I hate being the center of attention; it gives me anxiety. But this might help me with some of my dreams. I’ve always been told I can do anything I can put my mind to and I don’t think that until I do it. I think this will boost and lower some things for me.

– Gavin Bell, Third Place

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