Substance Over Celebrity

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Essay winner Ana Bucevic (kneeling) From left standing: Bucevic’s mother (Myra Bucevic), Bucevic’s grandmother (Anka Bucevic), Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kusum Sinha and New York State Senator Kevin Thomas

Altice USA recently awarded Garden City Middle School’s Ana Bucevic with $1,500 for being the grand prize winner of a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest the broadband communications giant sponsored. In attendance at the ceremony were Bucevic’s mother, grandmother, Garden City Middle School Assistant Principal Dr. Daniel Fasano, her Spanish teacher Vicky Linardos, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kusum Sinha, New York State Senator Kevin Thomas, 6-12 World Language Curriculum Coordinator Peter Giacalone and a handful of Altice officials. The premise of the contest was for participants to “Name a Latino, past or present, with whom you’d like to spend a day and explain why.” Bucevic chose Máxima Acuña, a Peruvian subsistence farmer environmentalist who has been battling two mining companies over water rights. Her efforts resulted in years of violent intimidation and abuse. Acuña’s determination and activism made her an easy subject for Bucevic to choose.

“I was originally going to write about more of a mainstream celebrity, but I didn’t have anything to say. And then I came across this prize [ed. note: the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize] that she won. I read her story and decided that this was who I wanted to bring light to,” Bucevic explained. “Environmental issues like sustainability and natural resources are very important. That initially piqued my interest, and then I found out how she sacrificed so much to hold onto her values. She was beaten unconscious and dealing with people spying on her and today she’s still fighting for what she believes in.”

Bucevic is the daughter of immigrants—Croation father Marin and Filipino mother Myra—and an only child. Her consciousness of environmental issues, can be traced in part to her mother’s influence.

“I did like that she talked about water conservation, which is important,” Myra said. “Plus, I come from a Third World country like the Philippines and those issues are very close to me culturally because they have very little potable water. I guess all my persistence paid off. When she was growing up, I would tell her not to have the shower running before you go into it and that she should conserve water,”

Myra continued. “I just hope we gave her the opportunity to open her eyes and see things that are just not in front of her. That’s all you want, to give your children that kind of opportunity.”

While Bucevic’s Spanish teacher was impressed by her young charge winning the competition, it was the content of the essay that really floored her.

“Having read the essay, I have to say that I was stunned and I couldn’t move, because I was just so impressed. I couldn’t believe it, because it wasn’t about a celebrity or a singer. This is a little farmer in a remote area in Peru that’s made a difference,” Linardos said. “So I immediately started to Google to find out more details about Máxima Acuña. [Ana] is an amazing young lady with incredible potential. I think this is going to be one of the many successes that she’s going to encounter in her life.”

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