Expedition Academy High School student wins statewide writing contest

People here in Wyoming take the Code of the West very seriously. Whether it is called "The Code of the West," "10 Principles to Live By," or "Cowboy Ethics," the concepts are the same. While the Code itself was never put to print until Zane Grey's 1934 novel, "The Code of the West," it was the centerpiece of culture for the brave souls who pioneered the vast forests, mountains, and plains of the American West. Elements such as integrity, hard work, self-reliance, loyalty, and respect were paramount for those wishing to live and thrive in this uncharted and sometimes menacing land. Ten conceptually simple rules exist: Live each day with courage; Take pride in your work; Always finish what you start; Do what has to be done; Be tough, but fair; When you make a promise, keep it; Ride for the brand; Talk less and say more; Remember that some things aren't for sale; Know where to draw the line.

While these rules seem easy to follow, life often throws us challenges that compel us to veer off this course. That is where the 28th Annual American Dream Essay Contest comes in. This statewide contest inspires Wyoming students to write essays about how their lives have been shaped by a personal code of ethics centered on the "Ten Principles to Live By." This year's contest encourages Wyoming students to write about one of the Cowboy Ethics that impact their decisions, goals, and attitudes. The competition motivates students to pursue their vision regarding the meaning of their lives and the ethics that guide them.

Owen Calzada, a Junior at Expedition Academy in Green River, never dreamed he'd win anything. He was just writing a paper for his English class and hoped for an A. However, little did Owen know that great things were afoot for him. The assignment was done, turned in, graded, and forgotten in December 2023, so Owen was oblivious and a little nervous when the front desk called him out of class. There, he received a letter from the Boys and Girls Club informing him that he had won the local American Dream Essay Contest, was awarded $300, and would head to the state celebration on April 13 in Casper with a chance to win $5,000 for the winning state submission.

Owen's journey to becoming a successful author has been rocky. Still, those trials transformed Owen into an A student at Expedition Academy and allowed him to pour his soul onto paper for catharsis. His definitive transformative treatise, Ignoring and Understanding Fear, is filled with tragedy and triumph, and its message exemplifies the first tenant of Cowboy Ethics: Live Each Day With Courage. While he still has work to do on himself, he feels he is headed in the right direction. According to Calzada, "It was a challenging part of my life. There are always challenges, but you can learn from them. I think more about my actions before I commit than I used to."

While Calzada admits that it was not an easy endeavor to pursue, he recommends anyone dealing with trauma should write it down.

"It was therapeutic," Calzada admits, "and it provided closure for me. When I finally finished and shut my computer down, I felt like I had closed the book on that part of my life."

Calzada's powerful message of perseverance and self-actualization will impact any reader and propel them toward redemption.


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