We asked local high school students to tell us, “What does wealth mean to you?” for a chance to win a $2,500 college scholarship. Here’s essay contest winner Owen Reynolds’ take.

wealth essay contest winner
Like many, when I began to consider the question driving this essay, my mind was immediately drawn to think of wealth as I have always seen it portrayed; money. The picture of wealth in my mind was one of movie stars and flashy cars, houses perched atop hills from which you could see for miles. But that image felt shallow and incomplete. To truly understand what wealth means to me I found myself looking inwardly as well as at those in my life who possess a humbler and simultaneously deeper understanding of wealth.

My calculus teacher, Mr. Swanson, a man in his sixties, completely bald, with a smile that lights up a room and the kindest eyes you’ll ever see, is the person I first saw embodying wealth from giving. Mr. Swanson has dedicated over 30 years of his life teaching high school students calculus, the most universally dreaded and notoriously difficult class they will take in high school. The coursework is demanding, the tests are taxing and the practical application of what one learns is murky, yet at the end of every year, Mr. Swanson is found hugging formerly math-phobic students as they tearfully thank him for his teaching them and ask that he keep in touch.

The beautiful thing about wealth is how it grows by giving.

Mr. Swanson does not make movie-star money, yet he is far wealthier than many people I know with larger houses and shinier cars. He has a loving family, a career he’s proud of and students who adore him for the way he deftly guides them through the rigors of math. In him, I realized how wealthy one can be by giving what they have to others, whether that be knowledge, love or a family at school where even those who struggled with freshman algebra can be nurtured and accepted.

The beautiful thing about this wealth is how it grows by giving it. No student walks out of Mr. Swanson’s class without meaningfully thanking him for the work he’s done to help them and returning the wealth of love he has given them. Following Mr. Swanson’s example, I know that what I can give to others is how I should define how wealthy I am because to help others by selflessly giving one’s time, knowledge, love, guidance and even money, is one of the noblest things a human can do.