SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University science student David Ahern hopes to become a physician some day but could also pursue a career as a professional writer. Ahern recently won first place in the Norton Writer’s Prize competition for an essay from his English 101 class in spring semester 2016.
“I don’t think of myself as a writer. I kind of do it as a hobby,” said Ahern, who began writing stories as a young child and considers it a creative outlet for self-expression.
“It helps me decompress with some stuff. I really enjoy writing a good story,” the junior from Seattle said.
His essay, titled “Ourselves,” is the personal account of his experience recovering (for the first time) the body of an avalanche victim during his time volunteering with King County Search and Rescue during high school.
The assignment from Heath Herrick, senior lecturer, asked students to write a personal story that plays a part in who they are today.
Ahern chose the topic because he wanted to further process the experience, as well as answer some lingering questions.
“It’s honestly something that I hadn’t thought about for two years, because I didn’t want to,” Ahern said. “When I started writing the story there was no theme and there was no message.”
After the writing process, Ahern said he understood more about the experience. He realized that he was trying to convey how we are all connected and that loss is more about the people left behind rather than the person who has passed.
“I was looking for the answer, and I think I got to a theme that was worthy. That was my way of closing up that whole experience and actually taking something away from it,” Ahern said.
Ahern no longer volunteers with King County Search and Rescue but still has connections to friends there and is proud of his work with the organization.
“It’s certainly something I can see myself getting right back into if I was ever to live in Seattle again,” he said.
Read David Ahern’s award-winning essay titled “Ourselves”
He credits Herrick for editing his essay and nominating it for the esteemed literary prize. In February, Ahern received an email that he had won first place, and was stunned. In some ways, he feels he does not deserve the award as he believes the story also belongs to his unit, the victim, and the victim’s family.
“It certainly wasn’t the writing that got the win, I think it was the story and that’s the story that’s not really my own. It’s just something that happened in the world,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t say that the story belongs to me whatsoever.”
Ahern has considered pursuing a writing minor along with his major in biology and a minor in chemistry, but with only one more year until he graduates, he is uncertain if he can fit it into his schedule. He hopes to attend medical school after Gonzaga and has always been fascinated with the study of life.
He plans to keep writing as a hobby so he can continue to process his experiences and express himself.
For his achievement, Ahern thanks Herrick, his search and rescue team, Erin Anderson, and Heather Easterling, associate professor of English, for their encouragement and support. He is also grateful to the competition’s judges.