Golden Gate Park

Local Students Win Top Honors in Essay Contest

Winnie Quock, a recent graduate of George Washington High School in the Richmond District, was awarded a $2,500 prize after she placed first in the San Francisco Historical Society’s annual Fracchia Prize writing competition.

Essay photo Winnie RR 11-20Winnie Quock (center) poses with her family as she proudly displays her first place award from the San Francisco Historical Society for her essay about Golden Gate Park. Quock is a recent graduate of George Washington High School. Story on page 12. Courtesy photo.

Named after Charles Fracchia, the founder of the Historical Society, the Fracchia Prize was established to both cultivate the next generation of San Francisco historians and to give the city’s high school students an opportunity to make a difference in their communities.

This year, in honor of Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary, the Historical Society asked San Francisco high school students to write an essay with the prompt: One perfect day in Golden Gate Park.

“If you’re going to take somebody on a little walking tour of the park, where would you go?” asked Lana Costantini, the Historical Society’s director of education and publishing.

Students were first asked to write briefly about the early history of Golden Gate Park before launching into the bulk of their essay: a themed and guided walking tour in the park.

Asked to select six to eight specific sites to stop at during their walking tour, each student also had to detail the history of every stop they chose.

For her winning essay, entitled “Botany and Horticulture: Symbols of Flourishing Against the Odds,” Quock chose to explore the park as a site of diversity and inclusion.

“Today, Golden Gate Park is not only known for its diversity of flora and horticulture, but also its reputation as ‘Everybody’s Park,’” Quock writes in her essay. “The park reflects both the acknowledgement of every individual with their own rights and of the struggle through hardships to emerge flourishing and unbeaten.”

The six stops on Quock’s walking tour are the Rhododendron Dell; the de Young Museum; the Japanese Tea Garden; the California Academy of Sciences; the Shakespeare Garden and the Botanical Garden.

Quock said she chose these sites because each exemplifies the idea of thriving against all odds. For example, the Shinto shrine within the Japanese Tea Garden was destroyed during World War II. Although much of the original tea garden was lost, it is currently undergoing a $2 million restoration effort and it recently reopened to the public following a COVID-19-related closure.

Reflecting on her own favorite memories in Golden Gate Park, Quock spoke about going to Teen Science Night at the Academy of Sciences and exploring her favorite exhibit, the planetarium, with her friends. She also mentioned a recent and memorable visit to the rose garden to take her senior portraits.

Quock’s essay shared some overlap with second-place winner Indigo Mudbhary’s essay, entitled “Horticultural History: Learning About San Francisco’s Past Through the Garden Gems of the City’s Favorite Park.” Mudbhary, who is now a junior at Lick-Wilmerding High School, also chose to write about the Shakespeare Garden and the Botanical Garden.

Mudbhary, an avid writer all her life, said it has been a surreal experience to have her writing published in the Historical Society’s newsletter, Panorama. For her essay, Mudbhary wrote about the importance of having a natural space within a bustling city.

Second place winner Indigo Mudbhary with her parents. Courtesy photo.

Though she said Golden Gate Park has been an especially cherished escape during quarantine, Mudbhary’s favorite memories of the park were the weekend runs she went on with her dad last year in preparation for a marathon they ran together.

“Our runs had to be 20 or 23 miles, and we covered so much ground in the park,” she recalled. “You start in one part of the park that has a completely different vibe and you end up on what feels like the other side of town, but you’re still in the same park.”

Third-place winner Luke Zepponi, now a junior at Abraham Lincoln High School, centered his Fracchia Prize-winning essay on his favorite pastime in Golden Gate Park — horseshoe pitching.

Luke Zepponi displays his award flanked by his parents. Courtesy photo.

Zepponi’s essay, entitled “It’s a Ringer! One Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park,” guides the reader through a figure-eight-shaped walking tour. Starting at the park’s Horseshoe Courts, Zepponi includes stops such as the Phil Arnold Oak Woodlands Nature Trail, unveiled last year, and the Fuchsia Dell.

The founder of his school’s horseshoe club, Zepponi has competed and placed in local, state and world horseshoe pitching tournaments.

This year’s writing competition was the second year the Fracchia Prize was held. Ray Lent and his partners at Placer Partners funded this year’s competition, which included the cost of the award money for the three finalists as well as the cost of mailing and advertising.

Costantini said the Historical Society briefly considered calling off this year’s competition because of COVID chaos, but instead they decided to amp up advertising efforts and extend the deadline. Ultimately, there were a total of 25 submissions from public and private high schools throughout the city, including Washington, Lowell, Lincoln, Saint Ignatius, Balboa, Lick-Wilmerding, Gateway, Galileo and Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“I was happy with the number that we got,” Costantini said. “I wish it was 100, but I’ll deal with 25.”

Speaking to the high quality of this year’s submissions, Costantini emphasized how impressed she was that the young applicants were able to create an effective walking tour that was also tied together thematically.

“You can easily talk about the facts of a place and how it came to be, but to weave it into a narrative that connects who we are with where we’ve come from and what the parks means to us today in the context of its history, that’s more of a challenge,” she said.

In addition to Costantini, this year’s panel of judges included high school and college teachers, two individuals from San Francisco Recreation and Parks, a member of the board of directors for the walking tour program City Guides as well as Charles Fracchia himself.

At a virtual awards ceremony held on Sept. 22 that took place over Zoom, Mayor London Breed honored Quock, Mudbhary and Zepponi.

“I want to make sure you remember this incredible moment and take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you,” Breed told the three award winners. “You all can be the hope for a better future because of what you bring to the table [and] because of how you touch the hearts and minds of people.”

Quock said she was honored that the mayor made time to both acknowledge the importance of reflecting on San Francisco’s history and to recognize the insight the city’s younger generation brings to the table.

“A lot of adults tend to dismiss the youth,” Quock said. “But we’re still able to learn just as much as anyone else can.”

Also present at the virtual awards ceremony was Quock’s former teacher from George Washington High School, Barbara Brewer.

“I really trust her expertise when it comes to writing, that’s why I wanted to ask for pointers to help improve my writing piece,” Quock said. “I also wanted her to come to the ceremony [because] it’s something she helped me achieve and I really appreciate her for that.”

This fall, Quock began her first year at UCLA. Although she remains passionate about history and writing, Quock is also passionate about combating climate change, which is why she has decided to major in civil engineering.

“As a civil engineer designing systems that would help protect or mitigate the effect from climate change … that is a way I can impact the world in my own small way,” she said.

Quock’s winning essay will be published in the San Francisco Historical Society’s history journal, The Argonaut. The guided walking tours created by Quock, Mudbhary and Zepponi will be made available to the public in Spring 2021 in the format of a brochure as well as a mobile app.

2 replies »

  1. Congratulations to Winnie, Indigo and Luke!! with an added congratulations to all students who entered this competition!! I had the pleasure of working with Winnie Quock when she was the president of George Washington High School’s writing club. Her leadership and passion for writing inspired many classmates to enter their own pieces in to GWHS’s yearly writing anthology. It is a gift that Winnie and these other talented young writers are now sharing their thoughts and perspectives through writing with the San Francisco Historical Society and all of us. Thank you!!

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