A/N: This is my speech for Academic Decathlon this year. Or, some of it is; I had to cut a lot of material from the final in order for it to make time, but I really wanted to share the original.
Once upon a time, in the early years of my life, my father would always read me a story before I went to bed. Alice and the creatures of Wonderland, Franklin the turtle, the Bernstein Bears—these were all beloved bedtime friends. But my favorite stories, the ones I asked for over and over again, were the fairy tales. And not the original fairy tales, with their gruesome twists and darkness around every corner. No, I liked the sugar-coated, "Disney-fied" fairy tales, the ones that indisputably ended with the words "happily ever after." I loved those endings so much that I truly believed happily ever after existed.
And then, when I was three, my parents went through a bitter divorce. My father has never remarried, and my mother has since been divorced four more times. After watching the most recent of those breakups, I found myself cursing the stories I had once loved. I didn't believe in "once upon a time" anymore, let alone "happily ever after." To my disillusioned eyes, knights in shining armor were more often losers in aluminum foil, and the only sunset I saw anyone riding off into was the one caused by air pollution.
Along with cursing the fairy tales I had grown up with, I found myself wondering why I had ever believed in happy endings in the first place. Obviously, I had been tricked, lied to, bamboozled by the masses. Now, however, I often find myself reaching for those happy endings when I'm feeling down and out, and I have a reached conclusion: I believed because I wanted to. We all believed because we wanted to.
It's human nature, something we're programmed for. We believe because belief gives us hope, the gift at the bottom of Pandora's Box when all the sorrows were released. We believe in fairy tales, or at least what they represent, because on some level we want our own lives to be that way. We want the division between white and black to be clear. We want good to triumph over evil, light to defeat darkness. We want to believe that the boy gets the girl after saving the world; indeed, that the world can even be saved. We want to believe in the power of redemption and new beginnings, and that true love really does exist, and that it really can conquer all.
But the fact of the matter is, life isn't fair. We are not guaranteed happy endings. Too often the villain wins, the hero loses, and the world mourns. Poverty and crime are on the rise; drugs and war decimate lives every day. Adversity is all around us, and too often it wins despite all we do to combat it. At these times, we want to believe in fairy tales more than ever, because in fairy tales, life is fair, and fairness is what we desire. Cinderella may have to endure an evil stepmother, but in the end the glass slipper fits and she gets the prince. Snow White is tossed out of her home and dies after eating a poisoned apple, but true love's kiss grants her a new beginning. Sleeping Beauty is cursed and remains in a coma for a hundred years, but in the end she too receives the famous happily ever after.
There's a lesson to be learned from all of this. Through all of the adversity, the poisoned apples, the evil stepmothers, and the ensorcelled spindles, the protagonists of fairy tales prevail, and are given their just reward. On some level, we've all recognized this—and we want it to be true for us, too. We want to be one of those one-in-a-million cases where we get all the rewards we deserve; we want the miracles. We want to be the ones living in a happy marriage for fifty years and more, we want to be ones reaching the goal we've always strived for. And deep down, we know we can have those miracles, because happy endings do occur—they exist, just as promised in the fairy tales I loved so much.
Fairy tales didn't lie to me as a child; they just glossed over the truth. With years behind me, few as they may be, I've come to see that there is wisdom in fairy tales. This wisdom tells us that happy endings do exist, though they may not last forever, and that the only way to find them is to keep hoping, keep believing, and keep looking. Happy endings do exist in our world, though they may be hidden by adversity, under mountains of poisoned apples and through forests of enchanted spindles, guarded by battalions of evil stepmothers. Our difficulty comes when we find ourselves facing these obstacles and forget that we're simply in the middle of the story; we haven't yet reached the end, which could be very happy indeed.
I think, on some level, I have always believed in happy endings, even when I swore up and down I would never believe again. I still wished on stars and sighed over fairy tales, looked forward to every day with the thought of, "Maybe this is it! Maybe this is the day my Prince Charming will sweep me off my feet!" Consequently, happy endings have always been a part of my life, as they are a part of so many of our lives, on one level or another. We believe in happy endings because they give us hope to cling to; the hope that everything works out in our favor, and that we will have a legacy to leave behind. We believe in happy endings because we want them to exist—and they do. We just have to work a little harder to reach them. And if we do, we may all get the chance to someday live happily ever after.