Manhasset 11-year-old places first in state for essay contest

Rose Weldon
11-year-old Maddie Garbus, left, a student in Patricia Russac's, right, sixth grade class at Buckley Country Day School in North Hills, came first in New York State for the InvestWrite essay competition. (Photos courtesy of the Buckley Country Day School)

A sixth-grader at the Buckley Country Day School in North Hills has placed first in the state in an essay contest held by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s SIFMA Foundation.

Madeleine “Maddie” Garbus, an 11-year-old resident of Manhasset, entered in the middle school division of the fall 2020 InvestWrite essay contest after playing its accompanying Stock Market Game in her teacher Patricia Russac’s class at Buckley. On April 13, Madeleine was asked to sit in on a Zoom conference with her teacher and representatives from the SIFMA Foundation.

“At first they were talking about like the Stock Market Game, and I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe they’re just talking about the one for spring,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, OK,'”  Madeleine  said in a Zoom interview. “And then my parents get on and they started talking about the fall, and saying things that I put in my essay. And I’m like, ‘Wait a second, I submitted that,’ and then they said the title of my essay, and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I won!'”

Last fall, she was one of thousands of students across the country taking part in SIFMA’s Stock Market Game, where teams of students compete while learning about economics, investing, personal finance and financial independence. During the game, Madeleine learned about environmental technology companies, most notably Tesla and how its founder Elon Musk decided to take on electric cars.

“No one believed in [Musk] because it was all about electric cars, and back then when he started, there’s only fossil fuels, so no one believed in him,” she said. “He had to overcome his fears to actually like submit the idea and go forward with it.”

Already interested in the environment and green tech, Madeleine found inspiration in the story.

“I feel like I would support companies more if they go green and they don’t use fossil fuel because that really affects the environment, and we only have one planet,” she said.

After the completion of the Stock Market Game, for the fall 2020 InvestWrite competition students were asked to write about how they’ve adapted to change at some point in their lives, how a publicly traded company has adapted to change, and how that company’s stock could be combined with other stocks, bonds or mutual funds to create a successful long-term portfolio.

Russac usually makes the essay a chance for extra credit for her students, but opted not to last fall since her students were adjusting to the pandemic. But in October,  Madeleine approached her and asked if she could enter.

“Maddie had been persistent in asking me about this competition; she’s pretty competitive,” Russac said, also at the Zoom interview. “So I said, ‘If you want to, do it. Go ahead and write it and then send it to me, and I will submit it.”

Usually, Russac says, she receives about 20 essay submissions per semester from her classes. But in the fall,  Madeleine’s would be the only one submitted.

In her essay, titled “Fear is Hope,” she drew on her experience in the Stock Market Game, her passion for the environment and what she had learned about Tesla, as well as an intimidating moment in her own life.

“Fear has been the greatest obstacle that I’ve needed to overcome,” her winning essay begins. “It started a long time ago when I did not want to go on this huge, scary-looking water slide. All my friends were like, come on don’t be afraid. That was precisely what I was feeling, and that is ok. I was younger and had to prove myself worthy of being friends with them. So, I shakily climbed up those steps, wanting to prove that my friendship with them was so strong I would be willing to attempt the most feared slide. Even adults were intimidated by it. Then, that is when it hit me. Why do I need to do something I don’t want to? Real friends would never force me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. That is the moment I changed. I realized that if I did not want to lose my friends then I would have to do what they told me. This is what I was most afraid of. I had to adapt and change myself to have the strength and courage to say no.”

Madeleine’s success has prompted more students to enter the contest in the spring, Russac says.

“This spring we’re doing it full fledged like I can normally do it,” Russac said. “I gave out the spring stock market assignment [shortly before Garbus won], and I thought, Maddie would be a great catalyst. And I got quite a few submissions.”

A longtime teacher of the Stock Market Game who has seen groups of her students be ranked at the state and national levels of the middle school division, Russac said that Madeleine’s  “inquisitive” nature was instrumental in her success.

“This was something Maddie wanted to pursue,” Russac said. “And she is very, a very good student who likes to know new things. She’s very inquisitive and curious, which is really great as a teacher.”

For any other student who wishes to enter a similar essay contest, Madeleine recommends research and persistence.

“It’s gonna be very difficult at first, but even though it’s difficult just remember that at the end it gets way easier,” she said. “You just need to get the facts down, and then it will be way easier, so don’t give up in the beginning. If it’s hard, just keep going through.”

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