Each year, Virginia Tech choses a book to provide to all incoming freshmen to help them create a sense of community. This year’s pick, “Little Princes” — the remarkable story of author Conor Grennan’s quest to reunite children in a Nepalese orphanage with their parents after the ravages of war — has the unusual honor of being chosen two years in a row

In light of the book’s thought-provoking themes, the university sponsored a essay contest for all students using the prompt “What value or belief is important to you and how do you demonstrate it?” Two juniors in the college were among the 23 winners, who had the privilege of meeting the author at a private reception.

Wildlife conservation major David Tilson of Lexington, Virginia, wrote about how we can use “life’s mishaps and awkward moments as a tool to connect us to others.” Tilson, who describes himself as reserved, said that his initial intimidation at the formal reception with the author was quickly put at ease by Grennan’s relaxed manner. “He directed the whole discussion with the fluidity and ease of casual conversation,” Tilson recalled.

Elena Mircoff of Gaithersburg, Maryland, who is majoring in wildlife conservation and biological sciences, wrote about her insatiable desire for knowledge about the natural world. She explained how her interest in biology spans everything from impromptu frog dissections to doing research with her professors. Mircoff was surprised to discover Grennan had originally written the book as a blog, with no intentions of publishing it. “It really showed that life is about taking opportunities as they appear,” she said.

The essay contest is a perfect example of this sentiment. Both students, who expressed surprise and gratitude at being honored for their work, agreed this is an opportunity they are glad they took.