This is the 19th year that the Gallery of Diamonds has held the contest, said owner Michael Watson, who in honor of both his biological and adoptive mothers began the contest as a "celebration of all mothers in the world."
"Our mission as a company is for every child to be able to do what these kids have done," Watson said. "Whether they win a stone or not, they take the time to compose their thoughts on paper and read those words aloud … and when you read something aloud, something magical happens — those words become very real."
The annual contest draws an average of 20,000 entries from grades 1 to 12 countywide.
Xu's mother, Hong Xu, knew of her 13-old-son's participation in the contest because it was a school assignment, but was still surprised when his teacher called to notify her of the winning entry.
"I was so moved, almost to tears," Hong Xu said. "It is such an honor that he won the contest. We support him at home, and the school supports him, too, through a rigorous curriculum."
Xu had submitted a poem about his mother in which he describes being affected by the "infinite compelling wisdom of her words."
The entry "stuck a chord" in Watson and the 23 other Orange County teachers enlisted to help read though the piles of handwritten and typed entries, he said.
In addition to giving the two first-place winners each a loose diamond, valued at $650 each, 8,000 other entries were selected to be recognized through a gift of a garnet or amethyst gemstone.
The runners-up are invited to bring their mothers into the store in the coming weeks to collect their prize, Watson said.
However, before they can collect their prize, the students must first read their entries out loud to bring forth the true value of the contest, Watson said.
"Any mom will tell you, those essays are worth a million dollars — way more than any diamond," Watson said.