Two seniors, three juniors, and a sophomore earned distinction in a field of nearly 350,000 students last month when the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (SAWA) named them among its 3,259 national medalists—an honor given to only the top 1 percent of 2018 submissions, according to SAWA’s National Medalist Newsletter.
Laila Shadid ’19 and Yliuz Sierra Marin ’18 each wrote a personal essay that received a gold medal, and Yliuz also landed the Best-In-Grade Award—a distinction given to just two artists and two writers in the country per grade and accompanied by a $500 award. Claudia Inglessis ’18, Emory Sabatini ’18, Halley Douglas ’19, and Sylvia Murphy ’20 also received silver medals.
Laila submitted a personal essay called “Last Words,” in which she tells the story of discovering her father’s work in journalism before he passed away in 2012. She describes him being whisked away to the Middle East to fulfill his reporting duties, and she re-imagines the desert where he crossed the border from Syria to Turkey. She also recounts her plane ride to Lebanon en route to her ancestral home.
“I decided to submit this piece after exploring what writing meant to my father and what writing means to me,” Laila said. “I had been working on the piece for a while and thought, ‘Why not see what will happen?’”
As a result, she said, her writing was recognized for the first time.
“I was very surprised and obviously very happy,” she said. “It felt good to be recognized for putting myself out there and sharing a story that’s really emotional for me and really hard for me to come to terms with.”
Yliuz submitted “Curandera in the 21st Century,” a personal essay about growing up in Colombia and experiencing the folk remedies prevalent in his grandmother’s home.
“I tried to be genuine about my culture and to represent what it is like to grow up somewhere else,” Yliuz said.
Yliuz said he originally wrote the piece for US English Teacher Allison Kornet’s senior course, True Stories and the Personal Essay, and that Ms. Kornet pushed him to submit something to the contest, either a writing portfolio or a single essay.
In the essay he chose, Yliuz describes one ceremony in which he was bathed with the broth of a cow’s poll before his own baptism—an example of how his family managed a curious blend of Colombia’s pre-colonial traditions and Catholicism.
“It was great to see my writing be recognized by such a large institution and to see my culture recognized at such a high level,” Yliuz said. “It would have been amazing at a school level, but at a national level, it was unbelievable.”
When SAWA hosts its national medalist ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 7, Yliuz plans to attend with his grandmother—the same one that appears in his essay—who is very excited for the celebration, he reported.
Sylvia submitted “The Polyphonic Year,” a short story that she wrote for US English Teacher Rob Leith’s freshman class and that drew from her personal connections to New Hampshire and her memories of living there. The piece describes the changing seasons and their accompanying sights, sounds, and smells.
Sylvia said she was compelled to write the story because of her concern that as she grew older, she wouldn’t be spending as much time in her family’s house, which she used to visit each summer and on weekends during the school year.
“I wanted to immortalize the memory of New Hampshire so I can look back on that story and feel the same way I do when I’m there,” Sylvia said.
“In all honesty, winning feels really good,” she added. “It’s great to know that people who don’t even know me still like what I write.”
Mr. Leith said he was very pleased with Sylvia’s piece.
“My first and continuing reaction was that it is one of the finest ninth grade papers I have read in my 39 years teaching at BB&N—perhaps one of the best creative papers I’ve read by a student in any grade.”
Emory submitted an eight-piece portfolio of poems that he wrote independently of class and had never shown to anyone, he said.
“I had no idea whether or not I was any good,” he said, adding that the experience was gratifying and self-assuring. “I put myself out there, and people approved.”
Halley submitted “Going Back to the Start,” a short story, and Claudia submitted two poems, “today” and “sigh.”
“I was not at all expecting a national award. It is so incredible to see a piece of your own writing get recognition from others, especially knowing how amazing all the other submissions must have been,” Halley said.
Founded in 1923, SAWA is a nonprofit organization that recognizes students in grades seven through 12 for talent in art and writing. This year, 90,000 entrants were awarded the regional gold medals needed to qualify for national adjudication.