In this year’s national competition, Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (SAWA) gave silver medals to Avik Sarkar ’19 for his poem about the obstacles illegal immigrants face when coming to the United States and to Cearah Peck ’16 for her writing portfolio of personal essays.
Submissions that earn Gold Key recognition in the regional contest qualify for the national competition—an honor earned by 13 Upper School (US) students this year. Out of 320,000 students who entered the competition, 2,400 received awards nationally, according to SAWA’s website.
Avik wrote his poem, “Illegal,” last year for The Spark, the Middle School (MS) newspaper. MS English Teacher Ethan Rossiter first introduced Avik to the competition when Avik was in seventh grade, and as Avik missed last year’s deadline, he submitted this year.
“I knew I wanted to do something with a political message, so that’s why I wrote a poem about illegal immigrants and the struggles they face,” Avik said. “Usually once I have an idea, the writing naturally flows.”
MS English Teacher and Spark Faculty Advisor Betsey Canaday gave Avik’s writing high praise.
“Avik is a brilliant writer who cares deeply about using language artfully,” she said. “He has a sophisticated sense of words as artistic medium that is very unusual in a student his age.”
Cearah wrote the four essays comprising her portfolio that earned a silver medal for an assignment in US English Teacher Allison Kornet’s senior elective, True Stories and the Personal Essay. She said her pieces focus on themes of mental illness, social anxiety, small annoyances, and high school.
“The essays acted as an outlet to figure out how I actually felt about complicated situations and also as a great way to complain about things that really bother me, both big and small,” Cearah said. “[They] are all about ways in which I interact with the world and the people around me.”
Ms. Kornet, who requires all of her senior elective students to submit at least one essay from their portfolios to SAWA, called Cearah a “writer from start.”
“She had the sensibility and the internal voice, the poetic lens and the fleeting inspiration,” Ms. Kornet said. “What the course gave her, I think, was confidence and follow-through.”
English Department Head Sharon Krauss also encourages students to submit their work to SAWA.
“I think it’s a really great way for students to put their work out there beyond the four walls of the classroom and to realize it has merit and interest to a broader readership,” she said. “It is a scary thing to take that risk intellectually, but I applaud that bravery and encourage students to keep trying.”