Scholastic awards announced

While students at Westminster are often known and recognized for their superior STEM and athletic ability, the Westminster writing and art communities have experienced a renaissance partially due to many programs such as Evolutions, Writing Fellows, Embryo, and our very own Bi-Line. This fall, 29 Upper School students submitted their critical essays, poetry, short stories, portfolios, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and drawings to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. As the self-described “longest running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition initiative for creative teens,” the Scholastic group recently released their awards. The result? Fourteen gold keys, 25 silver keys and 32 honorable mentions.

Junior Maya Manley, a recipient of a gold key for poetry, has also published A Decade and a Half, a collection of poems, which has received multiple five-star reviews online.

“I submitted some new stuff that hadn’t really been edited much along with some poetry from my book,” said Manley.

Manley’s book revolves around her life and identity.

“One of the major themes of the works was identity and blackness, which focused on the current climate in America and around the world,” said Manley. “It focused on my personal identity as a black woman. It’s a lot about me.”

Writing Fellows coordinator Jennifer Dracos-Tice sponsored Manley’s submission to the Scholastic awards, and enjoyed witnessing Manley’s book improve.

“I’ve worked with Maya very closely. Her book is an array of her experiences. It’s a hybrid of poetry, prose poetry and lined poetry, and it’s really beautiful,” said Dracos-Tice. “Maya’s been a part of several workshops with visiting writers, where she has learned from the best.”

Although Manley’s work has been praised by would-be critics and teachers alike, she still retains a sense of modesty.

“It was kind of shocking when it happened,” said Manley. “I read the email and the first line was ‘Congrats’ and then I just kind of screamed. Everyone started paying attention to me and wondering if it was okay.”

Dracos-Tice is a little hesitant to take credit for the re-emergence and success of writing in the Upper School.

“Maya’s writing is something that the school complements and gives opportunities to, but it is something that she has pursued outside of school,” said Dracos-Tice. “She didn’t need the school to get her started on it.”

Junior Jessica Lao submitted three flash fictions, “Cicadas,” “Sunday Classified,” and “Fliker,” to the Scholastic group along with two critical essays, “On Asian-Anti Blackness” and “Blurred Lines.”

“I don’t have the attention span to write a short story, so I build up a lot of flash fiction works that are less than 1,000 word scenes,” said Lao. “‘Cicadas’ was based on a comment from an old friend about ‘cicada summers’ that was such a young adult-coming-of-age cliche that it ended up as something both satirical and sentimental.”

In addition to lighter writings, Lao has also taken strong stances on controversial social issues.

“‘On Asian Anti-Blackness’ and ‘Blurred Lines’ were both social commentary essays about activism and assimilation,” said Lao. “The latter was based on Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.”

Dracos-Tice points to Lao’s essay on White Teeth as a test to Lao’s passion and skill.

“She’s writing about things that are not in the Westminster curriculum,” said Dracos-Tice. “She’s writing critically about books that we aren’t teaching and topics we aren’t focusing our curriculum on. She’s got a curiosity that expands beyond the Upper School curriculum.”

In a similar manner to Manley, Lao was not expecting national recognition.

“Honestly, I thought the things that won were some of the worst things I’ve made, and some better works didn’t win, but I’m honored that any of my work was chosen at all,” said Lao.

Other gold key recipients for the writing section included senior Anna Wilkinson, sophomore Meimei Xu, and senior Albert Zhang.

While Upper School writing enthusiasts certainly won a large number of awards, artists also won many awards.

Junior Eva Batelaan won two silver keys and a gold key for her artistic submissions. Her gold key winner is a part of her AP portfolio.

Homage to Sweeney is a bunch of pieces from my concentration. I was looking on Pinterest, Google images, and some other forums, and I ran across a guy named Richard Sweeney,” said Batelaan. “I thought his work was just beautiful because he curved paper into these organic forms. I was trying to imitate that in a way but also make it my own by making it more architectural.”

Art teacher Benjamin Steele has witnessed Batelaan grow into an impressive artist during the last two years.

“She’s really done incredibly well in all of her art classes in the Upper School. It’s really tough to use paper and bend it due to its fragility over a three week period,” said Steele. “Another strength I see is that she is always up for revising her art.”

Although Batelaan has reached unprecedented artistic heights, she was nonetheless excited at her recognition.

“I didn’t think that I would get the gold key,” said Batelaan. “The painting was won was not necessarily my favorite. It was interesting to see what they liked versus what myself and Mr. Steele liked. It really just is an honor to get an award at all.”

Other gold key winners in art included seniors Albert Zhang and Cyan D’Anjou.