A poet who knows it: senior Sarah Lao’s expert craft

Westminster senior Sarah Lao is a most impressive student. As a member of Harvard’s class of 2025, a Coca-Cola Scholar, and a National Merit Scholar, Lao has already built herself a pretty robust resume. But while she has earned awards and honors in so many different areas, her true passion lies in the craft of writing.

“Sarah is an excellent writer,” said English teacher Jennifer Dracos-Tice. “Her language is extremely powerful yet lyrical, and you can feel her emotion and passion when you read her work.”

Dracos-Tice, who has gotten to know Lao and her writing through Evolutions and the Writing Center, praises Sarah for her discipline and dedication to her craft.

“What I love about Sarah is that she is able to take advantage of the school’s resources in addition to finding her own,” said Dracos-Tice. “She just loves to write and yet she’s always experimenting and trying to improve, which is what distinguishes her from the rest.”

While Lao has experimented with many different genres of writing, like creative nonfiction and fiction in prose, poetry is her preferred style, a love that sparked during the poetry project in Mr. Finsthwait’s ninth-grade English class.

“Poetry is my favorite because there is so much freedom in it,” said Lao. “In terms of narrative or style, you could really do whatever you want and it will turn out interesting.”

Each of her poems is inspired differently and focuses on different subjects, but Lao uses the same process to write her poetry every time. 

“I always write my first draft on the computer and edit it by hand on paper,” said Lao. “And after I finish a draft, I always let it simmer in my mind for the next few days before changing what I don’t like. I usually go through about five versions of a poem before I end up with a final draft.”

Lao’s process is tried and true; her poetry has been published in renowned literature magazines and has earned her over a dozen awards and honors, including the 2020 Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize, and most recently, first place in Narrative magazine’s “Tell Me a Story” international poetry competition. 

Her winning poem, titled “Triptych,” focuses on the themes of escape and religion, and tells a story of her own connections to faith. 

“Being at Westminster has exposed me to a lot of religion, especially after coming from a public school where it was not taught, and I think that gives me a unique perspective on religion itself,” said Lao. “I’ve always been intrigued by this idea of a God, and in this poem I try to explore this faith and my perspective on it.”

Lao doesn’t just write poetry— she edits and curates the writing of others as well. As the founder and editor-in-chief of EX/POST magazine, a literary and arts journal, Lao has developed a love for editing.

“I’ve found that not only do I really like to write, I like to edit too,” says Lao. “It’s been one of my favorite things to do as a writer, to be an editor and to look at other people’s writing, and when you do that you are very in tune with what that person is thinking about at that time.” 

Being online this semester, Lao has found that being at home has given her the opportunity to spend more time on improving and experimenting with her writing.

“I’ve been writing a lot more while at home,” says Lao. “I think it’s not just having more free time, but that I feel this sense of urgency in needing to put something out on the page.”

Lao, who initially began writing as a private outlet for her own emotions, has transformed her work into a powerful voice in a lively community full of people eager to share their ideas. 

“Although writing can be a very solitary activity, the community itself is so vibrant and you make connections with other writers that can last for a very long time,” says Lao. 

Not only is Lao a member of the global writing community, she is an active participant in the writing community here at Westminster as well and has formed deep bonds with her peers and teachers.
“While technically I am Sarah’s teacher, she has taught me just as much about writing as I have taught her,” said Dracos-Tice. “She’s not a student writer. Sarah Lao is, truly, an educator and a poet.”