For senior STAR student, Jessica Lao, writing and art has always been a passion and even a potential career path. This past January, Lao was honored with the 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Award for her critical essay The Wordsmith As Worldsmith in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, personal memoir “Letter, Overdue”, and poem “Bildungsroman at Home”. The Scholastic Art and Writing Award, presented by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, works to identify high school students for their exemplary artistic or literary talent. In a pool of over 330,000 applicants, the regional level recognized approximately 90,000 works.
“I would have never imagined myself as a writer two years ago,” said Lao. “I only submitted art or I did not submit at all.”
Over the past three years, Lao has developed close relationships with many of the Upper School English teachers. Although hesitant at first, Lao was encouraged by her mentor Jesse Breite to join the Writing Fellows program offered at Westminster. The program shapes young writers into writing “tutors” for their peers.
“It’s a really great program and I am really lucky to have it,” said Lao.
Teacher Jennifer Dracos-Tice commends Lao for her openness and eager embrace to the works of many genres in literature.
“She is humble, self-effacing, and at the same time, she has done a lot of work to support the writing of students here and elsewhere,” said Dracos-Tice.
Not only has Lao been an exceptional contributor to the Westminster community, she has also transformed as a writer herself. Her first writing submission back in 2018 was a flash fiction piece that was less than one thousand words. However, in Lao’s 2019 submissions, she explored many different genres, starting with her critical essay. The Wordsmith As Worldsmith in Shakespeare’s As You Like It had initially been an assignment for her AP English Literature class. However, Lao took a specific interest on American literary critic, Harold Bloom. With the help of Breite, Lao pushed boundaries by using textual backing, which truly allowed her paper to stand out.
“Working with her and getting her to think in different ways about her writing and writing in general is just what I tried to do. Not only was she such a talented analytical interpreter, but she also took suggestions from everyone,” said Breite. “Considering the reading and experience she had and her openness to take suggestion and to do something meaningful with the suggestions is one of the things that makes her such a talented writer and thinker and really such a generous person. Students aren’t always like that.”
Lao’s other submissions, “Letter, Overdue”and “Bildungsroman at Home” tapped into a more personal side of her writing. “I think what has mostly changed over the years is that I hated writing before, because it meant confronting the things that I thought or suppressed,” said Lao. “I really disliked when people read my work and the act of writing it out was almost too confrontational for me. So I only wrote literary criticism piece. But I have definitely progressed, especially through my personal memoir and poem.”
Lao’s sophomore year English teacher, Dr. Reanna Ursin, notes that Jessica’s many awards were not surprising.
“Jessica writes beautifully; she has an expansive vocabulary that allows her to add turns of phrase and flourishes that really showcase her ideas. Writing is one of her talents, she’s always pushing herself to improve,” said Ursin.
Leaving a lasting impression on her teachers and fellow peers, Harvard bound, Jessica Lao, continues to explore the various genres of literature and pushes the boundaries in her writing. Beyond her high school achieves, Lao hopes to continue pursuing writing as a career in the future. “I have always wanted to be an English professor,” said Lao. “Literary criticism has always been something I found fascinating: the idea that a piece of text is infinite because there are infinite ways to look at it.”