“Writing reminds me of the power of language. Often it can be hard to share an experience with others who have never had the same feelings as me, but stories have that unique power to connect the author with her readers—that's also why I love reading others' works as sometimes, I can see myself in them,” explains Cindy, Grade 11.
Cindy is one of two students who were recently named the winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Grade 10 student Mani is the other award recipient.
Since 1923, the Scholastic Awards have recognized some of North America’s most celebrated artists when they were teenagers, including Andy Warhol, Tschabalala Self, Stephen King, Charles White, Joyce Carol Oates and Kay Walkingstick.
In the category, Personal Essay & Memoir, Cindy won two Scholastic Awards—an honourable mention for her piece, “Black Dress or Red Dress?” as well as a Gold Key award for her piece, “Blending in to Diversity.” Mani is also a Gold Key winner in the category of Short Story for her piece, “Scar Tissue.”
Gold Key works automatically advance to the national level of adjudication in New York City, and National Medalists will be announced on March 23, 2022.
Teacher Marc Labriola works alongside Cindy and Mani as a creative writing mentor, to help them edit and refine their writing before they enter it in the competition.
“I am extremely grateful to be always supported and inspired by my teachers at Branksome to accomplish this,” said Cindy, who hopes to pursue something related to literature in the future.
This was Cindy’s first writing competition and she knew she wanted to write something about her personal experience, including her struggles, “striving to be the ‘real’ Chinese-Canadian that I dreamt to be,” she explained. “In the beginning, I really wanted to write about the stereotypes that I faced when I first moved from China to Canada, but as I started writing, I wondered why and how those stereotypes developed, and why I actually attempted to embrace them.”
“In the end, the writing process had not only become a narration of my experience but also a kind of reflection upon my individual identity, and the definition of diversity and acceptance,” she continued. “When I saw the personal essay & memoir category, I told myself that this was the opportunity for me to express myself and share my story with others.”
For Mani, the idea for her short story came in English class last year, when they were asked to include a moral dilemma in their final Assessment of Learning (AOL). “In class, we discussed many ethical dilemmas such as the ‘trolley problem,’ and that influenced me to centre my story on the question of ‘who gets to decide who lives and who dies during extraordinary circumstances?’” she explained. “I've always been really interested in medicine and the ethics involved in being a doctor, so I was very inspired to write about it.”
Mani also feels that watching 17 seasons of the TV show Grey's Anatomy helped her to learn a lot of medical terminology. “Drafting the story was pretty easy,” she said. “Before I started writing, I talked with Mr. Labriola and we worked out the details of the moral dilemma and how it would all lead up to the twist at the end, so I had the plot pretty figured out. I made a little list at the top of my page with the main plot points and as I was writing, I made sure that I was including all of them.”
Mani knows that writing is an important skill to have both personally and professionally, once she enters the working world. “I really enjoy writing,” she said. “It's a really great way to process my feelings and the things that are happening in my life. A career in writing could definitely be cool but even if I choose a different path, I think that it's super-valuable to be able to articulate your thoughts. It is an important skill that will be beneficial in any job.”
Both students were thrilled to learn of their awards.
“When I found out I won, I was really happy and proud of myself,” Mani said. “When writing this story, I only viewed it as an assignment for school and never thought it was going to get recognition from such a big writing competition. I knew the results were coming out on January 28 and I kept refreshing my dashboard in the morning and nothing was coming up, so I assumed I hadn't won anything. I was totally fine with that because I didn't have many expectations when submitting it, but when I checked back later and saw that I had won a Gold Key, I was so excited.”
For Cindy, it reinforced her view that writing connects people.
“I always believed that personal stories can have irreplicable power that directly connects individuals, and I was especially inspired after exploring how stories give readers access to the author's emotional truth in my DP Literature class this year,” she said. “This award just proved to me how it is possible to connect with someone out there through my writing—and that connection itself is very rewarding to me.”
Congratulations Cindy and Mani and we look forward to seeing the results of the national competition on March 23!