The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a highly prestigious contest that recognizes the most promising voices in middle and high school. This year, they received 350,000 entries. Only the top 15% of the entries receive an award. All of our eligible students participate, and some submit more than one piece. We had 22 winners!!
Today, we are going to give you some ninth grade winners who submitted through our Composition classes. Adriana H. won Honorable Mention in the Personal Essay category, and Anna F. won Honorable Mention in the Personal Essay category AND in the Short Story category.
Family Doesn’t Have to Be the Ones in My Family Tree
By Adriana H., North Carolina, 9th Grade
Honorable Mention, Personal Essay
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
As an eight-year-old child, that quote meant absolutely nothing to me, not like it does now. But after I met my Godparents, that prayer meant everything to me. It, along with other things, helped me realize that there are just some things that are out of my control. One important lesson I learned is that family doesn’t have to be the ones in my family tree. I learned this truth in two events. One when I was eight and had just met my future Godmother, and the other, when my second cousins came over in Florida for a reunion.
“Cupcakes, paper plates, juice boxes,” my mother continued to read the grocery list while I struggled to keep the cart moving straight. It was October 2016, and my mom and I were shopping for a princess party I was having. As an eight-year-old at the time, I was obsessed with Disney princesses, especially Rapunzel. She’s still my favorite actually. We continued down the baking aisle, grabbing a jar of sprinkles as we went.
“We have everything else. . . I think. Maybe we can- Oh!” She grabbed the side of the cart and we came to a screeching stop at the end of the aisle. She peered around the corner to apologize to the stranger I had almost hit.
I felt as if my soul had left my body when she, along with another woman, screamed in delight. I leaned forward and saw my mom hugging a woman that was way, way taller than her. She had blond hair that fell pin-straight to her shoulders, hazel brown eyes, and peach toned skin. I was confused and nervous, what with being socially awkward, but I noticed it wasn’t the same way with my mom. She looked ecstatic, and kept the conversation flowing smoothly. I stared at the woman for a while, slightly narrowing my eyes. There was something about her, maybe the way she stood, or maybe how she spoke so confidently. Either way, I felt respect for her.
As they talked, I kept looking at my mom, seeing how relaxed she was with the stranger. She definitely wasn’t like this with most of our family. She was always careful with what she said, as to not start “A conversation that will go south.” Certain things are very sensitive in my family, so my parents and I try to keep things neutral in conversations. I later found out that the woman’s name was Donna, and that she was an old friend from New York whom my mom hadn’t seen since I was born. They had lost contact for the past eight years after Donna and her husband moved to North Carolina, and neither my parents nor my now Godparents knew that they had moved to the same state. I’m glad they moved, because I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without them. We spent that Thanksgiving with Donna and her husband, Charles, and that’s when everything changed: Donna said she had worked as a nurse. I had been thinking about choosing nursing as my career at the time, so hearing that piqued my interest. From then on, I began to grow comfortable with her, wanting to learn about nursing more and trying to make sense on whether or not I liked her.
Now, let’s leave 2016 and time travel forward almost six years to when I’m fourteen. Donna and Charles have generously spent almost two years teaching me science and math. They respect my decisions and understand when I go on my introverted, why-did-I-agree-to-this rants. And they understand my dark humor, which is hard, to be honest. Sometimes I don’t even understand it! And thanks to them living only seventeen minutes away, they both know me better than most of my biological family. Never in my life would I have imagined I would get this lucky!
The major difference from conversations with my biological family is how freely I can speak around them––almost too freely. I could say anything, and I mean anything, and they wouldn’t bat an eye. They would ask what made me feel that way and the conversation would continue nicely. I have never really felt comfortable speaking as freely around most of my family. They aren’t as open-minded as my Godparents are with certain topics. And similar with my mom, I would rather keep my mouth shut then have a conversation go south. It is the easiest way to keep the tension out of the reunion, since I, along with some of my blood-family, have a very hard time holding my tongue.
My Godfather has taught me many lessons, including the prayer in the introduction. The most important lesson I learned is: Respect comes first. As I have gotten older, the respect I originally had for my Godparents has increased and I began to understand what he meant by it. He would always say, “I would rather be respected than liked by people.”
That event is in direct contrast to two years earlier. . .
Tick, tick, tick. I hit the air hockey puck over and over again. It was September of 2019; we had invited one of my mom’s cousins to the house we were renting in Florida and while they were all having a great time together, I was in the garage by myself. Willingly, of course. To be honest, I liked being alone. With my anatomy books in hand, I had never needed to socialize like I tried with my biological family. One of my second cousins came into the garage and asked if I wanted to come inside.
“I’m ok, thank you though.” I didn’t look up to respond.
She nodded and walked back into the kitchen where my mom and the rest of my family were talking. They had been here since ten o’clock. Now it was a little after one o’clock and I was done. I had been either ignored or verbally shut down, in a nice way, by the adults, which was fine by me, except don’t tell me I’m not a very talkative person when you just ignored me a second ago! I wanted to go into my room and hide, but I settled for the garage. It wasn’t like my cousins were directly mean to me; I just didn’t like having to answer twenty questions about homeschooling at one time. I preferred adding in little comments here and there to the conversation.
I also disliked having to be careful with what I said, how often I said something, or getting trapped in an uncomfortable topic. Not wanting to be around my biological family seemed so crazy, when family means so much to the Italian culture. And seeing as my mom’s whole family is Italian, it made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I tried being social, but like most times, I got nervous and ended up turning into a stuttering mess. Now I was playing air hockey by myself, in the garage, with a green lizard as my opponent. Wow, I thought to myself. I’m a disaster. The thought brought on a stream of giggles, stopping only when I ran out of air. Yeah, if you couldn’t tell, I’ve always had a very weird sense of humor.
“Adriana!” I jumped when I heard my name being called. It was my mom. Then I groaned, knowing what this meant. Interaction, people, self-embarrassment. Ugh. I put the mallet down and walked out of the garage, into the laundry room, and then into the kitchen. My cousins were gathering their stuff. And as with every Italian family reunion, it took another fifteen minutes for them to leave.
I shut the door, locked it, and then put the deadbolts in place.
“Obsessed much?” my dad asked.
I stuck my tongue out at him as I walked past to my room, my brown curls bouncing with each step. I finally felt more like myself. I have always felt like I have to be someone else around certain family members, which is mainly my own fault, not necessarily my family’s.
Laughing, I stuck my arms up in the air and yelled, “Nintendo Switch here I come!” I could hear my parents’ laugh as I walked into my room.
The sad part was, I was glad my cousins were gone, and I had absolutely no desire to see them again for a while. As an introvert, my blood family can be too much for me at times. There is too much going on with them, whether it be a disagreement, someone in the hospital, or there being decades old grudges. I also am in the younger bunch of my cousins, so when there are the older ones around, I find that I tend to be more distant with others around me.
And that’s how I learned the biggest truth in my life: Family doesn’t have to be the ones in my family tree. I’m glad to have had the honor meet my Godparents and am proud to have them in my non-blood-related family. And I hope I listen to my Godfather when meeting new people. Respect, then like.
Will I Make the Shot?
By Anna F., Pennsylvania, 9th grade
Honorable Mention, Personal Essay
It was the first day of rifle season, and evening was falling. The air was getting colder, but I felt cozy in my multiple layers of camouflage hunting clothes. The sun was beginning to go down, and shadows crept along the edges of the woods. Dad and I perched in our favorite hunting stand, which had walls with windows we could open and shut to your liking, and a door with stairs leading to the ground. We preferred this stand more than the others because of the propane heater below the stand that would heat it up whenever the weather got cold. The windows were positioned to allow our guns to shoot from any angle. We were on our neighbor’s land that he graciously permitted us to hunt on. I held my breath as Dad slid open the window in front of me.
Before us, in the little patch of clearing below in front of the woods, stood two bucks, munching on plants. One was a spike, which is a young buck with only two straight antlers and the other was an eight point.
Shaking with excitement and nervousness, I slid my gun slightly to the left in order to get in a good position so my sights were right on the eight-point. I tried with all of my might to steady myself as I peered through the scope. The buck’s body was not facing us fully yet, and the spike was blocking part of it.
I could not stop my limbs from quaking. Panic rose inside of me, and negative thoughts began to race through my head. What if my shaking caused me to miss the deer? I felt concerned that I might shoot the deer in the wrong spot, and wound it, causing it to slowly die over a long time. This would be my very first buck, and my nervousness would ruin the coordination of following through with the shot, not to mention keeping the crosshairs aimed right behind the deer’s shoulder just the way Dad had taught me.
At the same time, thoughts of excitement were flying in and out of my mind. Look at the rack! Look at the barrel-shaped body! This is my first buck!
Dad whispered encouragement for me to take deep breaths. I obliged, knowing he could probably see how nervous I was. I knew I would have to be patient in order to make a good shot, even though I anticipated the moment my gun would go off. It reminded me of the time I had shot my second doe, which had tried my patience in giving me a good shot as well.
It had been an evening much like this one. Dad and I had been in the same stand, and I had the same gun standing upright in my hands. Does littered the field to our left, and I was waiting patiently for a good-sized one to come sauntering over to where I was comfortable in making the shot.
Finally, a few of them began to come over to the clearing below us, where trees stood blocking my shot. I watched as a particularly nice sized one came over with a smaller deer, and started eating at the edge of the clearing. I made up my mind to shoot the larger one. I turned over my shoulder at Dad who was looking through his binoculars, and told him so.
“Okay,” Dad said, smiling.
We sat waiting for it to quit messing around with the other doe it had come over with, and give us a broadside shot. The doe stood about 40 yards away from us which was close enough, but she was right behind a tree.
Finally, after about 45 minutes, the doe strutted out and began walking broadside to the other end of the clearing, which meant she was in a good position, but speedily moving out of range. Panic rose in my throat.
“It’s walking away!” I hissed in irritation.
Dad quickly opened the window in front of me as quietly as he possibly could, and I stuck the forearm of my rifle onto the sill. The doe continued walking as I caught it through my sights and followed behind the shoulder as it moved.
“It’s not stopping,” my voice quavered.
“Do you want me to bleat at it?” Dad whispered.
I nodded quickly.
“Mett!” Dad said sharply. The doe looked up. “Mett!” Dad said again. The doe stopped.
As quickly as I could, I looked through the sights again, aimed right behind the shoulder, and slowly, ever so slowly, squeezed back the trigger just the way Dad taught me.
“Squeeze the trigger!” Dad said.
“I am,” I replied, trying to squeeze a little harder.
BAM! The gun went off. I jumped as the butt of the rifle kicked into my shoulder blade, and watched the doe run away into the woods. It would die soon, but we would have to track it.
“Good shot!” Dad said encouragingly.
That had been a good hunt, and I had successfully killed the doe.
Taking a deep breath, my mind sauntered back to the present as my eyes focused on the crosshairs, and where they were on the eight-point buck. I made sure my safety was fully off, and I aimed right behind the buck’s shoulder. My arms still quaked, and a little voice inside me was prodding unhelpfully, “You won’t make it.” But I reminded myself that I can do all things through God who gives me strength. Hadn’t that happened when I had shot my second doe?
I squeezed the trigger, and the gun went off. I jumped and gazed at the buck, hopefully. The deer had kicked hard, and his antlers plowed into the ground. “I dropped it! I dropped it!” I hissed in excitement. But Dad was telling me to put another shell in. “I’m trying,” I informed him as I ejected the empty shell and loaded the one below it in the chamber.
But the buck was on the ground, knocked senseless. Breathing sighs of relief, we both high-fived.
“Great job!” Dad said. I beamed. I couldn’t believe it.
We waited a few minutes to make sure the buck wouldn’t rise and began meandering out of the stand down to the deer.
I was overjoyed that I had harvested my very first buck, but I knew if I hadn’t been patient, I wouldn’t have been able to make a good shot. We took a few pictures of me and the buck, and I thanked God that he had enabled me to put more venison into the freezer for our family, which lasted many months. I was very thankful that I learned to be patient and trust in God.
By Anna F., Pennsylvania, 9th grade
Honorable Mention, Short Story (excerpt)
It was a silvery and clear morning in December of 1927. The snow that covered the ground sparkled like glitter. Our jalopy slipped along the icy roads as we made our way to Papa’s house for Christmas. My husband, Will, was driving, his plump brown coat squished against the steering wheel. I sat in the passenger’s seat, gazing dreamily out at the winter wonderland. The bare branches of trees on each side of the road were dressed delicately in white snowy lace like a bride. I smiled, remembering my wedding. It had been several Christmases ago, and it was one of the best days of my life.
Now we had a child of our own, Ethan, who was four, and very mischievous.
Finally, our entrancing trip through the woods came to an end as I spotted Papa’s house up ahead. This was the home I grew up in. A small two-story cottage, the house was made of white brick with a porch out back and dark shutters flanking every window. A wreath of holly hung on the dark red front door. Papa was a craftsman, and he had framedthis home for my mother when they had gotten married.
Will pulled up the car in front of the house and shut off the car. We stepped out. Will helped Ethan out of the car when I came around the other side, and my papa, Jon Marelle, emerged from the house. He was dressed in a black coat and came down the walk towards us.
“Milla!” he cried, extending his arms. I beamed and rushed over to embrace him.
“Hello, Papa,” I said, hugging him, breathing in the smell of turkey and wood smoke from his coat. He shook hands with Will, and scooped Ethan up onto his shoulders. Immediately my happiness dissipated.
“Papa!” I exclaimed. “Please put him down–you’ll both fall!”
Papa meekly set Ethan down, and we all walked to the door.
When he shut it behind us, the warm smell of turkey and gravy flooded our nostrils.
“Toikey!” Ethan cried. The steaming bird sat on a platter in the center of the table, laid out with various side dishes and goodies.
“This looks wonderful!” Will said, taking his seat.
Interested in Preparing Your Own Story?
Is your child interested in taking our Creative Writing workshop so that they can enter the Scholastic Contest this fall? Or perhaps they need a grammar refresher or help preparing college applications.
Whatever your need, we have a workshop designed to help. Our workshops last four weeks and are self-paced through each week–all assignments are due Friday EST. These classes are wonderful supplements to encourage your child in the things they do well, or help them focus in on the things they need to work on.