Not common: one student’s journey to Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

Meggie Furlong, Web Editor-in-Chief

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Only the entire country’s most clever and creative teenagers earn the opportunity to attend the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing awards awards at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Grace Bejnarowicz, senior, is one of the talented few.

“They lit up the Empire State Building gold that weekend for the Scholastic awards being hosted there, if that gives you any idea of the magnitude of this,”

Kristen LaJeunesse, art teacher who attended the awards with Bejnarowicz, said. “It was amazing. Her piece, along with the other gold medal winners was framed and displayed in a gallery at Pratt [Institute], so we got to see her artwork in a professional gallery. It was inspiring. It was all for art. It was all for writing. I was in awe.”

Bejnarowicz’s journey to earning the highest award for her artwork began when she at the Da Vinci Waldorf school in Wauconda.  

“It’s very different than public school. Everything about it is very art centered and about expressing yourself,” Bejnarowicz said.“The whole curriculum was based around art and music so it’s kind of always been a part of my life.  Waldorf school taught me to notice the world in a different way, and I think because of that, I’m much more fascinated with how people work and think

and human nature. I think I draw a lot of inspiration from that.”

A Waldorf education focuses on the imagination in learning, with a heavy emphasis on music and art.

“Whenever they teach things, like for example, history, they would make us write down the stories that we were told and we would draw pictures associated with them. In Waldorf, you don’t have any lesson books, so you make you own. It’s all very artistic.”

After the move from Waldorf education to traditional public school freshman year, Bejnarowicz found her niche in the art program.

“[I mostly like to create in] room [C106], actually. It’s when my Honors Art was last year and where AP is this year and it’s where all of my art friends [and I] draw and talk a lot,” Bejnarowicz said. “It’s kind of like hanging out with your friends and doing something that you love, and you also get a grade out of it.”

And after a little over two years at LZHS, Bejnarowicz submitted one of her works to the Scholastic Art and Writing awards.

“It’s funny—that piece I did at 2am because it was due for a project the next day. Then I submitted it and never thought that that would be the outcome. I didn’t even know that there were national awards. I thought it was just regional,” Bejnarowicz said. “At first, I thought I had only gotten a silver [regional] key. Laj had come up to me and said ‘Grace! You’re not going to believe this! You got a silver key!’ but I didn’t really know what that meant. And then I checked my email and I had received a gold key as well. And that was pretty amazing.”

At first, Bejnarowicz won a silver and gold key at the midwest regional awards for Scholastic. Her gold key winning comic artwork then advanced to compete on the national level.

“[She] didn’t even fully know [what the awards were], but [she] put [her]self out there. And look what came of it,” LaJeunesse said.

The magnitude of the awards truly affected Bejnarowicz once she traveled to New York, she said.

“I checked in at this hotel where there were tons of other artists and that night there was this thing called the maker prom, which is this thing called a prom where there’s also a bunch of workshop tables where you can make stuff,” Bejnarowicz said. “[At] the venue, the people treated us like celebrities. It was

crazy. And then the next day we went to Carnegie Hall and there was a message from Michelle Obama [to congratulate us].”

From her Scholastic experience, Bejnarowicz said she learned a lot about valuing her own work.

“While I was in New York, I got to see one of my friends and got to take her to some of the exhibitions with my art in it and all of this other art, and we got to go around and look at all this amazing artwork and seeing mine there as well. I couldn’t believe that my art was there. [I kept thinking], ‘It’s terrible compared to everything! Why would this be here?’” Bejnarowicz said. “It made me realize that your piece doesn’t have to be a gigantic, realistic oil painting, it can be a small comic that looks like thumbnails, and that’s ok and people will still like it [because] your art is worth more than what you perceive it as.”

After her experience at the Awards last summer, Bejnarowicz continued to create more artwork, especially in the AP Studio Art class. The class has no set structure, according to LaJeunesse, but before the end of the semester, students must complete 12 works. To do so, students often bounce ideas off of one another in order to create the a product their proud of, according to Shayna Soloway, senior and fellow AP Studio Art student, said

“She really knows what she’s talking about, especially with drawing techniques. [One time] I was trying to draw a stomach one time and I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t get it. And then she showed me where the lines met up and how things got laid out. She has a really unique way of looking at problems,” Soloway said. “She’s [also] really good because she likes to mess around. Me and her goof around all the time, which adds an element of fun to the class.”

After Bejnarowicz completes the AP Studio Art class with LaJeunesse and the rest of her high school courses, she has career aspirations in illustration.

“I appreciate how she works on her art 24/7. It’s not just in our 7th period class or not just in 3rd period or just in art club. It’s something she thinks about and works on at home all the time,” LaJeunesse said. “I also think what’s neat about her is that she can take feedback and make her [work] better. For example, I know with her computer graphic pieces, she’ll put them out there. There are some artists she’ll collaborate with on the computer, so she really wants to learn and wants to get better and is eager to do that and puts herself out there so that is an exceptional trait to have as a student artists. And that’s not common.”

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