We’re only one week away from the National Awards Ceremony at Carnegie Hall! As a special recognition of our Award winners, the Empire State Building will be lit in gold on May 31, 2012. In anticipation of this night of celebration, we’d like to share an essay by 2012 Gold Medalist Emily Mack on her inspirational experience at last year’s Award Ceremony. Enjoy!
Screaming Gold by Emily Mack, Age 13, of Chicago, IL
I’m in the hotel bathroom staring into the mirror then back at my cheetah-print make-up bag. Today is the day. Today is the day I want to be beautiful.
I open up my bottle of eye shadow primer and glaze it on to my eyelids, smoothing the lid, creating a neutral base. My face is a canvas, and my eyeliners, mascaras, shadows, compacts, glosses, and stains are Picasso’s pigments.
I busy myself primping as my mom yells at me to hurry up. But I want to prolong this. I want to savor every moment of this night.
Finally when my lashes are thickened and my cheeks are rosed, I put on my dress. The dress, the dress, the dress! The dress which was the source of frustration and tears and joy and worries. The dress that I’d chosen after endless hours of obsessive, crazed shopping. The dress that I had decided was perfect… and then forgot all the accessories I’d bought to go with it back in Chicago.
I stare out the window and dig my toes into the burgundy carpet, looking out on the city of New York. The city looks beautiful from the thirteenth floor of The Roosevelt. I take a deep breath, reminding myself how I got here. Poetry was my ticket to this enchanting city. If I hadn’t won a Silver Medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, I wouldn’t be primping for an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall; I’d be at home cramming for an algebra test. Poetry was the reason I was here. It was also the reason for my distress.
Since the start of seventh grade I hadn’t been able to write a word. I used to write poetry more easily than breathe, but for the past year it seemed like I’d gotten lung cancer on that front. I missed the way verses used to beat with my heart. It’s like I was suffering form a critical case of writer’s block, trapped in a drought.
I shake my head, emptying it of troubling thoughts. This trip was about what I had achieved, not what I no longer could. I slip into my ravishing gold dress. The tiers of netting poof above my knees. I am a fairy as I stick my arms out and jump from bed to bed in the hotel room. I am a ballerina as I twirl in and out of open suitcases and discarded bedding.
I step into my high heels. My first pair. They are shiny taupe and rounded at the toe. Three and a half inches. My legs are lengthened and noticeable. I am a woman right now.
Then I put on all my accessories, which we’ve been running around New York all week to find. I was so upset when I forgot the original ones back in Illinois, but my mom, aunts, and I had fun adventures tracking down replacements. My necklace was from a street fair on the lower East side. My gloves were from an old hippie in Soho. I slip them all on, then finally my medal—heavy, official, and handsome—dangling from my neck like a proud metallic pendulum.
I prance out of the hotel, giddy all the way to Carnegie Hall. I almost forget about my writer’s drought.
At Carnegie Hall I walk gracefully down the gritty sidewalk, showered in cigarette butts, to the door and take a seat near the back of the large regal auditorium. My seat is covered in red velvet, soft against my thighs.
The ceremony begins.
It kicks off with a video greeting from Whoopi Goldberg. She congratulates us on getting here and her closing line is “…tonight a lot of wonderful things are going to be said about all of you artists and writers—and guess what? They’re all true!” I sink down in my seat when I hear this because I feel like it isn’t true for me. I haven’t had a good idea for a poem or a story in so long.
Only seniors get to stand up on the stage and take an elaborate bow, but it is enough for me to just stand up in my seat as they announce “All seventh-grade award recipients please rise.” I am surprised to see there are very few.
More speakers come and go. I pay attention to them all, eyes brighter than stars and ears rapt and open. One is John Baldessari, a well-known artist who reminisces about when he was in high school and won this award. It’s inspiring to hear how someone who was once sitting in this same dark room, staring at this same grand stage, thinking the same thoughts that I probably am right now, got so successful.
I flush with both pride and shame as the CEO of Scholastic refers to us as “America’s next generation of great artists and writers.” I look around me at the dimly-lit room, trying to see those surrounding me as my peers and equals. We are diverse in age, various in color, multifarious in our personal styles and backgrounds. It seems a wonder, an impossibility, that we all are destined to come together and improve society with our words and images. I don’t realize that it’s already begun.
Throughout the ceremony I keep thinking “Please let this moment last. Please let this feeling stay.” In my life I usually sit back and watch as my friends experience their Cinderella moments. Mine is finally here and I wish it would slow down. I want to ziplock it up and zip it in the freezer so I can take a savory bite every now and then. I’ve never really believed in a god, but right then I pray desperately to anyone who’s listening, “Please, please let this last.”
The ceremony comes to a close after Tony Hawk’s surprise speech, which is completed with a sweet skateboard ride down the aisle of grand old Carnegie Hall. The head of the awards congratulates us once more. She announces that the city of New York is lighting the Empire State Building in gold tonight, in honor of this award. She urges us to go out and enjoy the captivating city. Then the ceremony is over.
I meet my mom and aunts outside and we agree to walk to the Empire State Building. We don’t care that it’s eleven at night. I don’t even care that I’ll be making the trek in my high heels. It just elevates the excitement.
We walk through Times Square. Well, they walk. I twirl and glide, my gold dress flouncing around me in the warm night air. Times Square is bustling at this time of night, full of people, like a rainforest of neon. “Let them stare!” I think as I grin. I’ll never feel this pretty again. This light. I just got an award at Carnegie Hall! We pass a grizzly old man playing the harmonica on the corner. He reminds me of Bob Dylan so I go up and dance. People around us clap delightedly as this crazy, over-dressed girl shimmies to a harmonica. I drop a dollar in his hat.
We finally make it to the Empire State Building. I am quiet, taking it all in. It’s just a building with gold lights. Except it’s not. It is my accomplishment. It is the accomplishments of hundreds of creative teens across America. I feel proud, despite my writing dry spell.
Another family comes whose son also won the award. His was for photography. He and I get our picture taken in front of the building together as he shouts camera-use instructions to his mom.
Click! Click! The picture is taken. I still have it. I look at it sometimes. I realize now, I never even got his name.
When he and his family leave, I and my own are left staring at the skyscraper in awe as it screams gold, scattering shimmering bits of golden light into the New York City night.
I get back to the hotel room, exhausted and electrified. My fingers twitch and I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time. I pick up my pencil and begin to write.