Zac, SJP, Usher 2

(L-R): Fashion designer Zac Posen, actress and arts advocate Sarah Jessica Parker and entertainer Usher, backstage at Carnegie Hall for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in New York, May 31, 2013. (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for Scholastic)

This post originally appeared on Scholastic’s On Our Minds blog. By Lia Zneimer.

What a weekend! First of all, huge congratulations to the students who won National Medals in the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards! As always, we were absolutely blown away by the caliber of the student talent, and this year’s festivities felt extra-special as they marked the Awards’ 90th anniversary. Needless to say, the celebration that took place in New York City this past weekend was nothing short of awesome. More than 800 teens and their families and teachers gathered at Carnegie Hall on Friday night. Outside, the Empire State Building was lit in gold to honor the student winners, while inside, they were congratulated via video by First Lady Michelle Obama, and in person by Sarah Jessica Parker and surprise guest Usher. After the seniors took their bow onstage, Terrance Hayes recognized this year’s National Student Poets, and designer Zac Posen was presented with the 2013 Alumni Achievement Award.

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Poet Terrance Hayes speaking at the 2013 Scholastic Awards. (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for Scholastic)


Dick Robinson, Chairman, President & CEO of Scholastic speaking at the 2013 Scholastic Awards. (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for Scholastic)


Of course, the star-studded event was amazing, but perhaps my favorite part of the evening was feeling the energy of all those talented teens gathered in one (massive) room; their enthusiasm was practically palpable. Tucked away backstage, I listened as Dick Robinson, the Chairman, President, and CEO of Scholastic, took his place at the lectern to explain the history of the Awards. His father established the program 90 years ago “to give those high school students who demonstrate superior talent and achievement in things of the spirit and of the mind at least a fraction of the honors and rewards accorded to their athletic classmates for demonstrating their bodily skills.” Not that anyone should have to choose between the arts and sports, but as someone who grew up writing and doing theater instead of playing volleyball and soccer like my friends, a chill went up my spine as the audience of creative teenagers burst into appreciative applause. I clapped from backstage, not only for this year’s Award winners, but also for all the student artists and writers out there who could relate to that sentiment… and selfishly, maybe a little for my teenage self.

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2013 Portfolio Gold Medalists take the stage at the 90th Anniversary Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in New York. (INSIDER IMAGES/Stuart Ramson for Scholastic)

At the risk of sounding like a weepy mess–which, let’s be honest, I sort of was–there was another point in the ceremony that brought tears to my eyes, and that’s when the students applauded their teachers. As more than 200 teachers stood to take their bow in the Carnegie Hall balconies, and as the students below cheered and waved and mouthed “thank you”s as they spotted their mentors, you could just feel the enormous rush of gratitude–and not just gratitude for their art or writing teachers, but gratitude for all the mentors in their lives who had helped them reach this milestone.

Sarah Jessica Parker summed it up beautifully during her speech: “Whatever it is you want to say in this world – however you want to say it – keep saying it.  It takes a lot of courage to maintain your convictions and not be overly influenced by the expectations or opinions of others… [Y]ou all have a great gift. And your gifts have great meaning for all of us, so nurture them… Looking at you, I see hope for a brave new world. Believe me, we need that. We need you.”

If you were unable to attend the national celebration in New York this weekend, not to worry–you can still watch the entire Carnegie Hall ceremony here. For more photos from this weekend’s celebration, check out Scholastic’s Facebook album!

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