Clones, Film & Animation by Conor Twohy, Grade 12, Age 17, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson, MD

Our series on the 2016 Gold Medal Portfolio recipients continues with Conor Twohy and Ruohan Elbaba. Many of Conor’s films use elements of science-fiction, through not-yet-developed technologies and imagined futures, to tell the story. Ruohan looks to the writings and characters from the past to frame her identity and her own place in the world. Through their films and writing, Conor and Ruohan show us how to bring the past into the future.

Invasion, Film & Animation by Conor Twohy, Grade 12, Age 17, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson, MD

Conor Twohy is from Towson, Maryland and attends George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

“The main goal I have for every piece of art I make is for that piece to tell a story. Unlike all other artistic media, films are able to have a unique combination of writing and artistic expression. I am also experimenting with both practical and computer generated special effects in my films. Mostly I use these effects to establish a unique setting that I can build off of in order to tell a wider range of stories. Another aspect I incorporate into my films is humor. This is important to me because I think there is a bit of humor in every situation, no matter how dark or depressing. I have included a few amusing moments in almost every film that I have made, even ones about an alien invasion or the gory deaths of several clones. I also think it’s much more challenging to present a dramatic topic in a comedic way than simply presenting it in the most dramatic way possible.”

Copycat, Film & Animation by Conor Twohy, Grade 12, Age 17, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson, MD

Ruohan Miao is from Chandler, Arizona and attends Hamilton High School.

“I have always been enchanted by language—how it evolves and grows over time to fit our needs, its subtle quirks and nuances. When I apply the language I have learned to writing, there is something therapeutic about it, about inhaling ideas and experiences until my mind overflows and I have no choice but to pour it all back out in my own frantic words. I like creating characters and plots and breathing life into them; I like tracing out the map of a poem and adding flesh to the bones. Through the works presented here, I have used the power of words to describe a pivotal period of my adolescence. By intersecting my experiences with heritage, science, and the character of Ophelia, a character who represents both my fears of the past and hopes of the future, I have created a portfolio that signifies my coming-of-age struggle—and most importantly, how I was able to find my own voice and discover the voices of others . . . I hope the audience will be inspired to find their own voices and take more care in listening to the world and people around them. Everyone has a story to tell, and it is our mission to look past the surface and discover the voices hidden behind the facade. Communication, no matter in what language, is the foundation that keeps the structure of human connection from crumbling, allowing us to empathize with and understand the stories of others.”

Excerpt from “Ophelia Speaks”
Personal Essay & Memoir by Ruohan Miao, Grade 12, Age 18, Hamilton High School, Chandler, AZ

In this way, I became Ophelia:

I meet her for the first time in English class, where she is introduced as Hamlet’s lover, Laertes’ sister, Polonius’ daughter, her name given as an afterthought. We speak of her as “fragile and weak,” a wilting violet. Ophelia threatens to overwhelm me in the claustrophobic confines of Calculus class, where I am told that the limit does not exist—but only a third of my fellow students are girls. In Computer Science, her presence is a burden that keeps me from correcting the mistakes of others for fear of sounding too “aggressive.” When my own mother attempts to direct me away from the sciences—”it’s not a woman’s world”—Ophelia swells within me. I feel her unspeakable fury, her hollow frustration; her madness becomes a catalyst, boiling over until there is nothing I can do but act.

In the past, I had conducted research on a microscopic level, meticulously working in the clear-cut security of the local university lab. In my little corner, I was free to take down data under the benevolent guidance of understanding professors. Yet now, the Shakespearean heroine in me craved more—to prove my mother and the naysayers wrong, to transcend my limits and break down the barriers that shackled me behind Hamlet’s broad facade. Ophelia implores me to avoid her mistakes: “I think nothing, my lord.” “I shall obey, my lord.” After months of intensive searching, I find my match in a small university town in New Mexico.

“Harvest Moon”
Poetry by Ruohan Miao, Grade 12, Age 18, Hamilton High School, Chandler, AZ

The truth is seen in the remnants
of smoke, the way my mother’sfluted wrists pour the yellowed
glaze, bruising each powdered layerlike a priest with a purpose.
I wonder if she sees me pausingbehind her, inspecting her candelabrum
hands as they swirl the paste, another fingershedding down the oven door for the journey
home. Last October, and the storm,

my tongue a redwood wildfire streaming through
the horizon of her face, as if

she had not braved enough tempests
in her life—because even children know

that the sturdiest of foundations have a
of cracking. In Nanjing, she tells me of

absolution, the shifting in her womb, autumn days when I pressed
my ear into the withering ignition

from within her belly. I picture
my mother reliving the danknessof the hospital room, the red-rimmed doctors
unrolling their words like cobweb,ready to snip off the spider-silk hope she
held for the child in her arms—and I think of howmy mother would not let me go, fearing
that if my glutinous organs were released, theywould never find her again.
Next October, and my mother

will pass out the plates, will calmly collect
and discard the pity of women with lanky boys on either

side, and when she offers me my cake, we will both
imagine that the extra lotus paste she

sprinkles in my yuebing
is her way of showing light, from the same hand

she clasped my cold fingers with
as she wound up her spider thread.

Excerpt from “Convergence”
Personal Essay & Memoir by Ruohan Miao, Grade 12, Age 18, Hamilton High School, Chandler, AZ

My father tells me to look at equations and diagrams, that mathematics is truth and beauty lies in formulas. While he works towards his Ph.D., I follow him into his laboratory, childish eyes marveling at the expanse of sleek textbooks and inscrutable figures that envelop his computer screen. Everything is clear-cut and perfectly symmetrical but strangely distant as well. Even as a child, I can tell that this precision is wrong, inhuman. And yet, there is something so solid, so stable in all those numbers.

My mother takes me to the library where I start with Junie B. Jones and The Boxcar Children and eventually find myself lurking in front of the Young Adult section, gazing up wonderingly at Harry Potter. At night, she reads me poems and stories in Mandarin—half of which I can barely understand, but which I am able to appreciate if solely for the melodic twist and tilt of her words. While science is an unchanging mainstay, reading is a veritable forest with a thousand different paths. I fall in love with language easily, unimpeded—its unpredictability, the subtle nuances in each singular phrase. My elementary school teachers scrawl blooming “As” on the stories and essays that I turn in, gleaming red marks of encouragement. My ten year-old ego swells with each additional 100. I begin to think of myself as a miniature Jane Austen or J. K. Rowling in the making.

Zin Zan, Film & Animation by Conor Twohy, Grade 12, Age 17, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Towson, MD

To see more Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, past and present, visit our Eyes on the Prize series.

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