JOSEPH LEPPO, Resting Infantry, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, FL

JOSEPH LEPPO, Resting Infantry, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, FL

We continue our series profiling the 2019 Gold Medal Portfolio recipients with a focus on artist Joseph Leppo and writer Caleb Pan. From exploring war and ruin to self-reflection and personal growth, the voices and visions of these creative teens shine in their work.

Joseph Leppo

“Many of the pieces included in my portfolio explore themes of war and ruin. I have always been interested in war, both inspired by history and the artworks of Francisco Goya or Otto Dixie who portrayed sorrow with the effects of war quite brutally. Many of these pieces try to capture the grittiness of war, along with some of the effects of war. A few of them even incorporate some religious imagery to add to the subjects of war and ruin. . . . The main focus of my artwork is really to try and picture what the experience is like and analyze just how it feels to apart of one in a way. With the number of veterans who participated in armed conflicts such as WWII passing away, very soon new generations will come into this world who will have no experience with war or the looming shadow of retaliation (such as the Cold War era). I find it important that we must record and remember these wars so that we may never forget the lessons they have taught us.”

JOSEPH LEPPO, Resting Infantry, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, FL

JOSEPH LEPPO, Death of a Soldier, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Jacksonville, FL

Caleb Pan

“Unanimous feedback has said my writing is distinctive. I know it’s not because I wear my heart on my sleeve or speak my mind without hesitation: I naturally imbue my writing with an authentic humanity before anything else. I am individualistic in principle and practice. Perhaps I’ve been unfairly gifted (and cursed) with an intricate history and personality, but I believe my strength as a writer resides in my ability to enjoy life as an adventure. The joy I have in sharing my writing is when a reader personally resonates and connects with me. By the time you finish reading all eight pieces, you should know me as a person.”

The Required Writing Supplement Section

CALEB PAN, Humor. Grade 12, Home School, Denver, CO.

Every student has a unique life experience and a set of circumstances by which they are shaped and influenced. Your background may have been shaped by family history, cultural traditions, race, ethnicity, religion, politics, income, ideology, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Reflect on a time when you had to relate to someone whose life experience was very different from your own. How did you approach the difference? If put in a similar situation again today, would you respond differently? If so, how? (650 words limit)

When I was in third grade, I was picked as part of a team to represent my school at a brain bowl. My team only placed second, which is why I did not include it on my application.

I befriended a participant from another school, who I will call Throckmorton to preserve racial and ethnic ambiguity. Throckmorton was a Muslim, indicated by a pinback button he wore that read “I am a Muslim.” At the time, I wore a handmade LEGO cross necklace (with a rare barbed-wire ring accessory as an attached piece to represent the crown of thorns which I was very proud of). He was certainly different, but he liked LEGOs too, so he was a cool kid.

The host school provided pre-made lunches with no exchangeable options. Unfortunately for Throckmorton, the main course was a ham sandwich. He felt bad for wasting food by throwing out the ham, but I intervened to absolve his conscience. In my theological opinion, a nice perk of Christianity over the other Abrahamic faiths is that we’re allowed to eat whatever we want. So to emulate the self-sacrifice and love of Christ, I offered to eat it for him.

“Wait! God lets me eat ham!”

Throckmorton perked up and exclaimed, “You’re a good friend!”

After the brain bowl, Throckmorton introduced me to his parents. Before I could introduce him to my parents, he had to go and I never saw him again.

If I were in a similar scenario today, I would also eat someone’s food in the Lord’s Name. Amen.

Please briefly explain and elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience that you were unable to include in your application. (200 word limit)

One of my most beloved memories is of waking one spring morning, fully refreshed and to the chirping of birds. It has been a while since either has happened.

I have noticed a cultural and byzantine leaderboard for sleep deprivation. I hypothesize contestants use hours of lost sleep to approximate their fortitude. The most prestigious claim I have heard came from a classmate who allegedly stayed awake for seventy-two consecutive hours by instilling his bloodstream with caffeine and Xanax. He eventually dropped the class – he’s probably dead.

For my entire life, I have been an activist opposing this disillusioned award system. I boast an average contribution of 8 hours/day, 7 days/week, 52 weeks/year for over fifteen years. Admittedly, it has been difficult in recent years with other lesser commitments conflicting with my participation, but I plan to continue my passionate work into higher education.

I am dedicated to sleep because it embodies the inevitability of imperfection. I accept the necessities of resting and revitalizing are quintessential to true satisfaction. To sleep is to take care of yourself and not to run a race to nowhere.

I wrote this at 2 A.M.

Describe a specific situation or activity in which you made a meaningful difference and contribution in the lives of others through your effectiveness as a leader in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution. (500 word limit)

In third-grade, I was educated in the Montessori model: a classroom designed to cultivate curiosity and open discovery, an organic approach to education.

The greatest mystery of our time was simple: where do babies come from?

The most common theory was that babies were spontaneously grown in mothers’ stomachs. I, however, was not satisfied. There was a large visual encyclopedia in the classroom; big books with lots of words were the ultimate and credible sources of truth. I consulted the tome, hoping it might elucidate the origins of life. I studied the anatomy section until I came across the reproductive system.

It took ten minutes of critical thinking and deducing to differentiate and understand the functionality of the organs depicted by artistic diagrams. I also educated myself in the concept of puberty, recognizing some key components in human conception were unavailable at my age. Finally, the description of copulation was bizarre, but I was able to cognitively assemble the act.

Eureka! The speculations and conjectures were over – knowledge such as this was power. I was the natural leader in the class (by default because I was abnormally large) and saw it as my duty to enlighten my classmates. Some were in shock, most likely traumatized; others nodded with interest, quick to accept the big book as evidence. The enigma was no more.

However, the encyclopedia described intercourse simply as an insertion followed by a deposit. We assumed an accurate analogy was like filling a car with gas. This left us with further questions. What was the duration of the deposit? Does it start upon insertion? How does the body know when to cease deposit? Or does the female have a responsive capacity limit?

After many discussions with car analogy-based theories, we finally came to the teacher and asked if she could provide any insight. She responded by banning all discussion on the subject and removed the encyclopedia from the classroom. The suppression of knowledge! How tyrannical! I led a protest to bring back the encyclopedia, explaining our aims and progress.

Our teacher reconsidered, then relented on the condition we remain quiet on the newfound topic. Keeping our word, with the promise we’d eventually get our answers, the encyclopedia was returned with me as its gatekeeper.

With that, I launched an era of scientific fascination, our teacher happily facilitating and catering to the interests we found in the encyclopedia. The renaissance eventually deteriorated when I lost interest and started writing, the class losing its pioneer. I don’t know where my classmates are right now, but I can say with proud certainty that I left a lifelong impact on every single one of them.

Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs? (500 word limit)

Once, I was procrastinating by stumbling through an endless chain of linked Wikipedia articles. I started with the Indian caste system and eventually came across the International Flat Earth Conference. This event piqued my interest. I shared the event’s website with several peers for their valued opinions. My so-called friends, the intolerant rabble, mocked the astrophysics minority. I was heartbroken at how frivolously they rejected an opposing view.

Although I dismissed notions of a flat Earth in the past, I put my “globehead” principles aside to immerse myself in their society. Throughout my education, I was surrounded by globe representations and readily accepted them as the shape of the earth. Perhaps I did let myself be indoctrinated by mainstream media and NASA. It was uncomfortable to let a belief I held without question be challenged.

As I delved into the flat Earth community, I encountered a syndicate of conspiracy theorists, literalist zealots, and internet scum. It became apparent that comprehending this intellectual conglomerate, including their numerous ideological schisms, was near impossible.

My revelation? We are all people, people who have no idea what they’re doing with their lives: I squandered my time gaining trivial knowledge from Wikipedia; they filled the void in their lives with nonsensical paranoia. I was unable to accept their beliefs, but it was a valuable lesson of how we are more alike than we are unalike.

That, and there are enough dumbasses for tickets at $249 per person to sell out.

Why do you want to attend [school name], and how do you think [school name] will prepare you to pursue opportunities in that field after graduation? (250 word limit)

I should say I want to sate my thirst for knowledge at the caliber you offer, to hone my unique talent and natural leadership under your renowned programs, and to enrich myself in your vibrant community of creative and critical thinkers.

Listen, I don’t want to do another four years. It’s not just you – I mean I don’t want to with anyone. I almost registered with the Peace Corps to avoid all the confrontation. You somehow found my email and address. I don’t know who sold me out, but the way you cluttered my inbox and mailbox was unappreciated. Just because my parents like you, doesn’t mean I do. You were the one insisting that I take my time and make “the right choice for me.” I’m not naïve, okay? I know you drip the exact same honeyed words to all us go-getter types: we’re talented, we’re unique, we’re what you’re looking for.

Am I that special? What am I really to you? You’ve said you want to know my interests, life stories, and plans to change the world. Be honest though – the first thing you see are my numbers, right? I’m not mad, I know you can’t help it, but you should know that I know.

I’m sorry. I’m still young and inexperienced. I’m really trying to figure out what’s best for me. I don’t know if this is meant to be, but I’m willing to give us a chance. I await your response.

You may upload one optional supplemental resume for further consideration:
UploadedAcceptanceLetterFromRivalSchool.pdf

Thank you for your application!

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

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