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The City Journals

Writers place in longest-running creative teen contest

Mar 28, 2017 02:52PM ● By Tori LaRue

Peyton Williams constructs a wooden pen for his business. The Herriman High School junior was named a regional Gold Key winner in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for the memoir he wrote that’s partially about pen making. (Peyton Williams)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Peyton Williams is not only a woodsmith—he’s a wordsmith. The entrepreneur, who is a junior at Herriman High School, crafts intricate wooden pens that he distributes through a website, but it’s what he drafted with one of those pens that scored him a region win in the longest-running creative teen contest in the United States.

Williams’ “The Process of Making a Pen” reached Gold Key status in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in mid-February and has now gone on to be adjudicated at the national level. More than 300,000 works are submitted to the contest each year, and Williams was one of the three Herriman High students to receive this honor.

Williams is the subject of piece he submitted to the contest. In the story, Williams constructs a pen while his thoughts flash back to meaningful moments in his life when people taught him that material possessions do not create happiness.

“Those memories are impressed on my mind forever,” he said.

He recalls an old homeless man he met on a family trip across the United States. The man offered to take a picture of Williams’ family. They accepted, but when Williams’ father went to tip the man, he declined and instead offered to pay for lunch for the family of seven.

“This guy didn’t have anything, but he was so insistent—I think because we had a big family—that he wanted to do something nice for us, so he bought us all Philly cheesesteaks,” Williams said. “It was just such a turn of service—this homeless man giving us the help we needed.”

The story cycles through several other memories—one of Williams’ Nepalese friend, Karma, telling him about a simpler life in Nepal. Another story describes the experience he and his father had when they went to Ohio to fix up a run-down trailer park. The neighborhood children gathered around Williams as he worked and offered to help him. The kids were amazed by Williams’ electronic device that allowed him to listen to music through headphones.

“It’s like they have never seen one before, but they were still happy and joyful,” he said.

Through the writing process and reliving these life-experiences, Williams said he learned he needed to focus on what matters most.

“I learned that I really need to change myself and my attitude toward life in general—to not take everything for granted,” he said. “I need to realize that value isn’t found in what you have but in your potential.”

Erika Burch, another junior at Herriman High School, also said she learned a great deal about herself through writing the memoir she submitted for the contest. Although she said she’s honored to be a Gold Key winner, the greatest benefit of creating her entry was that it helped her to understand herself better, she said.

Burch recently crashed a car when an elderly couple performed a U-turn in front of her vehicle. She saw the other couple’s airbags employ and a woman rushing over from a nearby house to see if she was OK. Although shaken up, Burch had no serious injuries, and she was relieved to find out the couple in the other car was fine, too, but she said the event caused her to reflect on significant events in her life.

She depicts this scene in her story and braids memories that ran through her head during the accident into her award-winning memoir. The memories Burch included are simple but made an impact on her life, she said. She includes memories from stargazing to visiting a fair with friends.

“Before the car crash and before writing the story, I didn’t want to talk to people, but after, I decided I couldn’t live that way,” she said. “I realized I would miss out talking to people and experiencing new things, so this writing process was a big moment for me.”

While Burch knew the story was meaningful to her, she said she had no idea that other people would like it. She forgot that she entered the piece into a contest until her English teacher announced to the class that she had won the Gold Key designation.

“My class started clapping, and I almost started crying in class,” Burch said. “It was amazing. I felt accomplished. I knew I was a good writer, but didn’t know I could get something tangible out of writing, and this was that sudden realization that I could do what I wanted in life and succeed at it.”

Burch said she hopes to be a professional writer some day.

Daniel Wilkersen also won the Gold Key award. Scholastic Art and Writing also awarded the following Herriman High School students with the Silver Key award: Sofia Jimenez, Carter Johnson, Madison La Giglia, McCall Morris, Megan Nielson, Wyatt Searle and Sam Woodruff.