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Artistic Excellence

The Mississippi School of the Arts has been referred to as oneof Brookhaven’s many treasures. But after many of the school’syoung artists recently cleaned up the competition on local andstate levels, the nation received a clear painting of the talent atMSA.

MSA students have recently received recognition for theircreative and unique work through the Scholastic Art and WritingAwards of 2011, an 88-year-old national program that distinguishesoutstanding teenagers and offers scholarships to graduating highschool seniors.

The arts school had 98 winning pieces of art at the regionallevel, two national winners in literary and two national winners inart. About 10 students represented Mississippi on the nationallevel and more than half were from MSA.

“We feel like that’s what we should be doing,” said visual artsteacher Anne O’Hara. “If we’re MSA, I feel like we should be ableto show that we’re doing something effective with our students.That we can make a difference.”

MSA was able to walk away from the competition doing somethingno other participating school in the country was able toaccomplish. That was having two students receive full tuition, roomand board scholarships to prestigious writing workshops thissummer.

Jackson’s Aaron Cooper, a junior in the Literary Arts program,will be attending a writing workshop at Denison University inGranville, Ohio and junior Samantha Alliston, of Richland, willhone her craft at a workshop at Kenyon College in Gambier,Ohio.

The literary students were two of 75 students in the country toearn Alliance Summer Arts Program Awards based on their work in thecompetition.

“It stands out, it’s something special,” said Literary ArtsProgram Director Dr. Jeanne Lebow of her students’ writing.

Not only did Cooper receive a scholarship to attend a writingworkshop, but he also earned a Silver Medal for dramatic script atthe national level.

However, Cooper is not the only MSA literary student earning thenation’s spotlight. Junior Craig Stewart, of Clarksdale, received aSilver Medal in poetry on the national level in addition to beinginvited to read from his poems by regional sponsor, The EudoraWelty Foundation, at the regional awards ceremony in Jackson.

Local student Derek Migues, of Wesson, also flexed his talent.The junior literary arts scholar earned a Silver Key in poetry atthe regional stage of the competition.

“Kids can have details that come alive,” said Lebow. “But, ifthey don’t have that unique voice, they’re not going to place thathigh.

The literary students said when writing, they draw theirinspiration from emotions and life experiences and were elated athaving their work receive recognition.

“All my writing is basically about how I’m feeling at any givenmoment,” said Cooper. “However I feel at that moment, I write it -whatever it is.”

Alliston echoed the same moving process.

“I write what comes to me and how I feel,” she said. “I don’thave one way of writing, it changes all the time.”

Stewart said he and his classmates’ acknowledgment is in linewith the long list of Mississippi writers, including Eudora Welty,Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.

“I find it to have some continuity in what’s expected of us,” hesaid. “We have quite a history with literature. We’reunderestimated.”

As literary students scribed their way to the top, visual artstudents did their part to brush through the competition.

Senior visual arts student Megan Bates, of Morton, won a SilverMedal at the national level and senior visual arts student HunterJohnson, of Batesville, won a Gold Medal and a Silver Medal at thenational level.

Bates said she plans to continue her art education and isinspired by how people react to situations, and Johnson’sgold-winning mixed media piece was a step away from her normalpaintings.

“It was a good first try at something new,” said Johnson.

There were 10,000 regional Gold Key winners – 8,000 art and2,000 writing – who participated in the national contest, but only1,300 received national honors. National winners will also behonored at Carnegie Hall in New York City on May 31.

“These students have found that (artistic) voice at a youngage,” said MSA Director Suzanne Hirsch. “I can’t imagine what thefuture holds for them.”

While MSA students were bullying the artistic competition,senior vocal student Kelli-Anne Terrell, of Summit, proved the artsschool is not all brush strokes and haiku.

Boasting a 4.0 GPA, Terrell has been named a National MeritFinalist.

“My first emotion was just relief,” said Terrell. “Everyone hadthese expectations because they knew I was a semifinalist.”

She has received roughly $400,000 worth of scholarship offersfrom schools all over the country seeking her enrollment, butTerrell said she comes from a Mississippi State Universityfamily.

“I think I’ve spent enough time from my parents,” saidTerrell.

Attending MSA means going to school for two extra hours. Terrellsaid the extra hours of academics made it challenging to focus onthe SAT and made it difficult to focus on life away from studying,but deciding to attend the arts school is a decision she does notregret.

“You really do sacrifice coming here,” she said. “But it’sprepared me tremendously for college.”