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What do Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote and Joyce Carol Oates have in common with a Provo teen named Mackenzie Jacoby? All four are winners of the granddaddy of high school writing honors: the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Portfolio Medal.
Jacoby, a recent Walden School of Liberal Arts graduate, received a $10,000 scholarship, was honored on-stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and appeared on "Good Morning America." A professional actor performed one of Jacoby's essays, and the Empire State Building was lit in gold for last month's event.
"It was amazing," Jacoby said of receiving her medal at Carnegie Hall. "There were a billion people there, and I was looking into the crowd hoping I was looking at my family."
Jacoby's English teacher, Lara Candland Asplund, wasn't the least bit surprised to learn her student had won.
"I hope it doesn't sound arrogant, but I kind of knew she was going to win," Asplund said. "I couldn't imagine another student her age producing something better."
Asplund said she is "sure it's the biggest writing award you can win." Still, she knew her student was a shoe-in for the prestigious national honor.
Seven hundred creative high school students from across the U.S. were recognized at Carnegie Hall last month. Fifteen, including Jacoby, won the top distinction -- a gold medal. Five of the 15 won for writing portfolios.
Jacoby, who will attend Stanford University this fall, wowed judges (many are well-known writers and artists) with her portfolio of eight nonfiction essays about her travels around the globe with her family. The Jacobys' home base is Provo, but they spend much of their time abroad.
"[Mackenzie's] writing is really fresh and interesting and entertaining," Asplund said.
In "You and I Collide, or What a Particle Accelerator Taught a Young Girl About Love," Jacoby writes about living in London near the National Science Museum when her dad was a study-abroad professor for Brigham Young University. Jacoby is fascinated by science -- she plans to study physics, not writing, at Stanford. It was at the museum where she discovered an exhibit about the Larger Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator. The exhibit, essentially, swept her off her feet. She found it endlessly intriguing and likens her obsession to a love affair.
"The Large Hadron Collider had me at hello," she wrote.
Her portfolio also includes essays titled "Teaching a Vegetarian to Hunt" and "Words I Have Eaten." The young globe-trotter has spent time in Turkey, Guatemala, Brazil, Italy, Spain, India and elsewhere.
"I think you're happy when you're traveling, and you're happy when you get back home," said Jacoby about her nomadic lifestyle. She takes notes and pens essays as she travels so she doesn't forget her adventures.
Virginia McEnerney, executive producer of the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers, said Jacoby "really communicated a strong sense of place. ... She talks in one of her essays about the experience of flying into the airport in Salt Lake City. She talks about the geography, and how it feels to have that as the place she comes home to, and why it's meaningful to her."
Despite her writing talent, Jacoby wants to study science to "bring a creative person's perspective" to the discipline.
But asking the whimsical teen if she plans to become a scientist yields an unexpected response. She says she's too young to pick a career, but she's considering becoming either a "circus performer or a dolphin trainer." Maybe even both.
To read Mackenzie Jacoby's essays online, visit http://artandwriting.org/ORGGalleries. Click on the red arrow on the right to find Mackenzie Jacoby's work.