ITHACA, N.Y. — An Ithaca High School junior has received a top writing award after charming judges with her silly, true personal story about her offbeat extended family. Wynne Williams-Ceci is one of the young writers nationwide, and the only student from IHS, who received the Gold Key Award in this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Williams-Ceci’s personal story, “My Seven Crazy Cousins Take The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” received the Gold Key Award in the “humor” writing category, and her book review of  “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson also received an honorable mention in the critical essay category. Though she thought her book review might earn her a prize, she said she was “extremely surprised” her personal essay was recognized.

“I almost submitted it just on a whim,” Williams-Ceci said. “I always thought of it as kind of a childish story, not as some amazing piece of literature that people would want to read. But I guess in hindsight it’s really enjoyable to read about the antics of other people’s lives and the crazy adventures they go on, which is why I think it won in the end.”

Since 1923, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have recognized young artists and writers around the country for their exemplary work. Students in grades 7-12 can submit work in various art and writing categories including sculpture, photography, video game design, poetry, journalism and critical essays. According to the organization’s website, luminaries in the visual and literary arts evaluate submissions on three criteria: originality, technical skill, and the “emergence of a personal voice or vision.” This year, over 340,000 works were submitted. Among the 90,000 submissions that received an award this year, Williams-Ceci, 16, was among those who received a Gold Key, the program’s highest award.

The award has gone to some notable people in the past, including Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and Lena Dunham.

Though Williams-Ceci was surprised to win the award, her English teacher at IHS, Elizabeth Campbell, said she was not so surprised.

“Wynne’s a fantastic writer,” Campbell said. “She is a quiet and insightful student. She puts her best effort into every assignment. She is a gifted writer, and she relentlessly revises and edits her written work.”

Williams-Ceci said Campbell has been a supportive teacher who was instrumental in her winning the competition. “She’s done so much to shape my writing that I’m so thankful for, so it was really nice to be recognized by her because I consider her one of the most inspirational writers in my life. Since day one of this school year, she’s been incredibly supportive and she’s offered me nothing but help on becoming a better writer, and I probably owe to her a big part of winning the competition.”

Williams-Ceci’s personal story is a humorous recollection of her 2017 Thanksgiving trip to visit her extended family, the Simons. She describes the adventure when her family and “seven crazy cousins” go on a family trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

She said she ended up telling her cousins about her award-winning piece when her mom brought the accomplishment up at a family reunion. “I’m a terrible liar so I panicked and said it’s just about this crazy family we know, and my little cousin looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Wynne, is it about us?’ And I lost it and told them. They still haven’t read it, so I might want to rewrite it in a slightly more flattering light,” she said.

As part of winning the Gold Key, Williams-Ceci received a certificate and a gold key pin, but said the most important reward she earned was a letter detailing both positive and constructive feedback for her work. “By far the most valuable thing I get from this contest, and the reason I think I entered in the first place, is because you get feedback from the judges on your writing, which is a huge importance to me because I really need that constructive criticism if I’m ever going to grow and maybe do larger works of literature.”

While Williams-Ceci enjoys writing academic pieces and personal stories, she said her favorite types of writing are poetry and songwriting. She said she also has an interest in choral music and music theory and currently sings in the Ithaca High School Choir. As for the future, she said she sees herself pursuing psychology and hopes to publish her own books in the field someday.

Campbell said more students should explore writing as a means of self-discovery.

“Often, you don’t know what you think about something until you try to talk about it or write about it. Write to discover what you think, and what you feel, and what you want.”

While proud of her accomplishments, Williams-Ceci said she couldn’t have done it alone.

“No one gets anywhere alone, and as amazing as this accomplish is and as lucky as I feel to have gotten it, there’s no way to spin the situation in which I got it on my own. It’s all thanks to the people who have helped me along the way, and for that I’m really grateful,” she said.

Read the full essay by Wynne Williams-Ceci below:

My Seven Crazy Cousins Take The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Scribd

Featured image: Provided Photo

J.T. Stone

J.T. Stone is a contributor for The Ithaca Voice and a 2020 graduate of Ithaca High School. Questions? Story tips? Email him at jt22stone@gmail.com.