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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Talent

I am a judge for a regional high school student competition. Students are given a quote from a great thinker and have to write an essay about it. This year’s quote is complex and deep. 

The high-schoolers who participate in the contest struggle with a quote that they are too young to understand. I struggle with faulty grammar, endless dictionary definitions, and adolescent posturing.

And then, the very last of the 27 “best of the best” essays offers an unexpected gift. The young author decided to skip stringing on platitudes in essay form and handed in a short story instead. The connection between the story and the quote is strong but understated. And there’s definitely talent. It’s a budding talent that will need time to mature but it’s there. 

Of course, I gave this kid the highest marks. But I don’t think he’ll win because he didn’t follow any of the proposed rules. Which is funny given that the quote was about the importance of independent thinking. 

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8 thoughts on “Talent

  1. DWeird on said:

    It’s possible the change in form was intentional, then. What was the quote?

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    • I’m sure it as intentional. And very brave. Especially in a 16 year old high school student.

      The quote was part of an essay by MLK on education and character. And MLK’s writings are never easy and superficial.

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  2. Can you reach out to the kid? Somehow let them know that you see something in their writing?

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    • I’d so love to. But the contest is anonymous. I will only know his name (and I’m sure it’s an African-American young man) if he wins.

      It’s actual, real talent. I’m a literary critic, I know literary talent when I see it.

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      • Is there a way to give him comments, as a judge, that can be transmitted to him?

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        • Unfortunately, no. But I think I’ll get in touch with the organizers of the contest after it ends and ask them for the name. I want to encourage this person because at this age it might be important to hear words of encouragement and support.

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      • I’m sure you know this better than I do, but the kids who come from nonacademic backgrounds often don’t know that they have talent because they have no frame of reference, no one to compare to and no one to tell them ‘good job!’ Encouraging comments from someone like you, a university prof who’s a literary critic, would mean the world to him.

        I bet that it would be possible to relay constructive and/or encouraging comments to him, if the people behind the contest are really devoted to nurturing high-school talent…

        I’m not sure why, but you managed to get me excited about this talented kid whom I’ve never met! Perhaps because I know how exciting it is when I recognize real talent in my classroom. It’s something really special about our profession that really makes a lot of unpleasant stuff worth it in the long run.

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        • “Perhaps because I know how exciting it is when I recognize real talent in my classroom. It’s something really special about our profession that really makes a lot of unpleasant stuff worth it in the long run.”

          • So true! Imagine my feelings when I go through 27 of these very normal and quite plodding essays, and then, at the very end, find this real gem. I reread the story three times because I couldn’t believe it was happening. And I still can’t quit thinking about it even though I read it yesterday.

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