Writing Competition

Writing Competition

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

A story, written for ENG 1111: Composition 1.


Writing Competition

September 10, 2008


          One of the most significant events in my high school career was my participation in the Vermont Honors Competition for Excellence in Writing.  The competition was sponsored by the University of Vermont, and was held for the first time when I was a sophomore at Mount Anthony Union High School.

          The competition consisted of three levels: local, regional, and state.  The first level was held in the fall.  Each student had to write an impromptu essay in class. We were not told at that point that we were participating in a competition, so I thought nothing of it.  We were given the subject for the essays just moments before we began to write. I don’t remember what the subject was for that essay.  At the end of the class, we were told that our essays would be entered in the state writing competition.  I was a little bit nervous upon hearing that, and worried whether I had written well enough, but I was used to getting A’s on my papers, so it was only a slight bit of anxiety, and it didn’t last long.

          We didn’t hear anything more about the essays or the competition for several weeks.  With everything else I had to think about, I forgot about it entirely during that time.  Then, one morning, the winner for each of the four grades was announced over the public address system.  I knew I was a competent writer, but I did not have a lot of confidence in myself.  As a result, I was very surprised to hear my name announced.  I sat in home room, staring at the public address speaker for several moments, unable to think or speak, until the bell shattered the moment.

          It only took a few minutes for surprise to be replaced by pride and satisfaction.  Although I would have denied it if I had been asked, I knew that I would have been very disappointed if anyone else had won the competition in my grade.  I have always been a perfectionist, and it would have crushed me if I had not won.

          In February, I went to the high school in Randolph for the regional level of the competition.  There were five schools in our region.  It was a bit unsettling to be in an unfamiliar school, surrounded by students I didn’t know.  I didn’t even know the other participants from my own school.  I had been calm and confident up until that point, but now my stomach began churning, and there was not quite enough air.  The students from the other schools seemed to be larger than life.  I was sure they were all smarter than I was.

          I’m sure we only had to wait a few minutes for the competition to begin, but those minutes passed like hours.  I was sure that I would fail miserably.  I concentrated on taking each new breath, hoping I would not embarrass myself by being sick there in the hall.  We were finally ushered into a classroom with twenty empty desks.  It was time to begin.

          Small, blue composition books and sharpened pencils were handed out, and we were each given a sealed envelope containing the subject for our essay.  My hands trembled as I tore open my envelope.  The sophomore topic was the person in history we admired the most, and why we admired him or her.  I thought about it for several minutes, near panic as no good candidates came to mind.  I considered and discarded several possibilities.  I finally decided to write about Abraham Lincoln.

          I had one hour to complete my essay, beginning with the moment I had opened my envelope.  Once I started writing, all of my nervousness and insecurity melted away, and I wrote steadily and confidently.  I finished my essay about forty-five minutes into the allotted time, and turned in my booklet.

          Once again, there was a wait of several weeks between the writing and the announcement of the winners.  This time, however, I never forgot about the competition.  Each morning, I listened carefully to the announcements, hoping to hear the results, yet dreading that I would hear a name other than my own.  One morning, the announcement finally came.  I had won the regional level, and would be going on to the final competition at the state level.  My fear that I would embarrass myself by not winning the regional level of the competition evaporated as relief at learning that I had won washed over me.  I released the breath I had not realized I was holding.  My relief was quickly replaced by pride and happiness as I received congratulations from nearly everyone I passed, with the feeling that I deserved nothing less.  I had succeeded, and everyone around me knew it.

          The local and regional competitions were just a foretaste of the real competition.  The final level of the competition was held on May 9, 1985, at the University of Vermont.  I was a bundle of nerves as my English teacher, Ms. Woodard, drove me more than three hours north to face the four other top sophomore writers in Vermont.

          I knew it was a very important day, no matter how the competition ended. In consideration of the day’s importance, I dressed in my most mature outfit: a peach linen skirt suit, a white blouse with a ruffled front and ruffled cuffs, and high-heeled pumps.  Although I looked very grown-up on the outside, I felt very young and unsure of myself inside.

          The final level of the competition was held in the morning, and consisted of two essays, with a very brief break between them.  Once again, we each received a blue composition book, several sharpened pencils, and a sealed envelope.  We were given one hour in which to write.  I tore open the envelope and read my first topic.  I had to write an essay comparing the views of teenagers with those of adults.  My essay, which I titled “Teenagers Versus Adults,” took me about forty minutes to write.  As I began writing, all of my doubts vanished.  As I had done in Randolph, I wrote quickly and steadily.  When I turned in my booklet, I was confident that I had given my best effort.  I sat quietly, watching other students finish their essays as I waited for the break.

          The second half of the morning was very much like the first half.  My second topic was to decide whether or not fantasy or imagination was important, and to support my position.  I wrote “The Importance of Fantasy” in just over thirty minutes.  When I sat down after turning in my booklet, a senior boy whispered to me to ask why I had rushed through without trying.  I just smiled and sat quietly until the time was up.

          Ms. Woodard and I had lunch and walked around the town during the afternoon.  I was very, very worried, but I tried to act like I was relaxed.  I couldn’t concentrate on my conversation with my teacher, or on my surroundings.

          Evening finally came.  There was an elegant banquet before the awards ceremony.  The lights were low, and the tables were draped with real tablecloths.  I hardly tasted the food that was served, and have no memory of anything that I ate.  The air crackled with expectancy and anxiety.  Conversations seemed stiff and unnatural, and laughter seemed just a bit too loud.  By the time the dessert dishes were cleared, and the competition officials stepped up to the podium, the air practically sang with tension.

          I could hardly breathe when they started announcing the winners.  They started with the fourth runner up in the twelfth grade.  There were cheers and applause as each name was called, and each student made his or her way through the crowd of tables up to the podium.  Finally, they reached the tenth grade, and I listened anxiously for my name.  I was relieved when I was not the fourth runner up.  I felt dizzy after I was not called for the third runner up.  My stomach clenched into knots when I was not the second runner up.  I was paralyzed as the official opened the card with the name of the first runner up.  I strained forward, sure it would be me, but hoping it would not be.  I screamed out loud when my name was not called.  I felt like my entire body had just been released from suffocating bonds.  Ms. Woodard and I hugged each other with tears on our cheeks.  When my name was called as the tenth grade winner a few moments later, my joy and triumph were dizzying.

          I hardly felt the floor under my feet as I went up to receive my certificate and a check for $1,500.00.  I heard the applause as no more than a dim murmur in my ears.  I was trembling as I shook hands with the president of the university.  A reporter for the Burlington Free Press took my picture, and I was sure life couldn’t possibly be any better.

          I don’t remember hearing the ninth grade winners announced.  Nothing else mattered, now that I had won.  I bounced in my seat as I waited for the ceremony to end so I could call my mother with the news.

          Ms. Woodard drove me home that night, and I got there in time to watch myself on the late news with my mother and grandmother.  It had been an amazing day, and sharing it with my family was the perfect ending.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: story, assignment, writing competition, autobiography

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..