Hannah Lee ’12 Wins Means Essay Prize

Sharing their words with the entire Andover community, Alex Anderlik ’14, Virginia Fu ’13 and Hannah Lee ’12, the three finalists for the 2012 Means Essay Prize, read their essays aloud at the Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM). Lee was named the winner after the declamation.

The prize, established by William G. Means in 1867, is awarded annually to an outstanding personal essay written any time during the school year, according to the prize description.

Aku Ammah-Tagoe, Erin Lanzo and Elizabeth Walbridge, Teaching Fellows in English, judged the competition and selected Lee as the winner of the $150 prize.

In an e-mail to The Phillipian, Ammah-Tagoe wrote, “It was an incredibly difficult choice; each finalist had a very distinctive and original style, both in writing and in reading. We ultimately chose Hannah as the winner because her essay was such a beautiful and compelling piece, and because her reading was so polished and confident.”

Though Lee originally wrote the essay she submitted for her “Travel Literature” Senior English elective, her piece described her experience picking grapes in rural Nauvoo, Illinois, a town just half an hour away from her house.

Though Nauvoo is best known for its strong ties to Mormonism, Lee narrated a very different type of spiritual awakening.

“I bowed my head over my grapes and I felt the waxy power flowing through the vines. The wordless said much more than the tiny print on thin, flaky sheets of paper,” read Lee. “We left Nauvoo as the sun was setting, heading home with the car newly anointed with the smell of fresh grapes and 50 additional pounds of discovery, understanding, self-reflection. Inner peace.”

Lee said that because the only time she has traveled out of the country was on a school trip to Ireland, she decided to write about something close to home instead of an exotic country. She said, “I just decided to write about what I knew and what I was familiar with and the places that I loved–just places that I could really write detailed descriptions of.”

Ammah-Tagoe said, “Hannah’s essay is superbly crafted. [It’s] is almost a publishable essay. It’s like something you would read in a travel magazine. It is so polished and so great, and she really balances the personal essay talking about her experience in this vineyard with facts about what she’s doing and where she is.”

Anderlik wrote about his experience attending a small jazz concert that was held in a small living room that only seated 30 people.

He described how in the middle of the concert, a woman jumped up and began playing with the performers. Her husband pulled her off the stage and reprimanded her.

Anderlik read, “The woman in the beautiful, blue dress has been elevated, for she was no longer completely human, the powers of Apollo flowed through her, a woman possessed as she dared to respond to the music. Is that not what we all seek to experience?”

Anderlik said that he didn’t write the essay for a class and his “first draft” was only his ideas down on paper. When he saw the posters in Bulfinch for the competition, he tweaked his essay and turned it in.

“It just seemed like something that would be fun to enter. It [sounded] fun, but I was a little put off by the fact that I would have to read in front of the entire school. I had never done anything like that, but I just thought I might as well give it a shot,” said Anderlik.

Fu’s submission was a letter to her younger brother, a persuasive piece she wrote for her English 200 class. In her letter, Fu, a day student, laments the fact that she has grown apart from her brother, and while she tried to blame him for waking her up early on weekends, she comes to the realization that she cherishes the time that she spends with him.

“Oh, never stop waking me up. Who else, after all, is there on the other side waiting, for me? Who else is there to drag the morning light into my eyes when I would have otherwise slept straight into nowhere? Who else is there to clear the flotsam, to bring that wonderful levity back into my furiously self-involved life? Keep coming back,” read Fu.

Ammah-Tagoe said, “Virginia’s essay is whimsical in a way that is so lovely. It’s about a totally ordinary interaction, something that you can really relate to; a girl talking to her younger brother, but she makes it a little bit magical, and I really love that.”

Fu said that though she was initially nervous about reading her essay at ASM, after she got up to the podium, the rows of people felt a lot more intimate than they had seemed.

Fu chose to enter her piece into the competition on a whim, only removing a paragraph and changing a few words before submitting it on the deadline. “I tried to make it more entertaining. I thought about doing that, but then it seemed like a complete work, and I couldn’t really change it,” said Fu.

Lee, Anderlik and Fu were chosen to be finalists from a pool of about 25 applicants, according to Lanzo.

Walbridge said that selecting the finalists was fairly easy. After reading from the original pool of the essays, all three judges agreed that the final three essays stood above the rest.

“[Anderlik, Fu and Lee] were the writers who most creatively and elegantly wrote personal essays that were not formulaic,” said Walbridge.

Lanzo said, “We found that the essays that we chose were quite different from each other… but [each] had the unique ability to describe an experience that might not otherwise seem that revolutionary or intriguing, but that the writing itself was so careful and detailed and unique and creative that the writing was actually giving the experience a dimension that would have otherwise escaped.”