For Aidan Healy, Picturing America Begins with a Poem

Dedham, Mass.—The news lit up Aidan's phone the moment he landed in Vancouver.

Aidan Healy, a Catholic Memorial School sophomore, had received a text from fellow sophomore Garrett Smith after a 10-day service immersion trip to Lima, Peru at the end of February.

He had won first place in the poetry category of the Picturing America Writing Contest at CM, Garrett told him in the text.

The news made for the perfect welcome home.

“I was still in the airport at the time and that was my first communication in a week from anyone,” said Aidan, who missed the award ceremony during his flight home.

Sponsored by CM’s English Department, the Picturing America contest blends writing and art by bringing some of America’s most significant paintings and photographs into English classrooms. 

More than 300 students from grades seven through twelve submitted entries into the contest. Students needed to choose between three artwork options to inspire their writing. Two works offered different depictions of the same subject – the Brooklyn Bridge.

One was a photograph by Walker Evans and the other was an abstract painting by Josep
h Stella. The third option was Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange.

When the contest opened in the middle of January, Aidan began with a few drafts of poems in response to the photos of Brooklyn Bridge. But, after taking a closer look at the Migrant Mother, he found a source of inspiration.

“I wanted to put myself in the mindset of the migrant mother,” he said.

According to Aidan, the photo reminded him of his grandmother. His grandmother raised four grandchildren and attended graduate school all while caring for his sick grandfather. She represented the struggle of the American working class, Aidan said.

When thinking of ways to best put himself into the mindset of a migrant worker, Aidan said he thought back to the time he read the novel Of Mice and Men in Mr. Vin Catano’s English class. He said the two main characters, George and Lenny, helped him better understand the lives of migrants in America during the Great Depression.

Aidan’s finished product proved a source of pride to his teachers. They agreed that his work demonstrated how well the contest harnesses the creativity of students at CM.

“Picturing America continues to provide students with an authentic opportunity to explore the possibilities of writing in a creative way that connects what they see in an image to the emotions and memories they see within their minds and hearts,” said Ms. Ellen Eberly, a member of the middle school English faculty.

Aidan believes Ms. Eberly and her thorough writing instruction from his days at the CM middle school prepared him well for the contest.

“I had Ms. [Ellen] Eberly in middle school and she constantly stresses the importance of writing drafts over and over again,” said Aidan.

“Having done that, and looking at every single word and thinking it through, I was really proud of myself to see it pay off with a first place finish.” 

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