West Roxbury, Mass.— When freshman John Marcucci puts pencil to paper, he keeps an eraser nearby.
He refers to it as his favorite writing utensil. And for good reason too.
When answering why, John looks no further than his honorable mention award for fiction writing that he won at Catholic Memorial School’s Picturing America Writing Contest last month. The red ink, pigeon-scratch, and, above all else, the blurred eraser marks littering his final drafts explain everything.
To him, those eraser marks remind him of his own personal growth. The encouragement of his mentors at CM to write with the eraser allowed him to spill his mind into the world without fear of starting over again.
“I like how when I start writing, it looks completely different from when I finish it,” said John, a Medfield resident.
“It’s satisfying to look back on your work and see how far you’ve come. All the work pays off in a good final draft.”
It took John three years and a few CM mentors to find this sense of encouragement in an eraser. In that span, a transformation occurred within John the writer and, more importantly, John the person.
When John looks back on his first month at CM three years ago, he remembers carrying a book with him to lunch every day. Shy and reserved, John avoided talking to his seventh-grade classmates. He preferred his own company instead. There in the Commons, he spent his 25-minute lunch reading Of Mice and Men and Harry Potter. Lost in between pages of John Steinbeck and J.K. Rowling, he kept his love of fiction to himself.
This midday routine occurred every day until early-October. That fall, John attended the middle school’s annual trip to Acadia National Park. Without his homework or cellphone to preoccupy his attention, John boarded a bus into the Maine wilderness with a pit of apprehension in his stomach. All his seventh-grade classmates attended the trip, which, to John, meant he needed to take a step out of his comfort zone.
Made possible with a grant from Rockland Trust, the trip to Acadia provides students with a real-world, active classroom built for scientific research and inquiry. That said, John anticipated a trip focused on just the local wildlife and geology. But, his experience took him by surprise. On the first night of the trip, he met his roommate Aidan. The two hit it off immediately. They spent hours talking to each other and exploring the Maine wilderness. Around Aidan, John felt comfortable opening-up about his many interests.
Even his interest in fiction writing.
Together, they encouraged one another to explore new interests around CM’s Baker Street campus. John encouraged Aidan to explore his interests in theater. Aidan, in turn, challenged John to share his own creative fiction writing. For the rest of that year, his seventh grade English teacher Ms. Ellen Eberly read his writing and passed along as much feedback possible.
Ms. Eberly implements a multiple draft system in her seventh and eighth grade English classes. In her system, she pushes each student to use their own mental “erasers” when organizing writing and finding their voice throughout the writing process.
At first, John found her criticism unexpected. He expected perfect marks. Earlier in middle school, teachers applauded his first drafts. However, her encouragement motivated John to keep submitting draft after draft, no matter how much red ink colored his pages.
“The structure she provided me for revising my writing really gave me the support I needed to look back on my work and proof it completely,” said John.
“Before I use to just free-write and my final drafts would be loaded with typos and mistakes. Now, I feel more confident in letting my thoughts flow and letting myself criticize what shows up on paper.”
The results paid off this year. No longer afraid to share his talents, John continued writing and even explored Aidan's interest in theater. This fall, he played Tony Kirby in CM’s fall musical You Can’t Take it with You. He later tried out for the basketball team and earned a spot on the freshman squad. All the while, his writing continued to improve.
His current English I teacher, Mr. Vin Catano, found his enthusiasm for writing quite unique.
“He’s very gifted with language,” said Mr. Catano.
“He enjoys words and really looks forward to writing every day in class.”
Every year, CM English teachers invite their students to submit fiction, non-fiction, or poetry to the school’s Picturing America Contest. Each submission must offer an original response to a piece of artwork said to symbolize America. Mr. Catano, aware of John’s interest in fiction writing, encouraged John to submit a piece.
Upon reading John’s submission in response to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained-glass window photo Autumn Landscape, Mr. Catano saw John’s potential fulfilled.
“I mean his piece for Picturing America was outstanding,” said Mr. Catano.
Among a field of over 200 submissions, the freshman placed among the top 12 submissions to receive an honor. He now believes that he holds an even more powerful tool than the eraser in his writing arsenal—confidence.
Now, John sets his sights ahead to the 2019 Will McDonough Writing Contest. When asked about his ideas for the sports fiction category, John began to bob and weave through the details of a high school basketball player who ends his career in the state championship game.
But, as if lassoing his thoughts from running away, he paused. Before giving away too many details, he smiled and remembered his eraser.
“I’d tell you more about it, but I know it’s going to keep changing and evolving,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s better that way.”