Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Eyes on the Prize: Haoran Xu and Sandra Chen

Loribelle Lapaix  //  Apr 10, 2019

Eyes on the Prize: Haoran Xu and Sandra Chen

The 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recently recognized 16 high school seniors who received the program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship.

Throughout April and May, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify students with exceptional artistic and literary talent and present their remarkable work to the world through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, will highlight two Gold Medal Portfolio recipients on their blog. This week, they are celebrating the work of Haoran Xu (Ashburnham, MA) and Sandra Chen (Pleasanton, CA).

Haoran Xu

“I seek evolution in human history and cultural legacy. From the Chinese cultural evolution to industrialization and the demise of the authenticity of faith, there lies an irony in human endeavor. Yet the merit, as well as the comical aspects of human society, continues to shape our understanding of the world. So I take the chance to find the future of architecture based on historic social structures and to express individualism in the context of concrete jungles called cities.”

Sandra Chen

“This portfolio is both a reflection and a call to action. I hope (w)om(e)n promotes greater empathy and understanding, encouraging readers to consider the complexities of the young female experience on a deeper, more personal level. Moreover, in the current context of the #MeToo movement, I think female-driven stories are especially necessary to counter systemic societal inequalities. I hope my portfolio can play a small part in this change, helping young women empower one another and realize that their stories are just as real, valid, and deserving.”

Maybe We’re Okay by Sandra Chen (excerpt of short story)

Stomach-down on a pillow and hunched-back against the headboard, our bodies bend around each other. Ada’s busy sinking into her Art of Problem Solving book, her fingers resting against her lips, integers oozing down her tongue. Meanwhile, I’m slipping into a consciousness that is not my own, submerged in words that are heavier than anything I know. It’s quiet, but there’s a rhythm in the scratches of graphite tips and the clicking of plastic keys, the little quips back and forth between strokes.

“What’s the cube root of 1728?” Ada asks, her words muffled between teeth and nails.

“What’s a synonym for I’m-not-your-calculator?”


I laugh, and we fall back into the kind of silence that is anything but empty.

The truth is, I have never understood Ada’s love for math, with its rigidity, its repetition, its sharpness of angles and edges that cuts right through me. In school, I shove numbers and formulas down my throat and try not to choke; she drinks them like honey, sweet and sticky.

Ada has never understood my love for words. Poetry is too flowery for her, too messy, too many little words hiding deeper meanings, or else too many big words without one. She crafts her words slowly, meticulously; I have learned how to swallow them and embrace the burnt aftertaste.

I’ve talked about it, about us, with my therapist, Dr. Frey. She says that numbers are Ada’s anchor, the constants she relies on when everything else changes, and that words are mine, the release I turn to when my brain won’t stop screaming. I think she’s right, that deep down, Ada and I are the same. Ada needs the clean-cut world of numbers, of strict rules and postulates, of numeral realms in which there is always a right answer; I need the shards of language, the downpour of words across a page, the freedom and power of both creation and destruction. Sometimes she thinks the only problems she knows how to solve are the ones plastered in the pages of her textbook; sometimes I think the only life I can control is the one constructed in the taps of my keyboard. The truth is we are both drowning, and somehow we have become each other’s gasping breath.


To see more Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, past and present, visit the Eyes on the Prize series on the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog.

Cover image: HAORAN XU, Floating City/Sky Village Project, Architecture & Industrial Design. Image in body: HAORAN XU, Chronicle of Humanity, Drawing & Illustration