An inquisitive student, rockstar runner, dedicated community service leader and in the words of English teacher Hayley Conroy, “natural leader,” senior Laura Romig is multi-talented. Most recently, Romig earned a Gold Medal, a selective award presented to only “the most outstanding works in the nation,” in the 2020 National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her short story, “The Sum of All Things.”
Since 1923, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have “recognized the vision, ingenuity and talent of our nation’s youth,” according to the competition’s website, providing opportunities for creative teens to be celebrated each year. Presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization with the mission of identifying exceptional artistic and literary talent, the Scholastic Awards accepts work from students in grades seven through 12 in 28 different categories. In 2020, students nationwide submitted nearly 320,000 works of art and writing.
After submitting seven pieces to the regional competition, Romig received three Gold Keys in the poetry and flash fiction categories, along with three Honorable Mentions, which meant she would automatically be considered for a Gold Medal. “I was surprised when I won the Gold Medal but it was also inspiring and gratifying to know that my writing, which I had mainly just been doing for myself, could have an impact and be recognized outside of just my own headspace,” said Romig. “Also, I was honestly shocked, as I really didn’t think ‘The Sum of All Things’ was my best piece at all, but it was still really exciting.”
“The Sum of All Things” is a story that details a family living in a changing world and the connection between brothers, Foster and Ellis, as well as the sons and their mother. “I wanted to portray that familial relationships aren’t perfect or clear cut,” said Romig. “They require effort and compromise like any other relationship, but they also stick with us forever.”
According to Mrs. Conroy, it is a masterful study in voice. “Its narrator, Foster, has a mercurial, dreamy tone that is so authentic to that of a young person who bears a deep and longing sadness,” said Mrs. Conroy. “The story possesses an economy of language and a cadence that reads like finely crafted poetry.”
Inspiration for her piece derived from a wintertime stay at her grandparents’ house. “During winter, I was alone for a lot of the time, so that definitely added to the piece,” said Romig. “I created this world with the winter that seems to last forever because I wanted to evoke the suffocation and helplessness that I know a lot of young people feel in the world we live in today. However, I think that giving a sign of hope for change at the close of the story with the winter coming to an end was my way of reminding myself and the reader that we still have the time and space to escape this winter and work our way out of it.”
What was most intriguing to Romig was the strange future that her story foreshadowed. “Although I wrote the piece in the winter, it’s really weird because looking back on it now, it reminds me a lot of the isolation that we all experienced and are still facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
After taking Mrs. Conroy’s Creative Writing class last year, Romig realized that writing can also be much more than just inner reflections for herself. “I’ve always found writing as a way to express myself, as it is just a great way for me to share how I am feeling,” said Romig. “However, with Creative Writing, I recognized the power in honing my skills and becoming a better fiction prose and poetry writer, and that if I enhance these skills, I can also be recognized for my writing.”
Romig passion for writing continues to deepen as a leader of Knight Gallery, a club that meets to review creative writing that Pace upper school students submit for possible inclusion in the annual literary magazine. “I love being on Knight Gallery, as it never feels like work to me,” said Romig. “I get so excited for the meetings every week because anyone can just say what comes to mind and the people in it are so great. I especially appreciate seeing the underclassmen be vulnerable, getting to read their writing and helping them become stronger writers because they were me two years ago. I love giving and receiving feedback because it really helps people to grow as writers.”
According to Mrs. Conroy, Laura always takes initiative by bringing her own ideas to the table, which ultimately benefits Knight Gallery substantially. “Laura is organized, an excellent communicator, and always dependable,” said Mrs. Conroy. “Most importantly, she possesses a passion for, and exquisite understanding of, the ways in which language can ignite the soul.”
Romig attributes credit to both Mrs. Conroy and fellow senior Alivia Wynn for being her major artistic influences. “Alivia actually told me that I had won the award, and she was really excited for me,” said Romig. “We support each other as writers all the time, which is cool. We read and workshop each other’s pieces, hype each other up and co-lead Knight Gallery.”
As co-leaders of Knight Gallery, Romig and Wynn share the responsibility of running the meetings, while including every group member and critiquing writing with an eye for improvement. “The two of them are the dream team; they share an energy and enthusiasm that is infectious,” said Mrs. Conroy.
Outside of the Pace community, Romig has also found inspiration with spoken word poetry, and specifically Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese-American poet, essayist and novelist. “Over the past couple of years, I have really loved spoken word poetry, as it lives in this in between space between poetry and expression, often focusing on autobiographical topics,” said Romig.
And it’s not just writing that Romig draws inspiration from. “Music is definitely a great creative outlet for me,” said Romig. “I play in the orchestra but I also really love listening and analyzing music, as it makes me even want to write lyrics. I also have a food Instagram account (@lauraxceats) where I can find creativity in cooking. I would just say that if you like creating something, whether its art, music, or even sewing, you shouldn’t let that take a backseat in your life because it’s just as, or more important than, a lot of other things, especially if it brings you joy.”
To read “The Sum of All Things” and other pieces that Romig has written, check out the 2019-2020 edition of The Knight Gallery here.