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Pair of Rams Among Winners Circle in New York Times' 'Coming of Age' Contest
Pair of Rams Among Winners Circle in New York Times' 'Coming of Age' Contest

Harriton High School senior Julia Hoeffner and junior Carmen Miskel have been named winners in the New York Times' Learning Network's "Coming of Age 2021" contest, which serves as an opportunity for students to demonstrate in words, images, video or audio, what it's been like growing up in these challenging times and how the extraordinary events of the past year have affected them.

Hoeffner and Miskel's entries were two of only 25 pieces selected as winners out of more than 4,000 multimedia submissions from students all around the world. Although Harriton's winning pair chose to express themselves through discrete mediums, the judges could not help but recognize the exemplary nature of their respective works. Hoeffner's mask and necklace of aluminum wire and beads and Miskel's ink and paper panels, along with their accompanying artists' statements, symbolize and illustrate the internal struggles they each faced as well as the complex web of resulting emotions.

"We hear from young people around the world every day, and have watched as nearly two years of pandemic isolation and disruption have intensified all the other stresses this generation is facing," reads the contest page on the New York Times' website. "Spend some time with this collection and you'll see that being a teenager right now is also singing karaoke in the bathroom, making mochi on cold December nights, 3D-printing face shields for frontline workers, and coming out to your dad."

Below are Hoeffner and Miskel's artist statements, which provide deeper insight in to their award-winning submissions.

"A Companion Nonetheless" – Carmen Miskel

Carmen Miskel's ink and paper panels

I have struggled with isolation long before 2020. I am somewhat of an introvert, so making plans to meet my friends is really hard for me. Then, once they're made, it is so tempting to flake, especially when the plans are casual and therefore easily-flakeable.

I made this as we began to go back to school in person. I wanted to personify loneliness as a companion. I didn't make him look evil or looming, since being alone is safe and almost comforting. But when I let myself be alone for too long, I get in my head. I go on Instagram and realize how much I'm missing out on (the dreaded FOMO), and I hate myself for canceling those plans, or postponing them to an unforeseeable and nonexistent date. I hate the fact that I am incapable of working up the courage to instigate plans myself, so I am permanently stuck waiting for others to reach out first.

"My New Armor" - Julia Hoeffner

My New Armor

I created this piece in May of 2021. I made both the mask and necklace with aluminum wire and beads.

At the beginning of Covid I had the mindset that other people were my enemies. I had to stay as far away from them as possible. I hid behind my mask, hoping it would protect me.

But soon my mask was protecting me from more than just Covid. It protected me from feeling insecure about my acne. It protected me from nagging thoughts asking "What if I have food in my teeth?" It protected me from the desire to wear a full face of makeup.

Wearing my mask was the best thing that ever happened to me.