The School Newspaper of West High School

West Signals

The School Newspaper of West High School

West Signals

The School Newspaper of West High School

West Signals

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Please, Enter This Year’s Reflections Contest

Pictured above is the National PTA’s flyer advertising the Reflections Contest. Elementary schooler Alice Meko of Hampton Cove Elementary School in Alabama inspired this year’s theme. Fall entries are due on October 15, 2023. Photo courtesy of the National PTA.
Pictured above is the National PTA’s flyer advertising the Reflections Contest. Elementary schooler Alice Meko of Hampton Cove Elementary School in Alabama inspired this year’s theme. Fall entries are due on October 15, 2023. Photo courtesy of the National PTA.

   Whether through musical composition, literature, or the visual arts, artwork has been one of humanity’s tools for articulating creative ideas throughout the ages. Recently, however, it would seem that art has become increasingly undervalued, with the majority of people labeling it as unnecessary in life. To the contrary, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for people to express themselves, especially in these distracting times where many will spend countless hours consumed by technology all by themselves.

   One of the best ways for students at West to showcase their artistic expression is through the annual Reflections Contest, an eclectic event comprised of six categories: film production, dance choreography, music composition, literature, visual arts, and photography. Each year, students in Pre-K through Grade 12 can produce works tailored to a unique theme. Those who win at their schools move on to the district level, and can then potentially be selected as state and national winners. 

   Despite how enticing it may be to win in a national-level competition, that’s hardly why I would encourage students to participate.

   As any high schooler knows, life gets overwhelming. Many students have to balance sports, jobs, volunteer work, and an assortment of extracurricular activities on top of their everyday schoolwork. The beautiful thing about art is its ability to portray these emotions in a single music piece or essay. Leah Ho (11), a student who has participated in the contest since elementary school and was last year’s district-level winner for music composition, described her artwork as a method to “relax and decompress.” Her music allowed her to “reduce stress, improve [her] mental health” and it also acted as an “emotional and creative outlet.” For many students, expressing emotion through art can be a fruitful outlet from the stressful demands of reality. Why wouldn’t you want to participate in an activity that grants you mental peace with the potential of receiving an award?

   It’s understandable that many might be dissuaded from participating, as it can be difficult for some students to fully express themselves or their ideas. Fortunately, another great thing about the Reflections Contest is the versatility of its prompts. Last year’s theme was “Show Your Voice!”, and this year’s is “I am Hopeful Because. . .”. Both are open-ended statements in which students can answer any way they choose. Bernice Nkemnji (11), a student who was always hesitant about the contest but entered for the first time last year, placed second in the literature category. Nkemnji conveyed how each theme is unique and “not all the entries are gonna look the same.” For students struggling with what to write or compose, I’d remind them that the contest “allows for a lot of creativity” and to imitate whatever comes to mind first: be free and allow the beauty of artwork to shine.

   The versatility of the theme allows students to submit artwork specific to the reason they have for entering. While some might not have as much of a need to express their emotions as others, everyone should still participate. Matthew Bang (11), a student who has taken part in the contest since elementary school and has placed at the national level, commented, “If [you] want to [enter the contest], just do it . . . Some people just want to do it for fun. Some people want to do it as a coping mechanism for stress.” Whatever your reason may be, entering the contest won’t do any harm. Bang encouraged, “Overall, it’s just lovely for someone to at least try something new once in a while.” 

   I especially believe that students should enter this year’s contest because the current theme is one everyone can relate to. Mrs. Suzanne Gibson, an administrator of the Reflections Contest in the local Torrance area, remarked, “This year’s theme really allows the participants to have a blank page that can go anywhere.” Mrs. Gibson emphasized how “creative expression is always important” and that students shouldn’t be hesitant to show what their unique talents are. Mrs. Gibson gave a friendly reminder: “Not everyone can put their thoughts into words, and not every word can be translated into an image.”

  As previously stated, everyone has their motivations and only good things come out of Reflections. For Nkemnji, the contest was “fun, and you see what you’re capable of.” For Ho, it’s “showing off your capabilities” and “create[ing] connections” between other artists and officials in the school districts. Ho also elucidated how “winners from all categories have their art showcased,” allowing students to share their convictions with the world. 

   Last fall I entered the Reflections Contest with a single idea: putting myself and my vision out into the world. I was experiencing a confounding time in my life where I had just quit the sport I had played since my childhood ― I had so many things to say, so I spoke through my writing. I encapsulated the joys and pains of a long journey into a single essay. To my delighted surprise, I managed to place in the contest. It was an indescribable feeling to see my hard work rewarded. I love the Reflections Contest because it enables me to write about whatever I wish. I don’t have to worry about my responsibilities or my future; I simply exist in the moment. 

   All that said, I hope you consider submitting artwork this fall. Whatever’s on your mind, whatever’s troubling you, whatever’s inspiring you, shout it out. Whether you’re ecstatic or saddened, burdened or soaring high, pour out your emotions. Don’t be afraid to put pen to paper, brush to canvas, footwork to floor, fingers to instrument, you name it! Nkemnji explained it best: “There’s always a category for everybody that you can find and interpret in your own way.”

   So. Why are you hopeful?

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About the Contributor
Joshua Lee, Staff Writer
Joshua Lee is a staff writer for West Signals and a junior at West High School. It’s his first year writing for Signals and he is excited to participate and learn about the process of journalism. Some of Josh’s hobbies include reading, exercising, playing guitar, and spending time with his friends and family.