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Two Students Win National Art Awards

Two Mercersburg Academy students won National Silver Medals in the 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition.

Dayoung Kim ’23 of Seoul, Korea, was recognized for her portfolio “Paradigm Shift,” while Sean Qin ’25 of Shanghai, China, received the award for his photograph “China.”

“They should both be very proud of their accomplishments and the work that led them here,” said Kristen Pixler P ’26, a member of Mercersburg’s arts faculty. “It is an incredible achievement.”

Kim and Qin were part of a group of 19 Mercersburg Academy students who were honored in the 2023 South Central Pennsylvania Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition, which is part of the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. 

See photos of the students and more photos of their artwork at this link.

Kim’s portfolio reveals her introspective personality and artistic versatility through the six pieces she entered: 

  • “The Window of the Past”–Oil painting on canvas of a scene in Germany, where she lived for a year.

  • “Gilded World”–Acrylic in a mirror frame to represent the contrast between reality and social media.

  • “Super Baby”–Sculpture of a baby in a super-power cape whose face is modeled after Kim’s childhood photo. Popped balloons signify ended relationships that can be dealt with through growth from childhood to maturity. 

  • “Shelling In”–Sculpture of a shell holding baby shoes, signifying the desire to be childish when expectations are to be mature. The shell symbolizes protection. Kim used vinyl, plastic and other items that are typically used as wrapping materials. The baby shoes are white, representing the purity of childhood, and exist as if a rare pearl inside a protective shell.

  • “re-Place”–Pen and pencil drawing of Kim’s boarding school journey from Korea to Germany to the United States. Kim’s roommate, Emily Tan ’24, helped her create a video of the journey, using lights to feature the variety of images in the work.

  • “Remember”–Tattoo stickers created by Kim and displayed on her back. The scene represents various phases Kim has gone through, making her who she is today and who she plans to be tomorrow.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to have Day’s work recognized on such a grand level and in the company of past recipients who became household names in the arts,” said Sydney Caretti P ’24, ’26, Mercersburg’s director of galleries and a member of the arts faculty. “She has truly earned and is most deserving of this distinction.”

In her third year at Mercersburg, Kim, 19, said art has helped her define who she is and where she is going. This fall, she will attend Duke University, majoring in psychology. She also plans to take art courses there.

“What a lucky person I am to be here and enter this competition with support from outstanding people,” said Kim, noting that Advanced Studies: Studio Art, taught by Caretti, has been her favorite class at Mercersburg. “She really gave us a lot of freedom and flexibility, but also a lot of responsibility. I was able to learn a lot about myself and had that time to explore who I am and express myself artistically.

“I used to not be confident–diffident–but she was the one who really saw potential in me. She’s the first person I think of when I have some good news to share.”

Kim is serving as the online editor-in-chief for the student newspaper, The Mercersburg News, which created a new website platform this year. 

She is also a dorm prefect in Fowle Hall: “I love it there. The young people actually invigorate me.”

Winning the national art award was “overwhelming.”

“I never thought I deserved this recognition,” Kim said. “I didn’t really believe in my artistic abilities. I’m so grateful that people recognized my work. I never received any recognition officially from any institution, so it’s something very meaningful to me, especially in the U.S. and with Ms. Caretti. I’m so grateful for that.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which were founded in 1923.

"China" by Sean Qin

Qin, who is in his first year at Mercersburg, said he entered the competition and won regional Scholastic awards last year when he was attending Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. 

He often wonders what story could be told from a moment captured in a photo. For his winning entry, taken in Suzhou, China, he imagines a father, arriving home after a long day’s work, being greeted by enthusiastic children. He appreciates the contrast between aging architecture and the newness of the motorcycle scooter.

“I saw this alley, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is pretty historical. There are two foregrounds. The leaves on the floor encompass a frame. The color composition is extremely good, too,” said Qin, 16. “The angle was really great. I squatted down and took the photo because I had to get on the same level as the man.”

At Mercersburg, Qin initially enrolled in Photography I, but then asked if he could take Photography II instead. His wish was granted once his instructors saw his work.

“Sean is a talented photographer who is truly invested in the art and craft of photography,” said Pixler, who has Qin in Photo II. “As a 10th grader, he has big aspirations, a desire to excel, and the work ethic to achieve. The National Silver Key for his photograph ‘China’ is due to these attributes and his bright, engaged mind.”

Qin said Pixler helped him select photos for the contest and has been a great help throughout the spring term Photography II class.

For beginning photography students, Qin recommends studying the work of great photographers. 

“Look more into the good photos that great photographers take and see how they compose them. Take more photos. Try to imitate some of the best photos because then you will know how to compose a photo,” Qin said, noting that it’s important to remember that there’s a story behind every photo. “The camera is a tool that helps you to capture a moment.”

Outside of his photography interests, Qin is a member of the outdoor track & field team. 

He said his roommate, Justin Oh ’25, really made him feel welcome this year. Plus it helps to have a solid friend group. He enjoys spending time with Koon Hui ’25, Get Poolvoraluk ’25, Khanh Nguyen ’25, and Albert Park ’25.

“My friends really comfort me,” Qin said. “It has been extremely great here.”

Pictured top: Pen and pencil drawing, re-Place, by Dayoung Kim of her boarding school journey from Korea to Germany to the United States.

Pictured in story: “China” by Sean Qin