Dennis Grantz, our lead photography instructor, took the time to write about his experience in New York watching student, Jason Bursley, receive his national art award. Read below to share the phenomenal experience.

Jason Bursley’s universe just expanded. After all, how many high school seniors can say they have been onstage at Carnegie Hall?

May 31 was a magical night for 130 students grades 7 through 12 from across America. Their work rose to the top of over 230,000 entries in the 2013 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, selected by blind jury at the regional then national level, and resulting with their being honored with medals at the national award ceremony in New York City.

While it was the 90th anniversary of the awards it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jason, who was accompanied by his mother Erin, also an avid photographer. The ceremony opened with a video address from Michelle Obama congratulating the students, and concluded with a surprise appearance from Usher that set the room buzzing. In between, a list of luminaries including actress Sarah Jessica Parker and fashion design star Zac Posen offered praise and words of creative wisdom to the winners.

Having been to the awards as an instructor for WMCAT once before, I was aware of the inspirational power of the event, but I have to admit I was unprepared for the flood of emotion and pride I experienced when the students stood to applaud and cheer their teachers. Sometimes we need to be reminded just how important an encouraging word can be, or what a great difference some timely guidance in a student’s life can make. I was reminded that night. Watching the enthusiasm with which those students cheered, it brought home how significantly we affect the minds, hearts, and dreams of the youth in our lives. It also demonstrated the power of the arts to cultivate imagination, purpose, and creative thought – all great tools for shaping a successful future.

Beyond the thrill of Carnegie Hall, a weekend in New York for a photographer is an opportunity not to be missed, and for a teen photographer who has never been there before, it is a dream come true. The diverse humanity, the street scenes, the architecture, Times Square, Central Park, and the countless nuances of light, textures and sounds of the city are an endless source of creative material for the artistically inclined. You can dream big there, and walking the city, it becomes apparent that the world is full of possibilities. For Jason and the scores of young artists who traveled to New York for this great honor, the universe has just expanded.