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Draper Journal

Draper teen honored at national Reflections competition

Sep 05, 2019 12:03PM ● By Julie Slama

Draper Park Middle School eighth-grader Joey Garrett, who wrote an essay titled “Day by Day” about her neighbor’s positive approach to life while battling cancer, won the national Reflections contest Award of Merit in literature and was awarded a medal at the national PTA convention this past summer. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Garrett)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Annette Ferran was a family friend. She was a wife, a mother of four and a leader in her community, and although she recently died of stomach cancer, to Draper teenager Joey Garrett, she remains her hero.

In an essay, Joey wrote about her neighbor: “When she was diagnosed, many people would think that she would settle down and start accepting help. Instead, Annette dedicated her life to service. She told me her motto is, and always has been, ‘Service can get us through hard times.’ When she is sick, when she needs help, she decides to ​give ​instead of ​get​, by understanding that some people have it worse than she does. She says giving service makes her very happy: ‘It’s really a very simple thing, but it has affected my life and so many others.’ She inspires me.”

As a Draper Park eighth-grader, Joey entered that essay last school year in the PTA Reflections contest and recently traveled to the national convention in Columbus, Ohio, where she was awarded a bronze medal as a national Award of Merit winner in her age group.

Her essay, “Day by Day,” was written to the theme, “Heroes Around Me,” and will be part of the national traveling exhibition, which will begin at the U.S. Department of Education in January 2020 and will conclude in June in Louisville, Kentucky.

For 50 years, more than 300,000 students from pre-kindergarten through high school seniors annually create original works of art in line with a student-selected theme. Students submit their completed works of art in one or all of the available arts categories: dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts. Student winners have a chance to compete at their school level through nationals.

The theme for this school year is “Look Within.” 

Joey, who is a freshman at Corner Canyon High this fall, said she always has loved writing and hasn’t thought of an idea for this year’s contest. Last year was the first time she entered Reflections.

“I’ve had fun with the competition and have had so many great opportunities. Even though I knew what Annette was doing, I am glad I had the interview with her. I feel as if I’ve learned from her and her approach. She said, ‘You can either be miserable or you can be happy,’ and that has stuck by me. She had the attitude if she had a bad day, she wouldn’t let it get her down, and said that the next day would be better,” Joey said.

Joey said that after talking to her neighbor, she wrote an outline for her essay. She rewrote parts and edited it several times before letting her mother, MaryBeth, read it. Then, she shared it with Ferran.

“She read it and loved it; I gave her a copy,” Joey said.

Joey won her school, region and state. Shortly after, her neighbor died before learning about Joey’s national award.

“I still live by what she said and take everything day by day. It helps me by taking on her attitude and approach,” Joey said.

At nationals, Joey and her dad, Stephen, flew to the red-carpet event.

“The Utah delegation came over and took photos of me. I went up on stage to get my medal and was told my essay would be in the traveling exhibit. It was so fun,” she said.

Now the national medal hangs on her bedroom mirror.

“I feel as if this has changed my approach,” she said. “I can choose to be happy and help others.”

Utah PTA Director of Communications Amy Choate-Nielsen said for Joey and other Utahns to be selected for national recognition amongst 50,000 entries “says a lot about their talent and ability to express themselves. For Joey, she wrote about her neighbor and how she was living her life as a hero and how it was impacting her. The judges could resonate with that.”

Only 200 students were selected to compete at the national level.

“Reflections is a valuable program that allows children and teens to think through difficult concepts and experiences,” Choate-Nielsen said. “It’s also very cool that it adapts itself over time to include animation and 3D art. We’re proud of our students who have created expressions of art and have gone on to the national level.”

While Choate-Nielsen said there is no record of the number of Utahns who have competed and placed at nationals, she said the state regularly does have winners because “Utah celebrates the arts and it’s really important to our culture. It’s a testimonial to parents for strongly supporting and volunteering with the program, and to students, who use it as an artistic outlet of expression.”

Utah has been instrumental in the development of Reflections, with Jean Irwin encouraging the addition of film production and dance choreography to the program in 2005, and then the state piloting both theater and 3D art as categories, the latter of which was added after the trial run, Choate-Nielsen said.