The Ritz Herald
'Masked Together'. © Helen Ngo

Fifteen High School Students Nationally Recognized for Excellence in Visual Arts, Spoken Word, and Media Arts

Part of Walgreens Expressions Challenge

Published on May 31, 2021

After a rigorous and tie-breaking judging process, 15 high school students representing the states of California, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia have been named winners of the 2021 Walgreens Expressions Challenge, in a field of 3,554 entries from across the country.

By combining artistic expression with individual student research, the Expressions Challenge empowers high school students to positively influence their classmates, school and community. Teens are encouraged to use their voice through art, spoken word, music and public service announcements (PSAs) to communicate their perspectives on challenging life issues such as bullying, self-esteem, gender identity, body image, sexual responsibility and more. Teens today face these and other circumstances and, for many, their anxieties are compounded by the effects of COVID-19.

The unprecedented times of a global pandemic call for unprecedented measures. With this in mind, Walgreens launched Expressions Challenge as a national, virtual program for the first time. Twelve winners from three categories – visual arts, video production, and spoken word – were awarded $2,000 each at a special awards ceremony on May 21. Winners include:

Visual Arts

  • Olivia Moon (Holding On) of Shin and Lee Art Studio, Valencia, Calif.
  • Helen Ngo (Masked Together) of Irvington High School, Freemont, Calif.
  • Grace Wang (Like My Recent) of Plano West High School, Plano, Tex.
  • Mariah Young (Light in the Darkness) of Rancho Mirage High School, Cathedral City, Calif.

Spoken Word

  • Anaya King (Better Than What?) of CAPA High School, Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Ayana Askew (Is Justice Blind?) of Governors School for the Arts, Norfolk, Va.
  • John Liu (A “Model” Minority’s Place in the Oppression Olympics) of Pineville High School, Pineville, La.
  • Emily Copeland (To Be Young, Gifted and Black) of Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Cambria Heights, N.Y.

Media Arts

  • Ivie Aiwuyo (A World Outside Your Electronic Box) of Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, Chicago, Ill.
  • Kenneth Howard (Follow Your Heart) of Chicago High School of the Arts, Chicago, Ill.
  • Leonardo Cross (Smile) of Art and Design High School, New York City, N.Y.
  • Sheny Delgado (To Past Me …) of New Haven High School, New Haven, Mo.

This year, the program includes a Specialty Award category for the best entry that addresses the effects of the pandemic and its impact on the mental health of teens. Alondra Zaragoza, from San Bernardino, Calif., is the winner in this category for her entry The Change and she received $1,000.

The Walgreens Expressions Challenge program was launched in 2009 in Chicago and St. Louis at the suggestion of the Walgreens Community Task Force which at the time was was alarmed by the rising number of incidents of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV and AIDS, among high school students. Over the past dozen years, there has been a substantial rise in Expressions entries related to mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and even suicide prevention. Now, more than ever, teens need an outlet for self-expression and to find their voice. The Heritage Award is in recognition of Chicago and St. Louis, representing where the Expressions Challenge started. Two teens and one teacher in both Chicago and St. Louis are recognized. Each teen received $500 and each teacher received $200. Student winners are: Samantha Oliva (Just Grow With It) of Nicholas Senn High School, Chicago, Ill., and Morgan Elliff (Distraction) of Belleville West High School, Belleville, Ill.

“We are so proud to help provide a meaningful, safe platform for our youth to be authentic and share their true expressions about the individual challenges they are facing,” explains John Standley, president, Walgreens. “This program helps us give back by recognizing the exemplary work of both students and teachers around the country. And, each year of the program is even more exciting than the previous one. We’re always amazed by the inspiration and creativity of the students’ submissions.”

Culture Editor