Latest Herald Column By SCOTT SAALMAN
I recently read 142 student essays — and I’m not even a teacher!
No, no, it wasn’t because I was sentenced to some community service project due to a DUI conviction. I actually chose to read them — well, maybe I didn’t expect that there would be that many essays to read, but I did voluntarily open myself up for the possibility when I sponsored a humor writing contest for middle-school- and high-school-aged writers.
One hundred and forty-two humor essays at 500 words or less, with the majority being closer to the maximum word count. Many arrived in my inbox on May 1, the contest’s deadline, with one showing up mere minutes before midnight.
There were a lot of good submissions, but the finalist list had room for only 20 stories (10 in each of the two age groups). This says a lot about our young writing talent when the “cutting room floor” is littered with good stories. It also says a lot about the caliber of English teachers in our community who not only teach, but champion, their students to write stories of substance here in the era of the text message. (OK, so some who entered the contest might have done so at gunpoint, but whatever works works.)
One reason I sponsored the contest was to see what funny things were on young people’s minds.
Here are the finalists and their topics:
Willy Krosnyak wrote about smuggling candy into the theater, a family tradition.
Drake Siegel recalled an infamous trip to Walmart when he was way younger: “Then in a sudden swoop, there was my mom, in only what she calls a ‘mortifying moment’ staring at me with the parts of a feminine hygiene product in my hands … swirling one part like a cowboy lasso above my head and the other plastic part between my lips trying to play it like a slide whistle!”
Laurel Hubster recounted her awkward first days in high school: “The first weekend of your freshman year, you’re expected to withstand a night full of sweaty teenage males trying to get you to dance with/on them for three straight hours. What fun! Nothing says ‘welcome to high school’ (more) than being covered in other people’s sweat and saliva.”
Being inept at cooking was Brynn Sermersheim’s subject. “I ended up switching the amount of baking soda to baking powder, a rookie mistake. My mom dropped the dumplings in the pot to let them cook. After an hour, she pulled them out … They were green. The dumplings looked like what is on your tissue when you are sick.”
Mackenzie Walling wrote about being asked the dreaded question, “Do you have a boyfriend?” which included this funny observation about public displays of affection in the hallways, “I just can’t comprehend whatever kind of primal instinct they have that completely wipes their sense of reasoning and makes them need to suck the lunch out from the crevices between their significant other’s teeth.”
Courtney North wrote about a first kiss. “My face crashed with hers, I knocked her off balance, and we fell together like (a) pair of awkward teenage dominoes.”
Andrea Rillo found humor in a flu bug that wiped out her family. Jessica Mundy wrote about the horrors of Middle Child Syndrome. Abigail Hopf wrote about picking her nose during a children’s cooking class at Disney World, explaining unapologetically, “What Nature wants, Nature gets. And Nature got.”
Conner Persohn wrote about a hunting accident — after the hunt. “When he slipped, he somehow had enough strength to hurl the tub of meat up in the air. Now, the tub he carried happened to have a large amount of blood in it and once he tumbled, all of it started raining down, soaking him in deer blood.”
Caroline McCance recalled first-grade fantasies of being the new Taylor Swift. Andrew Wallace got a peanut stuck up his nose; Jake Schotanus suffered the same, only it was a crayon not a nut; Ainsley Pierce wrote about milk shooting from hers.
Mackenzie Belk chronicled a major mess in her mom’s kitchen. Ava Harmon recalled playing a prank on the family pet sitter. Quinn Gunderson wrote about escaping his crib. “It was a magnificent chase … Dad tried to catch me when he dove under the table, but I crawled out of his range. Lucky for me, he even hit his head on the table getting up. Score!”
Celeste Eby’s baseball-playing brother was her subject. Ellery Wurster recalled a family trip.
Grayson Russ wrote about a canine cheeseburger thief. “I heard a shout and saw my yellow lab, Baylee, running with a meaty prize between her jaws … She had a big stupid grin on her face, even though she was being chased by a crowd of girls, desperate to get back their beloved cheeseburger … Boy, did that dog like red meat!”
This Thursday night, these 20 finalists will be introduced on the Astra stage during a Will Read and Sing For Food show to benefit The Next Act, whose mission is to revive and revitalize the Astra Theatre. The first-place winners in both categories will read their stories to the audience, as part of the show. You will laugh when you hear them. I did when I read them. Come out to support our future humor writers and a great community cause.