The North Carolina Azalea Festival introduced a new contest in 2017, the High School Writing Contest, in an effort to reach out to more youth in the greater Wilmington area. High School students are invited to submit either a descriptive essay or poem. Many thoughtful, interesting, and creative entries are received and judged by a local team of writers. Winners and finalists are selected from each category and receive various prizes from the Azalea Festival and outside the community.
Love Where You Live…in the Springtime!
Writing submissions were due by Thursday, January 28th, 2021 for the High School Writing Contest. Students in high schools across the state of North Carolina are invited to enter.
1st Place – Mairead Benson, 11th grader at John T. Hoggard High School “The Azaleas of 2021”
Mairead Benson is the 1st place winner in the Essay category of the Azalea Festival High School Writing Contest with her piece titled, “The Azaleas of 2021.” She is an active 11th grader at John T. Hoggard High School, carrying a challenging academic course load, playing on the Women’s Golf team, and participating with the Beta Club and in its many service projects. Mairead is also active at her church as an acolyte and lay reader and particularly enjoys spending her Sunday afternoons relaxing and hanging out with her youth group friends and working on service projects with them as well. Toys for Tots is one of her favorites. She has sung in her school choir since middle school and is looking forward to finally getting to attend the Governor’s School of North Carolina this summer for vocal music. Mairead’s favorite subjects in school are History and Psychology, which she would like to study in college. Right now, she is immersed in the application process for three US service academies. Her family has a strong military background so she hopes to be accepted at one of them, following her lifelong dream and her family’s footsteps.
“The Azaleas of 2021”
This past year, the world completely stopped, turning our lives upside down. Everywhere we turned, on every TV channel and in every newspaper headline, we saw and heard the same words: “Coronavirus,” “riots,” “political divides and unrest.” It literally felt like the world was spinning out of control and would never stop. Schools and businesses closed their doors, protestors took to the streets, and our country was more divided than it has ever been. Everyone longs for some semblance of normalcy, a tiny piece of the old way of life. But it seems so out of reach. I want nothing more than to go to school and learn at a desk, not behind a screen. I want to hug my friends and see their smiles, not stay six feet apart and try to understand how they are feeling and what they are saying through a mask. However, no matter what is happening in the world, days turn to nights and the clock keeps ticking. Spring turned to summer, which in turn became fall, and transitioned to winter. When spring is finally here again, it will once again be different. This year, there will likely not be any parties, parades or concerts. Despite all that has happened over the past year, springtime in Wilmington is one thing that we can count on to make things better and brighter. The sun still shines brightly from the azure blue sky. The wind still blows softly, rustling the leaves on the trees and carrying the sweet scent of azaleas and the ocean. The beautiful springtime flowers still bloom and grow, and the pollen still causes lots of sneezes and itchy eyes. It looks just like it did last year, but in a way, it is even more beautiful. In the past, we have celebrated the coming of spring together in person, but this year, like last year, we will likely be celebrating together at heart. We are not able to honor our old traditions, so we should establish new ones. It is time to take more mindful walks on the beach or in the park, and really see and feel the beauty of nature that constantly surrounds us and that we normally take for granted. It is time to read a new book under the shade of a tree, or spend an evening with your family around a firepit. After all the sadness that has plagued our country and the world, it is time to relax and appreciate the good things in life, like the coming of spring and the love of friends and family. The Azalea Festival is more than just parades, concerts, street fairs, and parties. The Azalea Festival is the embodiment of the feeling of togetherness that people from all over North Carolina feel when they celebrate spring and honor the beautiful azalea. Although we will be celebrating in a socially distant fashion and likely with just our families this year, the 2021 Azalea Festival will proceed exactly as planned.
2nd and 3rd Place Winners
2nd Place – Rileigh Pedersen 11th grader at Wilmington Early College High School “My Heart, My Home”
3nd Place – Raegan Whitley 11th grader at Southeastern Christian Academy “Springtime in the Carolinas”
1st Place – Adrian Jones, 12th grader at Cape Fear Academy “Let the Festivities Begin”
Adrian is a lifelong dancer, named Mr. Dance of America 2020 and scheduled to perform in the Azalea Festival Parade this summer. He is an only child and has no pets, but fills his spare time dancing and choreographing, singing, and playing the violin and the flute in the school band. He has
performed with the Opera House Theatre Company in its production of 42 nd Street and with the CFA school choir at Carnegie Hall as part of a pre-pandemic 911 Memorial fundraiser. Adrian is planning to attend ECU after graduation and study Environmental Science and possibly minor in something music, dance, and performance related. Fun Fact about Adrian: He is fostering an orphan elephant in Kenya named Kindani.
“Let the Festivities Begin!”
Come one, come all! Azalea Fest is here!
So much to see and so much to hear!
The azaleas waltz with the breeze in sync,
In gardens of red, white, purple, and pink,
Sweet funnel cakes and root beer floats,
The sight of the Cape Fear filled with boats,
Vendors yell for customers to seek
Their goods under tents along Front Street
Booms can be heard from miles away
From the concerts, fireworks, and Azalea Parade
The Queen’s Court and Mayor deck out in their ‘do
And shout to the people a friendly “Yoo-hoo!”
Celebrities escorted by police to greet
Their adoring fans who are ready to meet
Traditions continue as I gather my tribe
And we hit all the spots to get into the vibe.
2nd and 3rd Place Winners
2nd Place – Jordan Gates, 9th grader at Topsail High School “Spring’s Beauty”
3rd Place – Elizabeth Harts, 12th grade Wilmington Christian Academy “The Way Spring Rings”
2020 Essay Winner – Madison Aloia, Jones Senior High School
2020 Poetry Winner – Jayson Cook, Laney High School
2019 Essay Winner – Abby Stone, Wilmington Christian Academy
2019 Poetry Winner – Madison Morrison, Wilmington Christian Academy
2018: Essay Winner – Hilary Batista, Ashley High School
2018: Poetry Winner – Katherine Neilson, Laney High School
2017: Essay Winner – Sarah Newton, Topsail High School
2017: Poetry Winner – Karleigh Kolander, Laney High School