“It Feels Good that Hard Work Pays Off”: La Salle Artists Earn 92 Awards for Their Talents


Brooklyn Chillemi

According to the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, “students across America entered nearly 320,000 original works in 2020 in 28 different categories of art and writing” for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Brooklyn Chillemi and Mary Loeb

La Salle artists took home 92 awards in the Oregon Art Region’s 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing competition. With five Gold Keys, 47 Silver Keys, and 38 honorable mentions in the art category, “I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” art teacher Ms. Cha Asokan said. 

In previous years, pieces that received a Gold Key at the regional level would have a show at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, but this year the event will not be held due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, these pieces will automatically go into the national contest, and will be juried again.

Ms. Cha estimates that there will be around 3,000 entries at this level, and they will pick the top 500 for a national Gold Medal. Traditionally, earning a Gold Medal in the national competition would send the artist or writer to New York, and there would be a celebration at the Carnegie Hall, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, last year’s celebration was digital, so this year’s may be as well. 

This year’s submission process was similar to previous years: in order for a piece to be graded, a photo or scan of it must be submitted through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards website. During a normal school year, Ms. Cha is able to help with this process, but this year students mostly had to do it themselves. 



The piece “Companion” by sophomore Sophia Hauer won a Silver Key this year. (Courtesy of Sophia Hauer)

Sophomore Sophia Hauer was awarded a Silver Key this year. “I made an art piece inspired by my cat and titled it ‘Companion,’ because throughout this pandemic, having a companion to keep me company has been really important,” she said.

It is Hauer’s first year in the art program at La Salle, and while creating art this year has been difficult due to a lack of motivation with the coronavirus pandemic, this “has made finishing all the more rewarding,” she said. 

“I honestly couldn’t believe it when I scrolled through all the recipients and saw my name – I still don’t sometimes – but I am so grateful that my art was selected for the award,” Hauer said.


The piece “Isolation” by freshman Emmalyn Dinh won a Silver Key this year. (Courtesy of Emmalyn Dinh)

Freshman Emmalyn Dinh said that when she saw her name on the awards list, “it felt like a dream come true. I’m delighted that someone out there recognized my hard work and rewarded me for it.” 

With Dinh’s piece, she wanted to “capture that feeling of being trapped,” because that is how she has felt during the pandemic.

“Things like not going to school in person, wearing masks, and social distancing have all taken a toll on our lives,” she said. “So, I thought this picture of a tiger behind bars perfectly represents how all of us may be feeling.”

The part that Dinh struggled with the most with her piece was getting stuck on the details. “I put myself down because a line wasn’t straight or a section of the [fur] was too dark,” she said. “But as I look at my piece now, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Dinh’s parents were the ones that encouraged her to enter into the competition. Although she was hesitant at first, she said her parents reminded her not to focus on the outcome, but instead be proud of her piece. 

The piece “Cliff House” by senior Andrew Keepes won an honorable mention this year. (Courtesy of Andrew Keepes)

After senior Andrew Keepes learned about his two honorable mentions this year, he said, “receiving an award from this competition is very rewarding because I felt like my work in the art classes I’ve taken with Ms. Cha has really paid off… It’s a way of showcasing the things I’ve learned in a competition and really allows me to see how far I’ve come.”

The two pieces that Keepes submitted were his final project from last year, as well as a piece he created earlier this school year.

“Ms. Cha encouraged me to submit my pieces to the competition,” he said. “She has helped me so much through the art classes I’ve taken at La Salle and I appreciate her acknowledging my work and pushing me to submit it.”

For his pieces, Keepes focused on “trying to be attentive to detail.” This especially showed on his favorite piece titled “Cliff House,” which is done in pen and ink. 

“Working from home has certainly made the artwork portion a little more difficult, but I also feel like some days I have more motivation to do more of it,” Keepes said. “It’s hard not being in the classroom with access to all of the materials and things like that, but art is something you can do with limited resources as well.”

For senior Ryan Cechini, “receiving some awards was cool, especially since this year hasn’t been.” 

Last year, Cechini won two Gold Keys and a national Silver Medal. This year, he won three Silver Keys, as well as two honorable mentions – altogether submitting five individual pieces and one portfolio. Despite this, Cechini still struggled with procrastination often. “I had to be creative with getting my mind going,” he said. 

“Truthfully, I struggled with inspiration this year,” he said. “I typically like to photograph people, and since close human contact was discouraged this year, I had to switch it up. I continued to look for the beauty in everyday life, but instead shifted from people’s daily lives to everyday household items.”

To work around this, Cechini would go around his house and open every single drawer and cupboard, “looking for anything remotely compositionally interesting and working from there,” he said. 

The piece “Frolicking in Flowers” by junior Natalie Fuchs won a Silver Key this year. (Courtesy of Natalie Fuchs)

This was junior Natalie Fuchs’ first year submitting into the competition, and after submitting three pieces, she earned two Silver Keys. Her pieces this year were focused on nature, flowers, and portrait photography. 

“I am honestly a little bit surprised,” Fuchs said. “I sometimes have trouble seeing value in my art, but I am honored and excited to know that other people do.”

The photo that Fuchs earned one of her Silver Keys for, titled “Frolicking in Flowers,” was taken on Fuchs’ iPhone 6 about three years ago. “Never did I think in a million years, when I took that photo, did I think it would win an award,” Fuchs said.

The art Fuchs created titled “Flowers,” however, “took me so long,” she said. “I poured countless hours into it.”

And even after the time put into the drawing, Fuchs said that originally, she was not happy with how her artwork turned out. But today, “I would not change a thing.”

The piece “Stan Lee” by junior Vinhson Nguyen won an honorable mention this year. (Courtesy of Vinhson Nguyen)

While the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent digital learning was not ideal, Junior Vinhson Nguyen has taken the extra free time to focus on his art. “COVID has been a blessing in disguise for me,” he said. “I’ve been able to learn so much more. I’ve been watching videos online, [and] practicing in my sketchbook and such.”

Nguyen submitted three pieces this year, and won two Silver Keys and an honorable mention for his work. One piece was focused on the Oregon fires, another was centered on how COVID-19 impacted Asian-Americans, and his final piece was a drawing of the American comic book writer Stan Lee.

The reason Nguyen picked Stan Lee for his final piece was because he likes Marvel. “I think if we were to act a little bit more heroic, it’d be a little bit of a better world,” Nguyen said. “I draw superman a lot, and kind of what he represents is, we’re really powerful, I think, and it can apply to everyone, regardless of religion and police.”

In the future, Nguyen would like to focus on art for his career as a possible storyboard or concept artist.

The piece “Too Much of the Me” by junior Jay Gamble won an honorable mention this year. (Courtesy of Jay Gamble)

This year, junior Jay Gamble earned both a Silver Key and an honorable mention for their work, despite how difficult this year has been. 

“It’s been definitely harder,” Gamble said. “I’ve just been kind of in a weird bad mood and it’s hard for me to create art when I’m in a really bad mood, personally. So I have been struggling a little bit… But I have been trying to work through that a lot.” 

Gamble pulls inspiration from other artists online, especially from Twitter, but they also take inspiration from struggles that the world is facing today. 

One piece they did, titled “Too Much of the Me,” communicated the difficulties of being transgender and how that overlapped with the difficulties of COVID-19 this year. “That one was also a pretty personal one,” they said. “Just feeling overwhelmed and trapped inside of a body while you’re also trapped inside quarantine.” 

When dealing with artist’s block, “I try not to push myself, because I know that’ll just cause me to not like art,” Gamble said. “So I just kind of like, I usually just scroll Twitter a lot because I follow a lot of artists on Twitter, and I’ll just look for inspiration and try to get my groove back through that.”

The piece “Wild Flower” by sophomore Chloe Beck won a Silver Key this year. (Courtesy of Chloe Beck)

This was sophomore Chloe Beck’s first year submitting to the competition. “It feels incredible to be recognized for my art, and it makes me feel very special,” they said after learning about the Silver Key they had won. 

To create the piece they submitted, titled “Wild Flower,” Beck used a “grid method” to sketch a piece that was two times the scale of the photograph they were working with. 

Beck’s brother helped to name the piece. He originally suggested “Wildflower,” but Beck said they preferred the title as two words instead of one because it allowed the words to keep their individuality. 

At first, Beck didn’t think that they would win anything this year, but Ms. Cha encouraged Beck to submit anyway. “She made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal if we didn’t win, and if we did then that’s even better,” Beck said. 

“With all of the bad that COVID-19 has brought this year, one small thing that I can say is good that it brought me was immense improvement to my art,” Beck said. “A lot has gone wrong, but I can say with confidence that this has gone very right.”

Beck said that the pandemic also takes some of the pressure off when it comes to creating art. “I don’t feel like I’m ‘being watched’ when I do my art [at home,]” she said. “When I was at school, I felt like there was a lot more pressure to do my artwork perfect, which really stressed me out.” 

The piece “Sexualize This” by senior Maggie Dougherty won a Gold Key this year. (Courtesy of Maggie Dougherty)

Senior Margaret Dougherty received both a Gold Key and a Silver Key this year. “It feels good that hard work pays off,” she said. Two of her pieces last year also won Gold Keys, titled “Envy’s Gaze” and “We’re Not Your Toys.” 

However, Dougherty tries not to focus on earning awards for her pieces, “because the point of art is that it’s subjective,” she said. “If somebody, somewhere doesn’t like my art while grading it or whatever, then I don’t want to take that too harshly.”

Dougherty said that her main inspiration for her artwork is “shower thoughts.”

“Generally, if I start on a piece where I don’t have inspiration for it, it turns into something that I don’t like, which is pretty inconvenient,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t get inspiration for things for a while.” 

If Dougherty is struggling to find inspiration, her strategy is to draw things she’s comfortable with, like characters from shows she enjoys. 

Most of the pieces Dougherty submitted to the competition this year were past works, so she didn’t have trouble finding inspiration when creating them. “I generally just have a lot of pieces that I’ve already made, because it’s easy to just work on them all the time, because I do a lot of digital art,” Dougherty said. “So I just have a bunch of pieces ready to go.” 

However, there was one piece that she created the night before submitting it. 

Senior Maggie Dougherty created this piece the night before she submitted for the competition, but chose to include it on a whim. (Courtesy of Maggie Dougherty)


The portfolio Dougherty submitted to the competition included six pieces, five of which were also submitted as individual works. 

At first, Dougherty wasn’t sure if she wanted to submit a portfolio, but she said Ms. Cha encouraged her to and she was glad she did. “I’m glad she pushed me to put that out there, because, I mean, you have nothing to lose. So why would you not?”

Dougherty said she was especially proud of her piece titled “Sexualize This,” which stemmed from the frustration of “seeing constantly everywhere in the world around me, just the sexualization of women’s bodies.” 

The piece shows a woman lifting up her shirt to reveal a ribcage. “I wanted to be like, ‘we’re all carbon life forms,’ I guess,” Dougherty said. “It’s a sassy piece, it’s meant to provoke people a little bit.” 

Looking to the future, Dougherty said that she anticipates pursuing art for a career. “For the longest time growing up, I was like, ‘oh, I can’t be an artist professionally, because I won’t make enough money, or my parents won’t like it, or just millions of reasons,’” Dougherty said.

But her freshman year, Dougherty decided to take the plunge and commit despite the fear. 

“I was like, ‘I’m going to do it,’” Dougherty said. “I’m going to do everything I can in order to make this my profession, because I would be so unhappy doing anything else.” 



Reflecting on her time as an art teacher, Ms. Cha said that she sometimes finds students dismissing art as an elective. However, she believes it is “just as much of a subject as anything else.” 

“When you have things like Scholastic or different other competitions it kind of gives legitimacy to art education,” she said.”

In addition to the students named above, many other students won awards: freshman Violet Sheehan, sophomores Sophia Bergeson, Maggie Crimmins, Clare Daudelin, Soleia Flores, Myra Keyes, Madeline Obuchowski, Lucas Pinaire, and Maya Raphael, juniors Katherine Collins, Mary Hanley, Shayden Lough, Ryan McQuillin, Erin Moran, Aidan O’Brien, Gracelyn Rael, Natalie Rask, Hannah Reddick, Murphy Schuster, Peyton Stephens, and Tyler Tran, and seniors Victoria Azar, Paige Baines, Helena Brinker, Samantha Dillard, Mattea Felder, Aislinn McCarthy, Alyna Nguyen, Gretchen Pauli, Abigail Ramirez, Nick Riley, Maya Smith, and Kainoa Taylor. 

In addition to the numerous art awards, senior Maddie Khaw took home two Gold Keys in the writing category of the competition.