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Winners of the 2018 Paul W. Ward ’25 Memorial Prize for excellence in first-year writing. Front (L-R): Emma Norton, Audrey Kelly, Madeleine Stutt, Back (L-R): Lachlan Pinney, Kamli Faour, Ho June (Sean) Rhee. Photo: Rafael Cruz Hernandez ’19

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Ho June (Sean) Rhee ’21 Wins Ward Prize for First-Year Writing

October 15, 2018

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – A collection of four poems titled "rice burger and banana milk" took the top spot at the 2018 Paul W. Ward ’25 Prize for excellence in first-year writing. Writing Center Director and Senior Lecturer Mary Ellen Bertolini presented the $500 prize to Ho June (Sean) Rhee ’21 at an October 5 celebration in Twilight Auditorium during Family Weekend.

Rhee wrote and illustrated the poems as a final project for his course, "The English Language in a Global Context," which covered themes such as linguistic variation, language and globalization, language policy, and education. Students were asked to write for an audience beyond the classroom—to make some of the abstract concepts accessible to a broader audience.

“I didn’t want a 5–6 page, Times New Roman, 12-point font, double-spaced research paper as my final project,” said Rhee. “Rather than looking outward into the global issues of languages, I wanted to look inward into my relationship with languages.”

Although Rhee is originally from South Korea—English is his second language—he says that he was “always floating among cultures growing up. I was an in-betweener, and I saw myself as a fusion dish, a crossbreed of cultures.”

Rhee says that winning the Ward Prize prompted him to reflect on his years of English-learning experience and confront his own lack of self-confidence and feelings that he was missing an authentic voice in his writing.

“‘rice burger and banana milk’ showed me the exit to step outside of the ivory tower and roam around my inner thoughts and emotions,” said Rhee. “I didn’t feel the pressure to use specific jargons and complex sentence structures to make my work sound more ‘sophisticated.’ I simply transcribed what I felt into words and lines. I was finally able to find my voice and share my thoughts.”

Paul W. Ward ’25 Memorial Prize winner Ho June (Sean) Rhee with advisor Shawna Shapiro, associate professor of writing and rhetoric. Photo: Rafael Cruz Hernandez ’19

“The best pieces for this assignment, no matter what the genre, are those that engage both the head and the heart,” said Shawna Shapiro, associate professor of writing and rhetoric and linguistics. “What impresses me most about Sean’s work is that he employs a rich linguistic palette—including Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, and English, as well as hand-drawn illustrations—to create an emotional landscape that is both complex and relatable.”

This year’s Ward Prize winners and honorees, all members of the Class of 2021, were nominated by their instructors across a range of academic disciplines. A committee of three faculty members, including Pat Zupan (Italian), Vicki Backus (biology), and Kristina Sargent (economics) judged the submissions.

“We are impressed this year that among the students honored today are those for whom English is just one of many languages they speak,” said Bertolini. “Moreover, we are impressed at the range of interests and styles that all your writing represents: the judges read personal narratives, critical arguments, creative work, and research papers from many departments and across many divisions.”

Two students received runner-up awards. Emma Norton was nominated by writing professor Catharine Wright for her first-year seminar essay, “Ink: A Meditation on My Mother and Toni Morrison’s Sula.” And Madeleine Stutt’s essay, “By the Water,” was nominated by senior lecturer David Bain.

Honorable mention awards were given to three students. Kamli Faour’s essay, “Assimilation Nation,” was nominated by Professor Hector Vila. Audrey Kelly was nominated by Catharine Wright for her essay, “Nothing Is Ever as Simple as Black and White.” And Lachlan Pinney’s “Definers, Defined, and Escapees” was nominated by Professor Brett Millier.

This Ward prize is named in honor of Paul W. Ward, a graduate of the Class of 1925, whose lifelong career as a journalist and diplomatic reporter bought him both the Pulitzer Prize and the French Legion of Honor. Throughout his career, he emphasized the use of basic English as a writer's most necessary tool.

By Stephen Diehl; Photos by Raf Hernandez ’19