FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Caitlin Shelby, a rising ninth-grader at North Forsyth Middle School, received the grand prize for the seventh through ninth-grade division of the Rand McNally “America the Beautiful” short essay contest.
Her essay was chosen from about 12,000 students who entered.
Contestants were asked to write essays answering the question, “What’s the one place in the U.S. that truly inspires you?”
Shelby detailed a special family link to Sharps Chapel, Tenn., in her essay, “Our Secret Stillness.”
“When given this prompt by Mrs. Hoyle, I knew right away what I’d write about, as did she,” Shelby said. “The big question was how I was going to portray the farm in a way that could bring to life what so few people have ever experienced, and then I realized that it wasn't about portraying the farm to anyone. It was about expressing the feelings I get from just being there.”
Shelby was awarded a $10,000 college 529 savings plan in addition to a Nook tablet by Barnes & Noble, and a three-day WorldStrides DiscoverNow! trip to Washington, D.C.
She was presented her prizes at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va.
Her essay will be published in Rand McNally’s e-book, “America the Beautiful,” available exclusively through Barnes & Noble, an event sponsor.
Shelby’s win also includes $5,000 in classroom products from Rand McNally for North Forsyth Middle School.
“We are so excited that one of our North Forsyth Middle School students was one of two $10,000 college savings plan national winners,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, a spokeswoman for the Forsyth County School System.
Shelby was surprised when she learned she had won.
“Being among such mature, well-mannered teenagers in D.C., I knew without a doubt that at least one of their essays would top mine,” she said. “But when I heard ‘Caitlin Shelby,’ I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.
“The first thing that came to mind was my late grandmother, who recently passed away in my own home of cancer at 65,” she said. “Nanny loved me for who I am; no doubt about it, but what really brought us together was our shared passion for words and for stories.” Shelby said she has written a couple books in her free time.
Her grandmother was always there praising and guiding her, even editing and writing a prologue for her work.
“She would have been the proudest grandmother in the world had she been in D.C. that morning,” she said.
The e-book, “America the Beautiful” is available exclusively at www.barnesandnoble.com.