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How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Rock Hill student writes winning essay

Temnete Sebhatu stands in front of New York's Carnegie Hall, where she was recognized for her Nonfiction Portfolio Gold Award-winning essay.
Temnete Sebhatu stands in front of New York's Carnegie Hall, where she was recognized for her Nonfiction Portfolio Gold Award-winning essay.

Temnete Sebhatu of Rock Hill received The New York Times Nonfiction Portfolio Gold Award at The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The ceremony, hosted by The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, recognized the 17-year-old as one of 12 high school seniors who received the award and a $10,000 scholarship.

More than 500 high school juniors and seniors from around the nation were honored for writing, photography and visual art pieces in the contest. The awards recognize creative teenagers and provide scholarship opportunities.

Temnete submitted 30 pages of her work for the contest last December and was notified that she was a winner in April. She wrote the material during her junior and senior years at the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville.

Last year, she made her first trip to Carnegie Hall to receive The Scholastic's national gold award in poetry.

In the fall, Temnete plans to study English and creative writing at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. She hopes to become a published author and world traveler. She is the daughter of Mesgun Sebhatu and Almaz Yilma.

We caught up with the young writer to discuss her experience in New York and her nonfiction piece that captured the judges' attention.

What did you write about for the contest?

I submitted 30 pages that was a chronicle of my life from about 7 to 8 years old to 15 years old. It's separate essays that could be put together in a genre. They're personal stories about my life and my upbringing. It's about the expectation that I had. I just wanted to be American, wholesome and normal. I wanted to have a normal family. My parents wanted to preserve our Ethiopian culture.

Why did you submit your personal story?

My teacher always said the deepest form of therapy is writing. It's just a compulsion. I just felt like I had to write it down. I found out there are other kids out there just like me, kids with immigrant parents. You get more comfortable with yourself and everything you do. You embrace your background and everything about yourself and it becomes something you don't want to hide any more.

How did it feel to stand before hundreds in Carnegie Hall?

Looking out and seeing all the people was really scary. I'm not used to being the center of attention. We walked in single file. I didn't look at the audience. I kept my eyes at the podium.

Who inspires you to write?

Everything I learned, I read from Genghis Khan. It feels good to write. It feels likes you have control of the world and you can shut the door and no one will bother you.

What else did you do in New York City?

Had dinner with the staff of the New York Times in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Broadway, went to Central Park , walked past the Empire State Building and took a few photos of the sites. I think I could definitely get used to living there.

What's one thing you would have done differently?

I would have written more. I would not have been so picky about how my essay sounded.

What's one thing people don't know about you?

I'm addicted to the Discovery Channel's nature documentaries and I watch too much Travel Channel.

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