ERIC AKIL CARTER, a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Md., used to call himself "the self-proclaimed greatest artist of all time."
Now that he is a National Portfolio Winner in the 1993 Scholastic Art Awards, Eric has an easier time convincing others that his artistic work is worthwhile.
"With the award, I don't have to prove anything to people; I get respect," Eric says.
Respect for creativity is the foundation of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
The annual contest was established nearly 70 years ago by Maurice Robinson, founder of Scholastic Inc., which publishes classroom magazines.
"He was concerned that young people were getting a lot of accolades for athletics and not being rewarded for serious creative pursuits," says Susan Ebersole, director of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Some Scholastic award-winners have gone on to become well-known artists and writers. Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carole Oates, Truman Capote, and Richard Avedon were all Scholastic winners during their high school years.
"We want to validate the choice that some young people make to pursue a creative career," Ms. Ebersole says.
The Scholastic competition is one of the largest contests for student writers and artists in the United States.
"Scholastic is quite prestigious," says Oroon Barnes, who teaches art at Albert Einstein High School and encouraged Carter to enter the contest. "It is very difficult to win because of the number of kids applying and the fact that you have to go through the regional competitions."
About 250,000 middle and high school students in all 50 states participated in 63 regional Scholastic competitions held this year. Local businesses and schools sponsor these events and host exhibitions of the winning entries.
The 15,000 regional winners go on to the national competition. About 750 students win cash or scholarships in this final competition, which is judged by curators, artists, writers, and educators.
More than $90,000 worth of scholarships and cash prizes were awarded in about 20 categories.
This year, Scholastic introduced the Portfolio Award for high school seniors. Ten awards were given to graduating students whose portfolios "show the promise to make a significant contribution to their chosen fields." The Portfolio Award includes a $5,000 scholarship for tuition at college or art school.
But as Mr. Barnes points out, "when you are going to a school that costs $20,000 a year, a $5,000 scholarship isn't going to determine whether you go to that school or not."
To further help with tuition costs, Scholastic expects between $350,000 and $500,000 more in scholarships to be generated from the portfolio nominee program. The judges, among them novelist Tama Janowitz and poet Amy Clampit, made 150 recommendations for scholarships at 50 participating art schools and universities.
Scholastic matches participating schools with competitors who have been accepted by those schools and makes recommendations for scholarships.
Rebecca Hirschfield, a senior at Hunter College High School in New York City, received word that she had won a Writing Portfolio Award two days after she got college acceptance and rejection letters in the mail.
"This came at an important time for me," she says. "It made me feel that at least some aspect of me was worthy of recognition."
The award may also help Hirschfield convince her first-choice college to move her off the waiting list. She and Scholastic have both sent the college letters letting them know about the award.
Beyond the help she may get in gaining admittance to college, Hirschfield says it feels good to know that her writing appeals to "total strangers." The award also helped solidify her decision to pursue a writing career.
"If you never get recognition for your work, you're much more likely to decide that you don't really have a chance in the oh-so-competitive world of creative writing," she says.
Julie Robbins, a senior at Breckenridge High School in Breckenridge, Texas, won a Writing Portfolio Award for her poetry. She plans to use her scholarship to attend Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
"It just floors me that people like my stuff," Julie says. "The award made me feel a lot more confident as a writer. I thought for a long time that this [writing] would pretty much just be for me. But it's becoming a little more tangible now to think about it as a career."