Words of wisdom

Cara Moultrup

While it might not be her career choice, writing certainly is a tool and a form of expression for Evanston Township High School senior Nikki Braziel-Solovy.

“I’ll always write,” she said. “It helps me think through my thoughts, get re-centered.”

The 17-year-old was notified this month that she is among the winners of the Achievement Awards in Writing. Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English, the awards are given to 665 out of 2,000 finalists across the country.

“I wasn’t surprised at all (that she won),” said Braziel-Solovy’s high school counselor, Marsha Barnthouse. “She is very smart, very sophisticated intellectually.”

In February, high school juniors in honors English classes were invited to write an impromptu piece in two hours. About 130 ETHS students participated, and of those, five were chosen to represent the school as finalists.

In April those five wrote again, submitting to NCTE a second impromptu essay as well as an edited piece.

Braziel-Solovy wrote her edited essay about her mother’s relationship with her grandfather, who died when her mother was only 5 years old.

“I found out when I was in third or fourth grade, and it really impacted how I looked at her,” Braziel-Solovy said.

The second impromptu piece was a narrative on what it means to be a hero. Braziel-Solovy wrote about international diplomats and their peacekeeping missions.

Braziel-Solovy credits her critical thinking skills in large part to her high school’s debate team, in which she was heavily involved for her first three years at ETHS.

In policy debate, as in the writing contest, competitors have to structure an argument so it covers certain points within the given time or space limitation.

Braziel-Solovy still is involved with the debate team, but said she has “pulled out a lot” this year.

She wants to go into politics, a path she thinks she’ll be more prepared to tread with the development of the thought processes crucial to strong writing.

“She has very high, definite goals,” Barnthouse said. “I think she will do well. She has the tools that will translate to success in college.”

Braziel-Solovy is considering several colleges, with Northwestern in her top three. She was part of NU’s Zarefsky Scholars summer debate program before her sophomore and junior years and said the mentoring she received from coach Scott Deatherage meant a lot to her.

“He really gave me a chance when (the ETHS team) didn’t have a reputation to stand on,” Braziel-Solovy said.

One practical benefit of her recognition by NCTE is that all U.S. universities receive a list of winners. But for Braziel-Solovy, the intangible reward is more valuable.

“It’s nice to feel validated,” she said.

While her teachers think highly of her capabilities, her friends still tease her.

“I want to be president,” she said. “Everyone laughs at me because I’m short, blond, Jewish and female.” She ticked them off with some concern, then paused.

“There’s a lot of things I want to change,” she said. “We’ll see what people think of female politicians in 30 years.”