LAKELAND, Fla. — Have you ever had the feeling you're in the presence of greatness? Someone who hasn't realized their potential yet, but you can feel they're on the verge of leaving their mark on history?
ABC Action News Anchor Deiah Riley says she had that feeling when she met 18-year-old Sylvia Nicholas Patterson.
Patterson's a senior at Lakeland's Harrison School for the Arts and just won a rare, prestigious award.
"Out of the nearly 230,000 students who submitted for the Scholastic art and writing awards, I was one of the 16 who was chosen for the gold medal portfolio. And out of the 16, I was one of the eight who were chosen for writing," explains Patterson.
Past recipients include literary legends like Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and Andy Warhol, the artist known as the father of the pop art movement. Now, Patterson is among this elite group.
"She is definitely a cut above the rest in a lot of different ways. I think more than anything else it's just the dedication that I see in her, " explains Clifford Parody, her creative writing teacher and mentor.
He wasn't at all surprised she won this award.
"She lives about an hour and a half away from the school where I teach and granted we're doing the COVID-thing now so it's distance learning but she was taking two different busses just to get to school in the morning. Waking up at like 4:30 in the morning just so she could get there on time. That alone says a lot about her character," explains Parody.
That experience and 18 years worth of others like it are the inspiration for her poetry.
"I feel like I'm at this point where I'm starting to get over that hill of internalized racism and all those things that I've walked around for so much of my life thinking that it's just normal for me to hate myself for me to doubt myself in my portfolio," explains Patterson. "I feel like I'm at the point where I just want to hit the ground running with my writing. I've started another collection of just works about the black American experience, the immigrant experience."
"I don't like to write my happiest memories down because I want those stuck in my mind. I want those as photos and videos and moments I can share at a coffee table with my friends. And so I feel like this is the first time I've said this, I write bad poetry for good people. I want other people to be able to have that idea that this is in the past, it's on paper for a reason. You can look back at it, but you don't have to."
Patterson won a $10,000 scholarship. She plans to attend Florida International University in the Fall.