For the past 15 years, Marlborough has given each member of the junior class the opportunity to compete in the School’s Guerin Prize essay contest. To enter the Guerin contest, girls write a one thousand-word essay about a living American role model, and the winner of the contest is awarded the chance to meet her role model in person. Financed by the Guerin Endowed Fund, which was established by Marlborough trustee Rick Guerin, the program covers the cost of travel expenses for both the student winner and a faculty member to meet the student’s role model.
As stated by the School, a faculty committee judges the Guerin essays based on clarity of thought, strength of conviction, enthusiasm and determination. The student finalists then meet with a panel of faculty judges for individual interviews, and the judges choose their top candidate as the lucky winner.
At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, Guerin finalists Sonia ’14 and Colleen ’14 learned that their essays had been selected as the winners of the Guerin Prize.
Colleen had the opportunity to meet renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the end of April of this year. Dudamel is the conductor of both the Orquestra Sinfónica Simón Bolívar in Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has won a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance and is married to a classical ballet dancer.
“[Meeting with Dudamel] was a fantastic experience. I really admire his work in music outreach and education, and it was exciting to meet such an inspirational figure,” Colleen wrote in an email.
When Sonia decided to submit an essay to the Guerin contest last year, she opted to write about Stephen Colbert, political satirist, comedian and host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.
“I started [the essay writing process] over winter break. It basically involved me watching his TV show and picking out what I really liked about him,” Sonia said.
Sonia’s essay went through several rounds of editing and drafting, and she advanced to the final round of competitors. Director of Admissions Jeanette Woo Chitjian called to tell Sonia the good news that her essay about Colbert had been selected as the winning essay.
“Naturally, I was jumping up and down and all the while trying to keep my composure as I talked to her. I don’t think it worked because I remember Ms. Woo Chitjian telling me, ‘Sonia, I’m gonna need you to breathe,’” Sonia recalled in an email.
Sonia prepared to meet Colbert with mock interviews with Woo Chitjian, who spent weeks trying to contact Colbert, but the connection ultimately fell through.
Undeterred, Sonia turned to her alternate, Jon Stewart. Stewart is a political comedian and the host of The Daily Show, a late night satirical news program on Comedy Central. Stewart graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1984 and, shortly after graduation, landed a stand-up gig in New York City’s late night comedy scene. Stewart began writing for Comedy Central in 1991, eventually working his way up the ladder to become The Daily Show host in 1999, where he has worked ever since.
During the second week of Marlborough’s spring break, Sonia flew to New York with her faculty sponsor, Assistant to College Counseling Eunice Ahn, to meet with Stewart in his Daily Show studio.
“The first time I saw him, I was sitting down in the writers’ studio and a bunch of writers were sitting around, watching clips, throwing jokes around and seeing what they could write about, when in walks Jon Stewart with his dog!” Sonia said.
She went on to describe their meeting, including when Stewart gave her his opinion on where she should go to college next year: Yale, not Stanford!
“About four or five writers on the show came from Yale, and there was currently no one working there from Stanford, so of course they were biased! I’ve always wanted to work on a program like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, so not seeing a Stanford alum there definitely made me lean towards enrolling in Yale… It didn’t worry me too much, though, because I’m going to Stanford [in the fall].”
Sonia was surprised, amazed, and impressed by Stewart’s work ethic in the Daily Show studio.
“He jumped around from meeting to meeting, giving ideas. When he got into the editing room, and we were watching footage, I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, all of this is really well done, and I love it,’ and then, all of a sudden, [Stewart] just turns to his staff and goes, ‘Okay, edit this, take that out, make it more fluid, I think this will be better.’ And everything he said was brilliant! I was so impressed, maybe just because I was so starstruck!” Sonia said.