The winners of this year’s contest (L-R): Spoorthy Reddy, Leah Lentz, Owen Capistrano, Payton Weiner, and Danny Cavanna, with Rocky Wilson and Gloria Stridick 


FIRST PLACE WINNER – Bernadette M. Stridick Award


by Owen Capistrano, Grade 11

Cherokee High School


To my mother’s mother

Who looked for light through clouds

Who’d cross an ocean without a father’s sail

She touched rich soil with lips of love

A tree would grow from a seed she held

From there the youngest limb would split

A blunt farewell was said

But with love a mother prays


Roads traveled on with aching bodies

A gray jungle

A golden bridge

To a garden

To make her own

What was grown between picket fences?


From the Earth that made them, my body rose

Born but I couldn’t open my eyes to see the sun

Only lived in the dark

Saw siblings grow taller

They ran without me

Time wasted in dim

Too much to count


It took time under clouds and for eyes to pour

To shine across my mother’s face

Through roots spring truth

I’d learn from what I knew

Wouldn’t keep it deep down, no more

What it took for this pen to move?

A flower had to bloom


First place winner Owen Capistrano, Cherokee High School ’22, with Whitman Association Poetry Contest Chair Gretel DeRuiter.



A Letter to My Best Friend

by Payton Weiner, Grade 12

Haddonfield Memorial High School


I’ve been meaning to ask you about the caterpillars

Do you think they watch the butterflies?

Do they whisper their “wow”s to each other as they dream about everything they will become?

Do they wonder if the beauty is already inside of them?

Because it has to come from somewhere

Do you think they know about the law of conservation of matter?


I’m not telling you to change

Just metamorphose

You have everything you need to grow your wings

And I think you are finally ready for Alaska


Go find the mountains you have always wanted to climb

And the flowers you have always wanted to watch stand on their tippy-toes to kiss the clouds

Buy your big backyard to hold all of your dreams

Sit on your front porch to study the birds, where the babies can ask you what it is like to finally

get up and fly away


Live in a house that you can call your own

Even if you are with someone

Large enough for a full-toothed smile

But never too big where empty rooms make you feel incomplete


Keep your doors unlocked and your shoes slip-on

I don’t want you to ever feel stuck

And write and write and write and write

No one should ever question your metaphors


Ask the sky for the aurora borealis

If you ever want to think about the past

But only ever to remember

Never to regret


Run down dead-end roads with infinite destinations

Bike in a sundress and pigtails to almost transcend time’s linearity

Collect flowers for your hair and windows for your wonder

Make fires to help you think and read books to keep you warm


Search for a waterfall

If you ever want to cry

Never too often

But you know it’s still okay to cry sometimes


I hope your laughter makes the wind blow

And you never count the yesterdays

That nothing ever makes you want to leave

That nothing ever makes you no longer want to be a butterfly


But if you stray from your cocoon and don’t end up reaching Alaska

—the only place you believe has any scintilla of magic

I hope you can still make it somewhere

Somewhere far, far away

Somewhere that is just for you and doesn’t make you think of any of us

Not even me



The Blue Bird

by Spoorthy Reddy, Grade 10

Lenape High School


A blue bird

flew with the wind.

It sat on its perch

as it must have a thousand times before, 

as it gazed up at leaves and berries and feathers.


As it gazed up at the sapphire sky

and down at a sea of green and pink and yellow.

As it gazed down at a muddy road that expanded.

As it left a colorful feast for the eyes behind 

and returned to the warm pastels 

that thinned and faded as the clocks ticked. 

As its eyes were covered with a dark murky fog.

As it looked up, once again, at a towering giant

from its place on the small black stones.


A blue bird

flew with the wind.

It sat on its perch

as it must have a thousand times before, 

as it gazed up at gears and glass and metal.


Local poet Rocky Wilson reciting lines from Song of Myself.



Light Skinned

by Yasmeen Matthews, Grade 11

Cherokee High School


Speak for us, they say.

Words paired with pretty smiles as the cherubs hold out pale hands for me to take.

Let them hear your voice.

Speak for us, they say.

Words paired with the imploring dark eyes of our brothers and sisters.

Let them hear your voice.

SPEAK! They say.

Voices surrounding me, pleads and begs from both sides.

Let them hear our voice.

Make them understand.

I claw and fight to bring peace,

But peace comes as a cost.

My voice

That small simple thing they wish for me to use is drowned out by their needs,

Drowned out by their wants.

Speak, I whisper to myself.

The lines on the page are a reminder of the voice I have that will never leave me

I speak for both sides,

Dark and light.

I stand here before you as a mix of both.

Light Skinned.

And for those who don’t know, allow me to tell you what it means.

It means I see both.

The hate that comes with being born black 

and the love that gravitates towards those that are white.

It means I hear both.

The whispers of my family wondering why I don’t look like the rest and the words of students

who use that word born from hate to describe me

The lines on the page are a reminder of the voice I have that will never leave me

I speak for both sides,

Dark and light.

I stand here before you as a mix of both.

Light Skinned.

And for those who don’t know, allow me to tell you what it means.

It means that I chose neither,

It means that I wish for you to be Light Skinned.

A mix of dark and light that sees it all,

Sees the love and the hate,

The privilege and injustice

It means I want you to speak, to use that voice

It means we have a choice

We can either let history repeat or change it

Today I stand before you as a sign of harmony

Of hope and a better life

Because as a mix I am treated with both fear and worship

It means that I refuse to take your voice like you try to take mine

So I call for you to speak in the way that amplifies your voice

Just like how I learned too



Leah Lentz of Shawnee High School (Class of 2022) reads her winning poem in front of Whitman’s grave



notes of a former pessimist

by Leah Lentz, Grade 11

Shawnee High School


“there are too many sad stories,” they grumble,

and i remember being 10, 

watching as cnn reported that flight 370 had gone missing with all

those moms and dads on board,

and i think of driving to the beach 

with the windows down and too many people in the car,

of how gently my father used to comb my hair, 

stopping to untangle every knot by hand,

of how every day a hot lifeguard rescues at least one incredibly lucky woman,

and i think i disagree.


“there’s no more good news,” they commiserate,

and i remember being 11, agreeing that the world was truly damned,

and i think of when my teachers let their kids sit in on class 

like they were tiny auditors deciding

whether this is really their dream school,

of all the ghost hunting shows that get renewed because everyone, just a little bit, 

wants to see a ghost,

of seeing my grandmother for the first time in over a year and being able to talk to her,

and i think that some people just like to complain.


“where is the love?” they moan and sigh,

and i think that maybe, years ago,

when i was a 15 year old nihilist,

swearing that nothing had any meaning,

i would’ve said “there is none! there is none left for us!”

but i don’t think i can anymore,

not when the love is in every neural signal,

extending from the dendrites,

quicker than a bolt of lightning,

stronger than a sycamore tree.



I Inhale

by Danny Cavanna, Grade 12

Haddonfield Memorial High School


I inhale


The cherry trees outside of Mrs. Chism’s kindergarten classroom are towering around me, and I am just 5, and the world is mine to conquer.

I grow up on these tree-lined-dappled-with-sun streets; in my soul, the small moments are collected.

The first day hugs, the soccer balls sailing into the net, the caterpillar’s cocoon clinging to the already-bloomed azalea bush—a butterfly soon to emerge.

I exhale

The rosy hue is long worn off and I am scared, cowering.

I cry in the science hall bathroom because my math test is a bad grade waiting to be returned, and my parent’s reaction, a hurricane on the horizon.

The slits in my best friend’s wrist break me to pieces but, she lives

18 now, and I don’t know what to think

In front of me my entire life awaits, it suffocates.

I want to set fire to the path that’s mine, and run the opposite direction.

In between not quite who I was raised to be but, certainly not myself.


I inhale