BHS junior’s creativity earns him national writing award

By: Joshua Gordon | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 22, 2013

 Caelin Amin, a Berkley High School junior, was a recipient of a 2013 National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award for Superior Writing. NCTE selected 155 high school juniors nationwide based on two essays, one on a provided topic and one as an example of the student’s best work.

Caelin Amin, a Berkley High School junior, was a recipient of a 2013 National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award for Superior Writing. NCTE selected 155 high school juniors nationwide based on two essays, one on a provided topic and one as an example of the student’s best work.

Photo by Brian Sevald

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BERKLEY — The assignment was to select four people to represent a personal Mount Rushmore and explain why the four figureheads were chosen.

For most of the 753 high school juniors nationwide who submitted an essay for the 2013 National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award for Superior Writing, that is probably exactly what they did.

Not Caelin Amin.

Amin, a 16-year-old junior at Berkley High School, decided he had two options when he approached the topic provided by NCTE — follow the assignment exactly as provided or “find a way not to pick anyone.”

“I didn’t think it was a very good prompt, personally, but as I started the paper, I was trying to find a way to avoid picking anyone for it,” Amin said. “I took a stance; instead of picking anybody, I said people shouldn’t represent ideals when they themselves aren’t ideal. I went and found another way to approach the topic and I thought it would stand out.”

The risk paid off as Amin was one of 155 juniors chosen to receive the national writing award and one of only nine from Michigan. Despite taking a detour on the assignment, Amin wasn’t completely sure he’d win.

“I was happy that I won, but a little surprised,” he said. “I guess I hate to say this, but I wasn’t totally satisfied with my paper because there were a lot of limits and I think, if I could go back, I might do something else. I just wasn’t as happy as I could have been with the end product, but it was something different.”

Amin was nominated for the award by the BHS English department, but it was his own English teacher, John Duffy, who knew Amin could be creative enough to earn the award. Amin’s work has a “voice,” Duffy said, something many high school writers struggle to find.

“I think Caelin’s greatest attribute is that he’s extremely observant,” Duffy said. “He has a knack for noticing things that don’t quite fit. I think what really separates his work from the rest is that he knows when to exercise restraint.

“Caelin is skilled at surgically navigating the everyday in his writing, relying on evidence and critical analysis without coming off as completely hopeless or jaded. This is a fine dance — one that is tough to pull off at any age.”

Besides looking for a creative route with the assignment, Amin said he also struggled narrowing down his list to four people when he first got the topic.

“There were too many people I liked to boil it down to four, so it was half me finding a creative approach because I thought (NCTE) might like it, and half me not being able to narrow it down,” he said. “I couldn’t find, perfectly, four people who represented my own ideals, so I found a more symbolic way to approach it.”

Student writers also had to submit a piece of work they considered to be their best, alongside the assigned topic. For Amin, he chose the last assignment he did for Duffy.

In the essay, Duffy asked his students to write a personal narrative essay explaining how the environment they grew up in helped shape them and how it could affect their future.

“I grew up in the suburbs, which on the surface is not so awesome,” Amin said. “I tried to look into the feelings I have felt, like sometimes because I have grown up privileged and got things I wanted, I wasn’t really in trouble. I tried to look into why a lot of kids still feel not so content and made it into a competition for who’s the most miserable in the least miserable place on earth.

“In the suburbs, you are always surrounded by people and very rarely alone, and yet kids try to go live somewhere like the city, which is a different experience because they probably won’t get as nice of a place to live and will be alone. Kids get what they want and still look for other forms of enjoyment.”

Amin said he isn’t sure if writing will be a part of his future, but he does enjoy writing about whatever he wants when he has the freedom to do so.

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