English student named runner up in University of Iowa writing contest

The soft glow of sophomore Connor DeGroote’s computer shone on his face as his fingertips glided across the keyboard. Sitting in his English classroom in the fall of 2019, DeGroote finished his Glory of the Senses essay with a smile. With his story completed just the next semester had begun, he awaited the results from the contest judges.

The contest, which was created in memory of Paul Engle’s love for Iowa has inspired many sophomore students across the state to describe the five senses of a specific day in Iowa. Engle was the creator of The University of Iowa Writers Workshop and brought a reputation of the most prestigious writer’s workshop in the nation. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

This summer, 16-year-old DeGroote’s English 10A assignment last year brought him even more glory when he placed runner up for the contest. The “perfect memory”, as DeGroote said, was over winter break when he hiked around his grandparent’s house and soaked in all of the nature that was surrounding him. The story took most of the semester to write at home, in study hall, and in class. 

For DeGroote, this essay introduced him to a new passion, besides his already established love for math. He said it was his first time he truly enjoyed writing. He said he loved the entire writing process of the essay; the editing part of the story along with the precise details that had been added. Although he has no knowledge of any essays this year, he said he might participate in another contest. 

DeGroote discovered he had won runner up when an English teacher Brian Winkel approached him during school pictures this August. “I was like… what? I was surprised, for sure, and then proud after that,” he said. 

Normally there would be an event in Iowa City where all of the winners read their essays in front of a crowd. Due to COVID, there will be a Zoom session instead; DeGroote has not gotten the details for the event yet. The $500 cash prize that he received will go toward his future college. As of right now, he is leaning toward the University of Iowa. 

His sophomore English teacher Matthew Klemesrud gives all of the credit to DeGroote for the essay, even though he guided him through the writing process. “We went through a series of readings where we looked at previous winners and tried to analyze what the essays had in common,” Klemesrud said. “It always comes down to the kid. Every other kid had the same instruction that he had.”

Klemesrud said he thinks that assigning the Paul Engle essay to students for the class is important because it pushes students to do their best. He said, “Nobody wants to look bad. If my writing is gonna be posted somewhere and potentially be read by strangers, we don’t want it to be bad.” 

Klemesrud said that teachers should be encouraged to share that motive with students so they put more effort into their writing pieces. The winning prizes for the Glory of the Senses essay are put toward college funds, which also give students a motive to do their best. 

“Writing the essay itself, it’s one of the first times I’ve actually enjoyed writing,” DeGroote said. For more information on the Glory of the Senses essay open to sophomores, visit http://www.iowacityofliterature.org/paul-engle-essay-contest/.

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