Maeve Tholen, 14, won a gold medal in a national writing competition for her short story, “A Painted Seashell.”

Maeve Tholen, an eighth-grader at Chewonki Elementary and Middle School in Wiscasset, received a National Gold Medal from the annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for a short story she wrote.

Tholen, 14, was among the 1% of over 230,000 applicants to win the top honor for her short story, “A Painted Seashell.” Gold medal winners are decided by a jury of writers and artists.

Tholen said she’s “honored” to receive the recognition and “happy (the jurors) enjoyed my specific style of writing and my voice.”

Kat Cassidy, head of school and Tholen’s mother, also received an Educator Award from the competition, given in recognition of “educators whose dedication, commitment, and guidance are represented by student work selected at the national honors level,” according to a statement from the school.

Cassidy said the recognition from a national competition was “gratifying” for her, a founder of Chewonki Elementary and Middle School, a private school with just over 30 students grades 1-8.

In her writing, Tholen’s fictional character Alex visits her grandmother with dementia in a nursing home.

“I visit you every day, although you probably don’t know who I am, or why I’m here,” Tholen wrote. “But Abuela, even while I sit by your side in this uncomfortably pristine room, I can’t even find a glimmer of the person you used to be in your chocolate brown eyes.”

Tholen said the relationship between Alex and her grandmother is based on Tholen’s relationship with her own grandmother.

“Different people in my life who inspire me and I love were all molded into that grandmother character,” said Tholen.

Cassidy said though Tholen’s grandmother is healthy, dementia runs in her family. She said that truthful detail brings emotional intensity to Tholen’s story.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. Dementia is not a specific illness, but describes a person’s loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In Maine, 29,000 people ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s Disease, but that number is supposed to rise to 35,000 by 2025, according to a study from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Tholen said writing the story came easily to her because writing is her form of self-expression. She said she also enjoys writing poetry, especially when the author weaves hidden meaning into a poem.

“Once I started writing, it just kept flowing,” she said. “It was a new style of writing I had never tried before and it felt very poetic.”

She said her favorite part of her story is a detail she included of how the grandmother character tries to grow a mango tree each year, but never succeeds. Although that part of her story is fictional, she said including that detail was her way of expressing a sense of perseverance her family has instilled in her.

“I’ve been taught not to give up, no matter how challenging something is,” said Tholen.

“You always hoped that one year it would sprout and you would have one plant to remind you of Cuba,” Tholen wrote. “You were so determined to make that little seed grow, that you sang to it every day. You sat and painted picture after picture of the bare soil, and you read to it. It never sprouted, but you never stopped trying.”

Tholen received an earlier award for the regional level of the competition earlier this year. Her classmate, Ella Seymour, also earned an honorable mention in the regional level for her memoir titled, “Yellow Joy.”

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