Hannah Laga Abram ’23 wins this year’s Ward Prize

By Maggie Reynolds

Sabrina Templeton

Hannah Laga Abram ’23 won the Ward Prize for the 2019-2020 Academic Year. The award recognizes first-year students who demonstrate exceptional skill in writing. Laga Abram, whose work was nominated by three professors, also received a $500 cash prize. Ryo Nishikubo ’23.5 and Mia Pangasnan ’23 were runners-up for the award, and Emily Garcia ’23, Gloria Escobedo ’23 and Kate Likhite ’23 received honorable mentions.

Established by his family in 1978, the prize is named for Paul Ward ’25, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and diplomatic reporter. 

A committee of three faculty judges from different academic disciplines decide on one winning submission, two runners-up and three to five honorable mentions. About 50 students are nominated each year for the prize, drawing from work in both fall and spring classes.

Laga Abram said she was surprised to hear she had won the award.

“I’ve been in love with words for as long as I can remember, so it’s delightful to feel seen and heard in that way and be at a school that treasures the magic of language,” she said. “I’m flabbergasted, honored and grateful to all of my professors, the judges and others who make the Ward Prize possible.”

Laga Abram’s winning work was titled “The Ecology of Folklore: A Relational Examination of Storytelling Traditions in Ireland and Iceland,” which she wrote for her Environmental Anthropology class. 

Professor of Anthropology Michael Sheridan nominated Laga Abram’s piece for the prize in May, and asked to serve as a judge on this year’s panel in September. He said that her essay demonstrated talent and thoughtfulness beyond her years. 

She engaged the topic insightfully, and then boldly and creatively connected it to course readings and themes. She demonstrated a mastery of the topic that I would expect from a junior or senior who had been marinating in a discipline for a much longer time,” Sheridan said. “It was a beautiful text and a shining example of the craft of writing.

“Stories have so much power in reminding us that the earth — and ourselves as a part of it — are alive, wildly beautiful, and made of mystery,” Laga Abram said. 

Writing and Rhetoric Professor and Writing Center Director Genie Giaimo took a lead role in coordinating this year’s process. Working in conjunction with Giaimo, Writing and Rhetoric Professor James Chase Sanchez selected the faculty for this year’s judging panel. 

Given that there are only three judges for the prize, one of Sanchez’s biggest goals and challenges was getting “an array of voices and disciplines” on the panel. Even with the challenges of online learning this semester, Sanchez had no trouble finding judges to serve on the panel, which consisted of Professor of History Ian Barrow, American Studies Ellery Foutch and Sheridan.

Sheridan said that he enjoyed the diversity of thought that comes from having judges in different academic departments. “By having the judges come from different parts of the college, it balances out differences like disciplinary approaches to knowledge and aesthetics,” he said. 

The prize has received steady enthusiasm from faculty and students alike in recent years. To keep this momentum going, Giaimo hopes to see a greater number of nominated pieces from STEM classes.  

Professor of Writing and Rhetoric as well as Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Catharine Wright has been a recurrent nominator over the past twenty years. “[I nominate essays] that leave me excited after reading them, stimulate me with their insights and ambition, and move me,” she said.

Editor’s Note: News Editor Abigail Chang ’23 and Managing Editor Riley Board ’22 contributed reporting.