HHS student wins national gold medal

HHS student wins national gold medal
Posted on 03/30/2017

Harlandale HS senior Justin Garcia is caught between attending his high school graduation and receiving a prestigious award at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Both monumental experiences take place June 8.

Justin was recently notified that he earned a National Gold Medal in the 2017 Scholastic Arts & Writing Contest for his video game entry, “Mother’s Gift.”

More than 330,000 works of art and writing pieces were submitted by students in grades 7-12 this year, which means that receiving this recognition places Justin's game within the top one percent of all submissions.

“I tend to not get my hopes too high because I know there are people far beyond my level, so I was really surprised when they contacted me,” Justin said.

He submitted an entry after being encouraged to do so by the staff at the afterschool arts program SAY SI. Justin joined the nonprofit earlier this school year and experienced programming for the first time.

Justin completed his winning piece a month after he joined the program. The video game portrays Day of the Dead elements and specifically follows the story of a child who the player personalizes.

“The character lost their mother on the Day of the Dead exactly seven years before the game takes place,” Justin explained. “You end up going to a local festival to talk to vendors and to see what the Day of the Dead is all about.”

The game gets interesting when spirits of people that passed away sense hostility and come back to guide the character toward a better outcome.

Without giving away too much, Justin added that the video game is titled “Mother’s Gift” because the mother not only gave a lot of nourishment and love to the character, but also because of a special item the character always carries.

Justin hopes to one day polish the video game and have people play it. He’ll be pursuing his dream of becoming a video game designer by attending St. Mary’s University in the fall to study computer programming.

The Harlandale High School senior played his first video game when he was six years old and at a young age was fascinated by the love and care put into developing video games. 

Although he’s never taken a computer science class before due to a schedule packed with dual credit and AP courses, he put forth the effort to learn on his own through programming textbooks.

He hopes more students start delving into their passions at a young age.

“I feel like learning to do your passion at an early age and sticking with it means a lot more than just having the idea pointed so far off and not actually reaching it until a longer way down the road,” Justin said. “I would just say to go for what you would want to do and to not let the age range that you are in stop you.”

Before he starts his college career though, he has to make a tough decision. His high school graduation is on the same day as the awards ceremony.

“Both of them are once in a lifetime occasions because I’m never going to graduate high school a second time, but also this award is only available for high school students so there would be no way I could submit next year, plus Carnegie Hall is probably one of the most prestigious places to receive an award,” Justin said.

Right now, he’s leaning toward crossing the stage and tossing his graduation cap surrounded by the Harlandale High School Class of 2017.

“The thing that gives me the most satisfaction and that meant the most to me from this experience is that not only did my game get played, but it got recognized, and that is just more than what I could have ever wanted,” Justin said. “Going over there could be a great thing to receive it in person, but if I end up going to graduation I still wouldn’t lose out any bit of what it means to me, and that’s really what’s most important.”

Congratulations, Justin! 

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