Virginia Ball recipients remember life-changing experiences at Interlochen

Rocio Anica first found Interlochen not through writing, but through music when she saw a poster for Interlochen Arts Academy in her high school’s choir room.

Anica put herself on Interlochen’s mailing list, but doubted her ability to attend due to the cost of tuition. She continued to receive mailings from Interlochen, but it was one particular postcard that changed her life: a postcard announcing the inaugural Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Scholarship. Anica applied for and received the scholarship, enabling her to come to Interlochen Arts Academy for her senior year of high school in 2002-03.

“Interlochen Arts Academy was such a different environment from my public school in California,” said Anica. “I am—and most writers are—very introverted, and it challenged me to get outside of my comfort zone while also nurturing me.”

The Virginia B. Ball Creative Writing Scholarship is a biennial $30,000 award given to a prospective Creative Writing student through the generosity of the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation. Ms. Ball spent only one summer at Interlochen, as a staff member in 1941, but continued to be involved with Interlochen as a donor and trustee. Since the scholarship was founded in 2001, eight aspiring writers, including Anica, have been able to attend Interlochen.

Anica credits Interlochen with helping her prepare for the rigors of postsecondary education. “I learned academic writing on top of creative writing,” she explained. “That was a huge help to me when I got to college.”

Phoebe Rusch received the Virginia B. Ball Scholarship in 2005. “My aunt went to Interlochen Arts Academy all four years, so I always knew about Interlochen,” they said. “I went to Camp there when I was a kid.”

Rusch says the scholarship—and the experience—changed their life. “I have a learning disability in math, so my academic performance has been really inconsistent,” Rusch said. “Coming to Interlochen really allowed me to focus on what my strengths are.”

Rusch, a Princeton graduate and current MFA candidate at the University of Michigan, credits their education at Interlochen Arts Academy for opening up their opportunities for the future. “I don’t know if could have gotten into a school like Princeton without Interlochen, or if I could have gotten into an MFA program without Princeton,” they said. “I was exposed to so many writers, discourses and ideas that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to encounter elsewhere.”

Ava Tomasula y Garcia, the scholarship’s 2009 recipient, was about to graduate from middle school when she discovered Interlochen. Born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, Tomasula y Garcia had studied alongside the same classmates since kindergarten. “I always hated grade school so much,” she said. “I was feeling pretty sad about going to high school. When I found Interlochen, it seemed like a fairy tale to me.”

Tomasula y Garcia became the youngest-ever recipient of the Virginia B. Ball Scholarship, and despite her parents’ reservations about the distance, attended Interlochen in the fall. At Interlochen, Tomasula y Garcia immediately found the fellowship she had been seeking since kindergarten. “It was the first time that I felt that I had a real group of friends who I loved so much,” she said. “Writing brought us together.”

But it was not just socially that Tomasula y Garcia excelled: she excelled in her writing as well.  “It was the first time that adult people had treated my writing seriously,” she said. “I grew completely as a writer, which seems ridiculous to say at 14. I was getting real lessons from real writers.”

Tomasula y Garcia also discovered a love of nature at Interlochen and hopes to enter a postgraduate program in ecology when she graduates from Yale in May.

The 2015 recipient, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Lemieux, is still a student at Interlochen Arts Academy. Lemieux found Interlochen—and the Virginia B. Ball Scholarship—after seeing an advertisement on a writing website. “I would not be able to be here without the scholarship,” Lemieux said. It was not only the monetary award, but also the prestige of winning it, that helped ensure Lemieux’s place at Interlochen. “Winning the scholarship encouraged my parents to support my decision to come here,” she said. “It showed them that I deserved to be here.”

Lemieux is still making her Interlochen memories, but she has plenty so far. “I love just sitting on my friend’s floor writing and bouncing ideas off of each other,” she said. Lemieux also loved her first-ever Interlochen field trip to nearby Traverse City. “We got to see a visiting writer at the opera house,” she said. “I loved having the freedom to be among peers while also seeing professional writers in a professional setting.”

The scholarship’s other recipients include Molly McDaniel, Sarah (Steinhouse) Kass and Sarah Resnick. The 2011 recipient, Brittany Newell, will release her debut novel, Oola, in April of 2017.

To learn more about the Virginia B. Ball Competition and all of our past recipients, click here.

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