It was 1:30 a.m. when Kirsten Hodgson, a junior at Sky View High in Smithfield, Cache County, found out from her mother that she had won the third annual Deseret Morning News Young Writers Contest.
"It was late and I was so tired so I figured it was a dream, 'Right now I should be asleep so I must be dreaming,' " said Hodgson.
It wasn't until the next day that it started to sink in that her essay had been chosen from nearly 250 entries as the winner. The theme this year was "A Memory I Want to Keep," and many entries were stories about lost loved ones.
Though her essay landed her a $1,000 check, it also served as a catalyst for healing.
Hodgson had always been close with her grandfather, Bill Berge. She was his first grandchild and from the time she was young he taught her songs, told her stories and even showed her how to use a slingshot.
He passed away last February, a week before his 73rd birthday. But Hodgson said she will forever remember him as someone who was always there for her.
Berge had many stories for his grandchildren. In his early years he lived in South America for a time and traveled the world as pilot in the Navy.
"He was my friend, someone I could always talk to and count on being there whenever I needed him," Hodgson said.
Her essay was not easy to write. She said there were a lot of tears when she was putting it together, but after she was finished she felt a lot better.
"I felt really good about getting that memory down on paper and I think it helped me through that final grieving process — getting it all out," said Hodgson.
Her grandpa's silent encouragement is one of many memories that she wants to hold onto and she thinks about it most often when she starts feeling down.
"When I am really depressed or overwhelmed with life — in debate or chemistry — I remember him and remember there is more to life that just this moment and that I am going to get through it," Hodgson said.
A junior, she is the youngest of this year's contest winners, and though she loves writing, it is only one of many areas where she shines.
Hodgson is the oldest of nine children in a house that hasn't had a TV in years.
She is captain of the debate team, and has held a 4.0 GPA for years. But she is also a piano and cello player, a cook, and she has a pet goat named Snickers.
Her mother, Heidi, said in fourth grade Hodgson was reading Shakespeare for leisure and in fifth grade finished off the first Harry Potter book in a matter of hours.
"Reading is my all-time favorite thing to do," Hodgson said.
This year a teacher recommended her for a leadership conference in Washington, D.C. Later she got word she had been selected, but she didn't have the $1,300 needed for the trip.
But after being awarded the Young Writer's contest grand prize, Hodgson is planning for the trip.
As for the future, Hodgson is torn between going into English and writing or engineering in college. The two subjects seem far apart but she is interested in both — her father is an engineer.
College is still almost two years away but she is leaning toward attending Brigham Young University after she graduates.
Her mother said overall Hodgson has become the ideal role model for her eight sisters and brothers.
"Basically she is like the coolest example on an older sister you can get — she is so good at everything but she never wants attention for herself," said Kaia, Hodgson's 15-year-old sister.
The Deseret Morning News Young Writers Contest is now in its third year. The paper receives essays from students all over the state and they are judged by News editors.
Editor John Hughes said the contest is a way for the paper to encourage and foster good writing in the schools. The contest was open to high school juniors and seniors and the top three were awarded cash prizes: $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $250 for third.