TAHS Senior Among Nine Finalists for Poetry Out Loud National Title


Image courtesy of National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Out Loud Program

Tyrone senior Mario Grugan will find out in early June if he is the winner of a $20,000 national prize in the NEA Poetry Out Loud recitation contest.

Tyrone High School senior Mario Grugan learned on Sunday that he is one of only nine finalists from across the nation left vying for the title of 2022 Poetry Out Loud™ National Champion and a $20,000 first prize.

“It was really unexpected and a massive shock when I heard my name announced,” said Grugan. “I was so happy that I was shaking.”

The competition will conclude on Sunday, June 5, 2022, with a live webcast available on the NEA’s website beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET.

The webcast will be hosted by poet, publisher, and New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander and will include poetry recitations by Grugan and the other eight finalists, followed by the announcement of the second and third place winners and the 2022 National Champion.

“My heart was beating out of my chest watching yesterday’s contest,” said Tyrone speech team advisor Leah Deskevich, “Mario rocked. I’m so thankful he gets one more chance to compete at the national finals.”

Along with the $1,000 prize for being named a finalist, Tyrone High School will receive a $500 grant from the Poetry Out Loud Foundation for the purchase of poetry materials.

In addition to being named a finalist for the recitation contest, Grugan was also named runner-up in Poetry Ourselves, a companion competition open to the Poetry Out Loud state and jurisdictional champions to highlight their original poetry.

Each champion had the opportunity to submit an original work of poetry in one of two categories—written or spoken—which were judged by poet Chen Chen.

“Concrete” by Grugan, has been published on the arts.gov website.

Grugan was selected to represent Pennsylvania in the national Poetry Out Loud competition on March 13.

It was really unexpected and a massive shock when I heard my name announced. I was so happy that I was shaking.

— Mario Grugan

Plans for the national finals were made while pandemic restrictions were still in full force, so instead of traveling to Washington DC for the semifinals, Grugan was mailed materials to film three recitations.

He had only one chance to film each recitation and was not able to see any of his videos until they were live-streamed for the national semifinals.

For the national semifinals, the winners from the 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and four US territories, were broken into three regions: the east, the midwest, and the west.

Pennsylvania is in the East region, which meant that Grugan competed against champions from Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

All 18 competitors competed in the first round, where viewers got to watch two orations from each student. To move on, Grugan had to finish in the top eight of his region.

“Finding out that I had one of the eight highest cumulative scores was very exciting,” said Grugan.

Then each of the remaining eight competitors had their third and final poem aired, but only three moved on to the finals.

The first finalist to be announced was Pamela White from New York. The second was Gabriella Burwell from North Carolina. Grugan was the third and final name announced.

Upon hearing his name announced, Grugan was overjoyed.

For the finals, a professional film crew will fly to Pennsylvania to film Grugan’s recitations.

“I’m very nervous to watch the national winner be announced,” said Grugan. “All of my competitors are very talented; it is very possible for any of us to win.”

My heart was beating out of my chest watching yesterday’s contest. Mario rocked. I’m so thankful he gets one more chance to compete at the national finals.

— Tyrone speech team advisor Leah Deskevich

The other national finalists are Oscar Manuel Landa Samano (Arizona), Mia Ronn (California), Aidyn Lorin Jai Reid (Colorado), Jacob Simmons (Louisiana), Alexandra Rose Zaleski (Nebraska), Pamela White (New York), Gabriella Burwell (North Carolina), and Kendall Grimes (Tennessee).

For the competition, each student memorizes and recites classic and contemporary poems selected from more than 1,100 in the Poetry Out Loud anthology.

Judges review and score the recitations based on criteria including physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, overall performance, and accuracy.

The 2022 national finals judges are Francisco Aragón, Candice Iloh, Rosa Joshi, Dante Medema, Joan Naviyuk Kane, and Marcus Wicker.

For bios for the judges and more information on the 55 Poetry Out Loud state and jurisdictional champions, download the 2022 Poetry Out Loud program book.

A total of $50,000 in awards and school or organizational stipends will be given at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, including a $20,000 award for the National Champion, $10,000 for 2nd place, $5,000 for 3rd place, and $1,000 for 4th–9th places.

Since the program began in 2005, more than 4.1 million students and 68,000 teachers from 17,000 schools across the country have participated in Poetry Out Loud, which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation.

To learn more about the program and how to participate in 2022–2023, visit PoetryOutLoud.org.