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Carthage eighth-grader’s artwork wins merit award in international contest

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DEFERIET — Keely O’Connor said that when she heard her mother screaming her name Friday, she thought she was hurt.

Instead, her mother had some extraordinary news for the Carthage Central Middle School eighth-grader: Keely’s Lions Club International Peace Poster contest submission was one of 23 merit winners at the international level.

“It’s more like second place,” the 13-year-old said. “But there’s about 400,000 entries, so being one of 23 merit winners was pretty amazing.”

Keely is the daughter of Kellie T. O’Connor, Deferiet, and David C. O’Connor, Carthage.

“I was sobbing before I even opened the email. I saw eight attachments and I knew it was something good,” Keely’s proud mother said. “It’s just hard to believe what she’s doing at a very young age ... she’s just a little girl from Deferiet.”

The piece advanced through the local and district levels before advancing last month to judging at the international level. The grand prize winner took home $5,000. All 23 merit winners received $500, which Keely said will go toward her summer camp tuition at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. She attended Interlochen last summer.

She entered the contest last fall representing the Carthage Lions Club. Making a submission originally was suggested by her French teacher, Teri Walseman. Keely was immediately drawn to the challenge because it represented peace.

“I feel kind of an overwhelming release, but I finally realized I actually won part of the contest and I got so far. I mean, it’s just amazing; you wouldn’t expect it from such a small town,” she said.

She speculated her piece advanced as far as it did because of the bright colors and the fact that it looked different from other submissions.

“I thank all of my supporters, who helped me through everything,” she said. She always wants art to be in her future.

While Keely’s cousin and grandfather have artistic talent, she does not attribute hers to genetics.

“I like to think I made it on my own, but that I had some help along the way from something bigger than me,” she said.

“We’re very, very proud of her. It’s just unbelievable,” Mrs. O’Connor said.

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