My name is Makayla Rivera, I am a sophomore at West Orange High School, in West Orange, New Jersey. I am a member of the honors program at my school and a member of the Black Student Union and Unity Club. Further, my passion is poetry. I am a poet who has competed in the ACT-SO written poetry competition for two years. I was awarded a silver medal for my poem “Prayers To Catch a Butterfly” in 2021 and have performed my art at various spoken word events, galas, and fundraisers. To me, poetry is an escape from everyday life and a form of expression and empowerment. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to grow my artistic skills with the ACT-SO program, as my mentors and peers are an inspiration and essential part of my artistic journey. Outside of poetry, I am also a young activist. On March fourth, a group of my friends and I led and organized a school-wide protest against discriminatory dress-code enforcement, disparately targeting black students at West Orange High School. Although I am only a sophomore, I am eager to attend a prestigious college and further my education and passions for years to come.

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The Governor’s Awards in Arts Education began in 1980 to promote awareness and appreciation of the arts, recognizing the creativity, talent and leadership of the award winners. Each year, awards are presented to approximately 20 educators and 80 students. National and statewide organizations select the students for their exemplary work in creative writing, speech, dance, music, theatre and visual arts and the leaders for their exceptional commitment and contribution to arts education. The program also recognizes arts educators and arts education advocates, whose leadership has helped nurture the development of students in the arts across the state.

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The Governor’s Awards event is a partnership of the Arts Ed NJ, the Department of Education, Art Pride New Jersey Foundation, the Department of State and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Additional support is provided by: the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics; Art Educators of New Jersey; Art Administrators of New Jersey; Dance New Jersey; New Jersey Council of Teachers of English; New Jersey Speech and Debate League; New Jersey Music Educators Association; New Jersey Performing Arts Center; Writer's Theatre of New Jersey; Speech and Theatre Association of New Jersey; New Jersey Thespians and Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. The cooperating organizations, award sponsors and individual members of the planning council dedicate their time to make sure that excellence in the arts is rewarded, and work tirelessly throughout the year to plan this special event. The Governor's Awards in Arts Education ceremony are a major collaborative effort of the arts, education and state government.