May 21, 2013, Pittsburgh, PA – Many songs celebrating excessive drinking and irresponsible behavior have given hip hop and rap music a bad reputation. But high school senior Matthew Clark has used rap to convey a very different message, one that has earned him a college scholarship.
At an awards dinner Monday evening, Clark received $2,500 as a winner of the Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest for a rap song he submitted. Titled "Drunk Driv'a," the rap chronicles the tragic account of an intoxicated teen getting behind the wheel.
"The projects are extremely powerful," said Attorney Snyder. "We see the realities of what happens when people get in accidents, but I believe these students' presentations can really affect change."
The annual contest challenges students across Western PA to create programs discouraging their peers from underage drinking, drunk driving, or texting while driving. Students had the option of submitting entries in the form of videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites, essays, or any other creative format of their choice. This was the first year that a rap was submitted and won.
Prior to the dinner, Clark and the other scholarship recipients participated in a live Google Plus Hangout with Attorney Edgar Snyder to talk about the inspiration behind their projects and future plans for college.
Clark first heard about the scholarship contest from his father. "Drunk driving and texting and driving are a big issues among students my age," said Clark, who plans to attend University of South Carolina in the fall. "I've always had a knack for coming up with poems and raps on the spot, so my dad encouraged me to come up with something and put it to music."
Clark's rap serves as a sobering reminder that drunk driving accidents impact more than just the person driving. One line reads, "Look at your selfishness and foolishness, and what it's all done, inside the car you hit was a father and his son."
More than 300 entries were submitted and evaluated by a panel of judges who advocate teen safety in their communities: Corporal Christopher Murray of the PA State Police, Maddie Seel, a junior at Shaler Area High School, Deputy Sheriff Jason Tarap of the Allegheny County Sherrif's Office, and Chris Vitale, manager of the injury prevention program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh UPMC.
"They all covered the information really well. But what is interesting is how they came up with different ways to tell their story in a personal way," said Vitale, a second-year judge for the competition. "They seem much older than high school kids. There's a lot of wisdom that comes out in the projects that is always surprising."
Corporal Murray was especially impressed by the time and effort put into all of the projects. "It's encouraging that there are teens out there that recognize a problem and are doing something about it," he said.
Six other winners were recognized for their submissions at the dinner ceremony. Katherine Zhou of North Allegheny High School (Allegheny Co.) took home the grand-prize scholarship of $5,000. Two additional scholarships for $2,500 were awarded to Lindsay Spinabelli of Peters Township High School (Washington Co.) and Jesse Vensel of McGuffey High School (Washington Co.). Three $1,000 scholarships went to Alexandria Denne of Gateway Senior High School (Allegheny Co.), Brady Sheehan of Windber Area High School (Somerset Co.), and Michael Trowbridge of Bellefonte Area High School (Centre Co.).
Since the scholarship contest began in 2007, Edgar Snyder & Associates has awarded 63 scholarships totaling $86,000. To view the winning entries and to learn more about the Edgar Snyder & Associates "Words to be Heard" Scholarship Contest visit www.edgarsnyder.com/giving-back/drive-safe/scholarship/2013.