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JUNE 2020
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Jennifer Crusco
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Bergen Writer Finishes First in Statewide Competition

Demarest, NJ: Caitlin Brannigan of Hillsdale has earned the New Jersey Governor's Award in Arts Education for her short story, "Calamity of Freedom." She advanced to the Governor’s competition after finishing in first place in the contest sponsored by the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English.

Brannigan, who is a member of the Class of 2021 at the Academy of the Holy Angels, will receive a medallion and a keepsake invitation to the virtual award ceremony on June 26.

“In normal times, she would be honored in Trenton and would read her piece to the assembled dignitaries and attendees, but at least she will be featured on the website of the N.J. Governor's Award in Arts Education (www.njgaae.org),” said AHA English Department Chairperson Nancy Schneberger. “This is really a great honor for her and for our school…It's a statewide competition, and we're a huge state full of very talented writers, so congratulations to Caitlin!”

Brannigan said her award-winning fictional work takes place after four calamities that bring about the extinction of humanity. One of those calamities is an artificial intelligence revolution.

“The title references the freedom robots gained and how, in achieving that freedom, they destroyed our civilization,” she said. The story involves two robots who are searching for remnants of human civilization among the ruins of New York City.

“The robots refer to themselves as people, using nouns and pronouns that we usually would, such as ‘man.’ They’re both searching for a sense of purpose in their lives, which is an endless struggle for them as their code requires them to always assist the (extinct) human race. As they explore, they learn more about ancient humans and the role of technology in their lives.”

Brannigan said her chief inspiration was Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Shelley drew inspiration from industrialization and developments in science, such as experiments in electrocuting corpses, that took place in her time when she wrote “Frankenstein,” Brannigan explained. “As I was reading the novel for English class, I contemplated how Shelley would have crafted the monster if she had lived in the modern day. I think it would be interesting if a modern Shelley would write the monster based on scientific advancements in AI and robotics, such as Sophia, a highly intelligent humanoid robot. That’s why I decided to have two robots as the main characters, exploring a world devastated by issues we face in the modern day, such as nuclear and bioweapons.”

Brannigan also appreciates the works of authors Ray Bradbury, Rick Riordan, Haruki Murakami, and Emily Dickinson. Her own desire to tell stories began before she was able to use a computer keyboard. At first, she committed her ideas to paper, handwriting her thoughts on printer paper. During her middle school years, Brannigan began writing novels in collaboration with her friends. These days, Brannigan is a member of the AHA Writers’ Society.

“I’m really happy, but also very surprised!” Brannigan said of her success in competition. “I wasn’t expecting my story to win. When I submitted it to the NJCTE contest, I took a shot in the dark and hoped maybe I would win if I got lucky. I’m very grateful to my family, my teachers, and peers, especially those in Writers’ Society who inspire me to improve my writing.

Brannigan maintains an excellent grade point average at Holy Angels, where she is involved in a variety of activities, including the AHA Concert Choir. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta (math honor society), and the Science National Honor Society. During her junior year, she successfully completed the leadership seminar facilitated by Sister Kathleen Cornell, SSND. Brannigan is also a 2019 Sister Nonna Dunphy Scholarship finalist and a Sister Catherine Green Kindness Award winner. Her diverse interests include playing classical music on the piano, reading, knitting, enjoying video games, and keeping up with the Netflix shows “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Outer Banks.”

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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