Yewon Lee is one of five finalists in a nationwide competition to be featured on Google’s homepage — and win a $30,000 scholarship.

FORT LEE, N.J. — A middle school student’s drawing is one of five finalists in a nationwide competition to be featured on Google’s homepage – and win a $30,000 scholarship.

Yewon Lee, a seventh grader at a Fort Lee middle school, said it was “unbelievable” to find out she was one of the finalists and had already won a $5,000 scholarship.

“I did work hard for the piece, but I didn’t know I would reach this point,” Yewon said.

This year’s Doodle for Google contest started in January with the theme “I show kindness by …”

“When I first heard of the theme, my neighbors came to mind first, because they’re so nice to me and gave me fond memories,” Yewon said. “I wanted to incorporate that and the memories from neighbors into my art piece.”

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Yewon’s original artwork shows scenes of a young girl and an older man eating ice cream together on a bench, a young boy helping a pregnant woman tie her shoes and kids helping each other plant trees, sharing an umbrella and helping carry the letter “e.” Each individual image is roughly the shape of a letter; together they spell out “Google.”

Tens of thousands of submissions were came in from students in all 50 states plus Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

“Today, it’s so important to show kindness and compassion, and this year’s contestants shared the multitude of ways they demonstrate empathy in their communities,” said Jane Woodall, brand manager from Brand Studio, in announcing the finalists. 

With Google products like Chromebooks and Google Classroom embedded in schools everywhere – more so in the age of the coronavirus – the tech giant counts students among its most important customers. 

In January, it became the fourth tech company to reach $1 trillion in market value, a figure that has since increased to $1.1 trillion. Google says it has committed $250 million in spending since 2005 to address gaps in education.

Google Doodles, which occupy the search engine’s home page for 24 hours, are viewed by hundreds of millions of visitors before they vanish and are replaced by the next day’s logo. 

The competition for a spot on the home page begins once students’ submissions are reviewed and 54 state winners are chosen. Next, the public votes on whose doodle will advance.

This year, after looking at the votes, the judges selected five finalists, including Yewon. The other four finalists are from Hawaii, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Our community really rallied and voted for [Yewon] to get to this point and now it’s up to the judges,” Fort Lee’s town-sponsored Facebook page, Fort Lee Today, wrote. “There’s nothing more for us to do, so let’s just send Yewon lots of luck, positive thoughts and good juju.”

Yewon said she is thankful the town and her church community also all voted for her to make it this far. 

The finalists were chosen based on a combination of criteria that included artistic merit, creativity and how well participants communicated the theme in their artwork and written statement, as well as the results of public voting. 

For being a top-five finalists, Yewon will receive a $5,000 college scholarship, Google hardware for the new school year and some Google swag. 

If she wins the national competition, she will get a $30,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 technology investment grant for her school and will have her artwork featured on Google’s homepage for 24 hours. 

Google’s judge panel will pick the winner in the coming weeks.

Kristie Cattafi is a local reporter for M

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