The Blackbird’s Eye

Tuesday, May 18th O’Neal will hold its annual dedication ceremony of The Blackbird’s Eye – a literary publication featuring poetry, prose and art belonging to students from all three divisions over this school year. The first issue was in 1974, only two years after the School opened and though it may have changed its look and some content, the publication has withstood the test of time.

Dr. Thomas Heffernan

Interestingly, the idea was founded from a program that was introduced by the North Carolina Arts Council and later managed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction called “Poetry-in-Schools”. Internationally acclaimed poet Thomas Heffernan planted the seed. An English literature and American studies educator, Dr. Heffernan lectured at NC State University from 1967-1970 and served as Poet in the schools for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and Arts Council from 1973-1977. He began to receive international recognition predominantly for Haiku from 1985 -1995. In an article, the program’s objective was to… “get students to see things in fresh ways, to examine themselves and the world around them…”

Though O’Neal is a private school, it was able to host the program and Dr. Thomas Heffernan became O’Neal’s first “poet-in-residence” in 1974 (though there are many conflicting published dates). O’Neal hosted the program for at least the next five years. Each year a poet would visit the school for a week to conduct an intensive study of poetry with the students.

In a poem written by the students titled “To Tom Heffernan” is where the title The Blackbird’s Eye was derived. In a segment of this poem, the students write, “All of us will never forget this week. When our poems have grown… We will always have a bit of Heffernan in us…”

According to LinkedIn, Dr. Heffernan is currently a lecturer at UNC Pembroke.

For some years following, the School’s faculty and staff would take up their own collection to hold a poetry contest with a panel of judges and award the winners with monetary prizes.

The Addition of Prose, Art and Dedications

Through the years, the simple anthology of poetry has expanded to a literary publication featuring not only verse, but prose in the form of short stories and essays. Artwork from the students put the finishing touch on the publication. Students in all three divisions are represented.

For at least the past few decades, The Blackbird’s Eye is produced by a student club in the Upper School. Entries are determined by a committee comprised of teachers from each division as well as the students.  

The student club chooses a member of the faculty for whom to dedicate each year’s publication referencing the positive impact they have made for students and the O’Neal Community.

The Bill Youngclaus Creative Writing Award

In 2007, The Bill Youngclaus Award was created in memory of O’Neal parent, Trustee and Communications Committee member, Bill Youngclaus.  A special committee reviews The Blackbird’s Eye selections and chooses a recipient from each division for this honor. Each student winner receives a monetary award and medal.

Written by Bill’s wife, Lisa Youngclaus and recited upon presenting the awards:

“This award was created out of the generosity of many friends and family members who chose to honor their fond memories of Bill Youngclaus by making a memorial donation to The O’Neal School.

Bill Youngclaus was a brilliant, creative, talented man who attended Yale University on a full academic scholarship and graduated with an English degree. He pursued a successful career in the advertising business and lived and worked all over the world, mastering four different languages and assimilating to many cultures and ideas. But the language he loved most was the language of the written word. He read novels, plays, and poetry and he wrote fiction and poetry throughout his life.

Bill loved The O’Neal School for its high academic standards, its devoted faculty, and the loving, caring environment the School provided for his young son Will. Will Youngclaus began attending O’Neal in 1998 and is a rising 8th grader today. Bill served passionately on the O’Neal Board and dreamed of the School being able to fulfill all of Will’s dreams and the dreams of all the other students that call O’Neal their home.”

The Blackbird’s Eye has remained a constant for O’Neal throughout the years. It provides the opportunity to shine a light on the art of words and its connection with visual art and how both work together to trigger one’s innermost feelings. It is a true gift to always be revered.

Falcons Fly to 50

O’Neal is excited to share its history with readers as it quickly nears its 50th year in educating and cultivating youth in becoming successful, effective contributors to communities large and small. The official celebration starts school year 2021/2022. This weekly blog will focus on different aspects of the School as it grew through the years. With every entry, there is just as much more information to gather than what is already written. Readers who have been a part of the O’Neal community are encouraged to reach out and share their O’Neal memories. It is with great hope that the efforts of many in contributing information and photography can be published into a book for reflection and reference as the School continues to prosper for the next 50 years.

Please send your memoirs and photos to:
The O’Neal School
c/o Kathy Taylor, Director of Communications
P.O. Box 290
Southern Pines, NC 28388

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