"It's a nice way to end my high school career," said Strong. "I feel I'm at my peak."
The nationwide Poetry Out Loud competition was a contest in which students recited and performed poems of their choosing. Backed by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and others, Strong competed with over 5,000 students from 44 high schools and one home school student.
Strong won the state competition, receiving a $200 cash prize. She also won an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. from April 27 to 29 when she will compete against representatives from 50 states in the national finals.
"At first, the poems were just words," said Strong, adding, "But then, you learn them by heart and they become an emotion [where] the words just shine. At the state competition, I couldn't remember anything I did after [the reading] - I got really into it. You just get lost in the words."
Competing for college scholarship
On the national level, Strong will compete for the chance to win a $20,000 college scholarship prize.
Jack O'Connor, a 29-year English teacher at Union Hill, helped Strong gather the three poems she would read.
"We're very proud to have Allison here," said O'Connor, adding, "I am very proud that we in Union City [home to a large Spanish-speaking population] are representing the state in a language competition that's all about the beauty of the English language. There's some poetic justice in that - that Union City is home to the champion."
The long road
"I've been living with the poem for a couple of months - since November," said Strong about one of her chosen poems, Sylvia Plath's "Fever 103."
As per the rules of the competition, Strong chose from a collection of poems listed on the Poetry Out Loud website.
Strong also chose to read Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" and Shakespeare's "Sonnet CXXX: My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing like the Sun."
With help from O'Connor, Strong discovered and read "Fever 103" at the school's contest.
At the school-wide New Jersey Poetry Out Loud contest, Strong competed against students from two other English classes and a drama class, and she won.
"After I listened to a recording [Plath's recitation], I got a better feel for it," said Strong.
From there, Strong went on to compete on a regional level at the Williams Center for the Arts in Rutherford winning in competition against such schools as Mahwah High School and Newark's Arts High School.
"I think preparation is a major thing and I feel like I've been well prepared," said Strong.
Teacher Jack O'Connor also expressed Strong's attributes.
"As a teacher, I know she understands the literature," said O'Connor, adding, "I don't think you can perform as well as she does unless you are that academically inclined. She studies the literature, the language, and knows the author's craft."
For the graduating senior, the regional competition was dually difficult; just an hour after her recitation, Strong had a musical theater audition at one of the colleges she applied to - New York University.
"The poetry was the first thing on my mind," said Strong, adding, "In the morning, I was very much in the zone. Later when I got on stage, I went quiet and concentrated on what I had to do."
Strong has since been accepted into NYU in addition to other colleges she has applied to such as Boston Conservatory, Wagner College, and Montclair State University.
The 10-year musical theater veteran says if it weren't for her musical passion, she would have aspirations to become a writer or an English teacher.
This year's salutatorian, the second-highest ranking student in her graduating class, says she's proud and excited of her accomplishment.
"It's been a very humbling experience," said Strong, adding, "I never delved into poetry before. With recitations, I never distinguished difference between acting and reading poetry. My appreciation [for poetry] has grown tremendously, and it won't end here. It will be part of my life."
Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com