By Rudabeh Shahbazi

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – An 18-year-old mentee and his mentor are celebrating a huge accomplishment.

Leonardo Bacan was one a few students chosen to win an award that puts him in the company of some of greatest artists of all time.

“You can see the horizon lines – many pathways, harsh strokes, calm moments. It is harsh moments combined with calm moments and it is hope for happiness, hope for a better way in the same time you are in the place that you don’t know what is going to happen next,” said Bacan.

Bacan, a student artist at the New World School of the Arts is gentle and soft-spoken – but when you take a closer look at his pieces, you realize he’s a mastermind in the making.

“Well, why I made the paintings was to communicate my feelings. It’s like a translation of me in the paintings, how I dealt with my obstacles through the paintings. I think the paintings are a perfect representation of therapeutic moments that I was experiencing – very meditative and very calming. Some paintings reflect harder times. Some paintings reflect I had a calm experience,” said Bacan.

Earlier this year, Bacan was selected out of thousands of students around the country as a Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Gold Port Scholarship winner for his portfolio of paintings. This prestigious award puts him in the company of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Robert Redford, Author Stephen King and Actress Lena Dunham.

Bacan along with 23 other winning teens were celebrated at a medal ceremony at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. He received a $10,000 scholarship.

“I wasn’t totally surprised cause I know he’s very talented and I know he works hard but yeah it was a surprise as well because it’s such an honor and I’m thrilled that he’s been able to have this stage to grow and to capitalize onto and see that,” said Bacan’s teacher Carlos Gallostra. “It’s an absolute thrill to see him find that success and find that people found that value in him as well.”

Leo credits his high school teacher and mentor Carlos Gallostra for helping him prepare for this big project.

“Dr. G – he’s helped me so much,” said Bacan. “I would stay after school hours just talking to him about what I was going through and he would help me find a better solution. He would help me with my paintings. He would give me advice. He would help me with not only stuff with school but my personal life and since the beginning, he has always been there to help me.”

“To have that privilege to be a mentor, to feel relevant to feel that you can make a difference in someone’s life in that way that just really…makes everything worth it,” said Gallostra.

Leo’s parents, who are from Brazil, are also celebrating this milestone. They say they could tell Leo had a gift from the time he was a toddler.

“Since he was 2-years old, he would color and paint for hours and hours,” said Leo’s mom Jennifer Bacan.

This fall, Leo is attending the New World School of the Arts College and he continues to work with Dr. G.

“So in a way Leo has been able to communicate his ways, effectively. I do think he’s in for a huge ride his next four years here at New World and thereafter his work is just going to continue to grow – hopefully,” said Gallostra.

As for what Leo is planning for his future, he said he hopes to be in his studio, practicing art and making more of it.

“Hopefully, I can become a teacher one day in the world that would be really fun,” said Bacan.

Opportunities for the 2017 Scholastic Awards are open right now. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers invites students in grades 7-12 to submit original artwork or writing and join the legacy.

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at or CLICK HERE for more information about how you can become a mentor.


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