North Star photography student finds her voice – and top honors

Hajer Al-Eid takes powerful photographs, passionate pictures filled with the images of women who don’t always have a voice.

  • A young woman wrapped in the Iraqi flag.
  • Another bound in rope.
  • Still another with currency taped over her mouth.

“I want to give voice to people who often don’t have one,” says the Lincoln North Star High School senior.  “That’s my personal vision, that’s my own personal voice … My hope is that you look at my images and you see them, feel them, experience them, and that you hear the voices of these women.”

Al-Eid had barely taken a photograph when she walked into her first art class as a ninth grader – her first photography class as a sophomore.  “I didn’t even know I had a creative, artistic side,” she says.

Yet this year Al-Eid was recognized with a National Medal in the 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, an honor that comes with a prize of $1,000.  Her photo portfolio was chosen to receive a Silver Medal with Distinction. Judges recognized her work for excellence in originality, technical skill and the emergence of a personal vision – work that will be on display this June at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 

To put this honor into perspective: More than 100,000 students submitted more than 260,000 works for the 2022 Art and Writing competition – and only 47 portfolios received national medals.  That places Al-Eid within the upper 1 percent of all submissions from across the nation.

“As a teacher, it is so amazing to see a student realize that she can say something through her photos, to watch a student catch fire, find her passion and her voice,” says Jason Codr, chair of North Star’s Art Department and Al-Eid’s photography teacher.  “When I think about watching someone like Al-Eid grow it has been truly magical.  She had something special, she has drive, interest and passion about what she is working on.”

At this point Al-Eid is experimenting with all types of photography, from portraits to fashion, enjoying the process of creating images.  In fact, she has used her photos to illuminate domestic violence, global travesties, the confusion of “culturally in-between, not knowing where you belong.”

Al-Eid explains that she begins with a concept of what she wants to say, then takes her sketchbook and maps out perhaps 15 different ideas of how to say it.  “I try different lighting, different backgrounds, whatever evokes the emotion I am going for … There are so many options, so many possible outcomes.”

Many of her models are friends, classmates and family members: “I tell them to relax their face, be natural, trust me.”

For now, Al-Eid plans to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this fall but has not determined her specific career plan.  “But I do know this.  Photography will always be part of my life.  Always.”  

Her teacher notes: “Hajer also has an ability to help raise others around her too. She has helped others realize their visions, their ideas.  She has helped them to grow alongside her.”

Codr says a teacher wants the best for every single student – wants them to discover what they are capable of.  The true joy of teaching happens, he says, “when you see a student light up with that discovery – when you witness a student like Hajer who continues to grow, who captures and pushes the envelope.

Once a professional graphic designer, Codr accepted an opportunity to teach, “because I believe students need a place to find an outlet, a place to be themselves, express themselves – and visual arts does just that … It is not all about textbooks, but it’s a place to share ideas, experiment – a place where students can take risks.”

Published: May 4, 2022, Updated: May 4, 2022

Hajer Al-Eid, North Star Senior