When high school students envision Penn, they don’t often think of the arts as being an integral force on campus. The preprofessional track, the competitive environment, and the strong engineering and Wharton schools likely take precedence in their minds. However, the legacy of Peter LaBerge (C '17), founder of The Adroit Journal, continues to grow as more high school students apply to Penn through his influence as a graduate of Penn’s renowned English program.
Founded in 2010, The Adroit Journal is a registered nonprofit organization that focuses on literature and arts. With a global team of emerging writers, the journal strives to showcase the future of poetry and prose. Each year, the journal hosts the Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose, which serve as a tribute to talented student writers. Additionally, the journal also offers the Gregory Djanikian Scholars Program in Poetry, which provides financial assistance to outstanding poets who haven't yet published their work. The Adroit Journal has since then featured 44 issues of writing and art selected from 100,000 submissions.
Picture this: a community of like–minded art aficionados and high school students who dedicate time crafting short stories and writing impactful poetry. This idyllic scene is a reality at The Adroit Summer Mentorship, an online–based program that pairs experienced authors with high school and secondary students ranging from grades 9–12, including graduating seniors. The program teaches the creative writing processes for poetry, fiction, and even creative non–fiction, educating students on how to draft, redraft, and edit their pieces.
In an interview, LaBerge unveiled his own experiences in high school considering applying to Penn as an early decision student. “I didn't really connect with Penn particularly, and then everything changed when I was a senior, because I got an email from Jamie–Lee [Josselyn] saying Kelly Writers House would love to meet you,” he says.
Kelly Writers House was LaBerge’s open door to see the amazing—but slightly hidden—artistic culture at Penn. “You're not always just gonna walk outside and see a Kelly Writers House culture, but once you're in it, you're in it,” he says. This late connection to and understanding of Penn’s writing community is not unique to LaBerge’s experience. In his opinion, “at a place like Penn, which is so cross–disciplinary, you really can continue to engage with writing, whether it's a hobby or not.”
Zoe Liu (C '26), a first–year student planning on majoring in English and economics, attended the Adroit Mentorship program in 2021. She applied to Penn unknowingly for the opportunities for writers, but committed to Penn once she got in touch with the Kelly Writers House through the Adroit Mentorship. “That was when I realized Penn was the place for me,” Zoe says.
LaBerge mentions his inspiration and decision to found The Adroit Journal from the toxic elements of the high school writing community. “If you're sobbing, it’s because you didn't get a call from Young Arts on a given night,” he says. He founded the Adroit Mentorship in 2014 after concluding his first year at Penn. He started to ask himself: “What did I want from high school that I didn't get?” His answer was a sort of community where it's not about who's won what and who hasn't.
“I think both the Kelly Writers House and I are pieces of their pre–Penn journey,” LaBerge says. He works in partnership with the Kelly Writers House by organically attracting talented high school writers and later introducing them to Josselyn and the Kelly Writers House. He hopes that people of all backgrounds and experiences have the opportunity to write creatively for pleasure—without the pressures and competition intrinsic to the writing world.
The Adroit Journal and LaBerge’s legacy extends beyond influencing humanities students to commit to Penn, aiming to create a safe, inspiring environment for young writers. From the Adroit Mentorship to the Kelly Writers House, supportive writing communities can change relationships and open doors to multiple opportunities—academically, culturally, and personally.
In LaBerge’s words, “I would just encourage writers to be patient with themselves and to center their experiences around communities and relationships, because unlike the opportunity to submit to Scholastic, they don't go away.”