Falls Church 1st Grader Wins Grand Prize in Google Doodle Competition

SCANNING THE WORK of her new crew of collaborators at Google is Falls Church first grader, Sarah Gomez-Lane (center, blue bow). For the next few months, the Doodlers will work to make her winning “Dino Doodle” into an interactive part of Google’s home page. (Photo: Courtesy Maria Gomez-Lane)

What started as a leisurely activity to occupy a day without school ended up being an inflection point in first grader Sarah Gomez-Lane’s life.

The Falls Church six-year-old was crowned the winner of the 10th annual Doodle 4 Google competition on Monday night, earning her a $30,000 scholarship and more for her “Dino Doodle” that she created on the contest’s final day for submissions in early March.

For winning the contest, which received over 180,000 submissions nationwide and millions of votes in determining state and national finalists for five different age groups, Sarah was presented with the scholarship and a $50,000 “technology package” for her school, Falls Church’s Pine Springs Elementary.

Additionally, she’ll make a return trip to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California to meet with Google employees that will help turn her art into an interactive doodle to be displayed on the website’s front page later this year. No doubt it’s a life-changing haul for something Sarah and her mother happened upon to pass the time.

“As a first grader going up against 12th graders, I thought, ‘Oh this is a long shot, [but] this is a fun thing we can do with the time that we have on this windy day.’” Sarah’s mother, Maria Gomez-Lane, said. “I never imagined that we would be sitting there in California and seeing her doodle posted up on the big screen as the winner.”

It was a reality that took a moment to sink in for the seven family members in attendance at Monday night’s ceremony. After a round of gasps and a few tears of joy were shared, the crew gathered themselves to witness Sarah take the stage to bask in the announcement. Sarah accepted the award just as she has every progression in the contest throughout the past few months — in her trademark combination of bashfulness and humility.

“Sarah was very humble about it. She was shy about going back up on stage, and she was actually rooting for one of the other contestants,” Gomez-Lane added.

The ceremony capped off a packed day for the five national finalists.

A tour of the Googleplex facilities preceded a meeting with Google’s Doodle team, who opened themselves up to questions from the students such as what their jobs were like, where they draw their inspiration from and how they ended up working for Google. All five finalists then got to work with the Doodle team by participating in art games.

Sarah spent an extra hour with Google employees following the ceremony where the team asked her about her dinosaurs and her doodle while the whole group drew some rough sketches of what the finalized form of the doodle could look like. Over the next few months, Google will take the ideas that they and Sarah came up with together and work on the interactive doodle that will appear on the website.

The trip was an exciting conclusion to a journey that started without a thought paid to the finish line. And to Gomez-Lane, the real takeaway is about enabling a child’s imagination in whatever form it’s expressed.     

“It sends a message that kids can accomplish so many things with their creativity,” Gomez-Lane continued. “You never know where it will end if you don’t spend the time and give them some paper and pencils and see what they can come up with.”