I wasn’t supposed to be a journalist…
In eighth grade, after spending weeks meticulously selecting the classes that would fill my freshman year schedule, I was pulled from my study hall and led to a conference room. There, I was informed that one of my many course selections had been filled by upperclassmen. Under the pressure of a guidance counselor staring me down, in an attempt to hasten my decision, I randomly pointed to one of the remaining options: Intro to Journalism.
Freshman year I sulked into what I wanted to be my least favorite class, solely out of spite for the scheduling mishap. I sat down with trembling hands as I saw towering seniors designing yearbook spreads and setting up tripods for interviews, but what I took note of was the smiles beaming on their faces. I scanned the walls in awe of the countless state and national awards—the walls that would eventually include several awards of my own. From the moment class began I realized that the class I was trying so hard to dislike was a class that I would quickly grow to love.
Sophomore year I joined the Prowler Yearbook staff where I gained my first experience with publishing my journalistic work. I interviewed alumni and former staff members as they were inducted into the inaugural hall of fame class that coincided with the 25th anniversary of Millard West. I took photos at countless events and interviewed non-stop to capture student’s stories.
In November of 2019 I accompanied my adviser and classmates from Advanced Journalism to Washington D.C. for the NSPA/JEA fall convention. Since I was the only Prowler Yearbook student in attendance I was forced to get out of my comfort zone and talk to strangers. After attending sessions on broadcasting and newspaper — areas that I had no experience with — and making friends with staffers from another publication, I realized I wanted to participate in more than just yearbook.
On March 8, 2020 I switched out a coveted elective art course for Advanced Journalism so that I could join the staffs of the Catalyst Newspaper and MWHS Wildcat News; four days later we moved to virtual learning as the COVID-19 pandemic infiltrated our lives.
I persevered reporting remotely by contacting sources virtually and searching for stories close to home. I covered a student, who lived less than a block away from me, that was using her free time during the pandemic to paint birdhouses to be hung in the local park which was heavily trafficked by people looking for fresh air in a time of confinement. It was this story in particular that really opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story to share; it’s just a matter of discovering it.
Trying to balance my love for journalism and desire to participate in the Millard Education Academy (in pursuit of a teaching degree) my junior year proved to be hectic. I continued to cover stories for the Prowler Yearbook but regrettably had to relinquish my positions on the staff of the Catalyst Newspaper and MWHS Wildcat News.
I was quickly promoted to the leadership position of Editor-in-Chief of the Prowler, a role previously reserved for much more experienced seniors. As the youngest Editor-in-Chief in school history I navigated design and editing. I led a staff of over 60 people and together we earned an All American with four marks of distinction from the National Scholastic Press Association, a Gold Medalist from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and a Cornhusker from the Nebraska High School Press Association.
The spring of my junior year I was forced to choose between continuing with Education Academy courses as a senior or serving as Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook for a second year. After many sleepless nights trying to decide between my two passions I realized I wasn’t willing to give up yearbook, and dropped out of the Academy. With additional open blocks freed up on my schedule, I promptly rejoined the Catalyst Newspaper and MWHS Wildcat News staffs.
Thankfully classes were back in person for my second stint with Advanced Journalism. Even though I had minimal experience writing news articles, I was named to the additional leadership role of News Director, and stepped up to edit stories and voice my opinion during editor meetings and class discussions.
Without any prior experience, I also became one of six anchors for the MWHS Wildcat News where I continued to improve on my natural pacing and hand gestures while providing students and faculty with a recap of the stories included in the weekly show.
I relearned the basics of broadcasting from my first year Introduction to Journalism class and built upon them. Live Streaming through STRIV frequently filled my evenings as I ran camera and produced football and basketball games. I rapidly became versed in the field of broadcast journalism and earned a Superior for a Broadcast News story in the Journalism Education Association’s Winter Contest.
My role as a student journalist has led me to fight for student press protection laws in Nebraska. I have written letters to senators, attended Zooms with the Student Press Law Center and supported future leaders with censorship-free agendas in order to protect students' right to publish.
Throughout all of my work I emphasized the need for diversity. I wrote opinion stories that focused on the shameful lack of non-white literature in schools and the hidden homophobia in the blood donation process. I covered Black History Month through a news article, and reflected on several diverse films.
I independently pursued filming the Miss Amazing Amplify event in order to capture the power of an external organization which teaches self advocacy and leadership skills to girls with disabilities. I visited a student’s home and learned about the bond she formed with her Aunt through their volunteer work with Project Linus, and relayed the unique experience of a student who performed in front of hundreds at the State Thespian Festival.
Throughout my involvement with four student publications I have covered meaningful stories and fought for change, all while leading my peers to do the same. Even though I discovered journalism by accident, I walk away from my high school experience as a journalist.