NSPA Writer of the Year

The content on this page served as my portfolio for the National Scholastic Press Association’s Writer of the Year contest, in which I received 1st place in November 2019. Contestants submitted a brief introductory statement and five works from the 2018-19 school year.

I’ve always had a particular fascination with fairytales. My interest rested not with princesses and castles, per se, but instead rode with knights and dragons: those whose names lived on in infamy, and the devilish monsters slain. Jealous of their bravery and dedication, I admired how they conquered all obstacles with swipes of gleaming swords. Yet I never imagined that one day, I would wield my own.

Throughout my journalistic career, a force took hold of me and twirled me around its thumb. That force, a roaring je ne sais quoi was the belief that through telling stories, I could make a difference in the world. I had long known that high school students’ thoughts were rarely taken seriously; as minors, we were and still are often treated as less than. But I would stand for this no more. Armed with a recorder, my laptop, and a burning desire to seek out truth, I embarked on a mission to unearth wrongdoings.

Thus, I interpret the infamous phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” differently; my pen became my sword, a means of slaying problems in order to ameliorate society. As my work encourages discussion and instigates change, I take advantage of my right to expose injustices. I aspire to pursue journalism to help others the best way I know: through telling their stories. In a time when “dragons” of all forms run rampant, I hope to be a knight whose sword inspires lasting change through helping others finally have their voices heard.

In the minority 

As the Iowa City Community School District underwent processes to improve minority student experiences, my co-writer and I focused on the district’s efforts to improve the ratio of minority teachers in contrast to minority students. We interviewed 19 teachers, students, and administration members, bringing voices to the table that had not been addressed. I wrote the majority of this over-3,000 word article. Through the process, I learned the importance of obtaining a multitude of perspectives to ensure communication and present potential room for improvement in an unbiased manner.

Keeping her father alive: how a ‘suburban dad’ and Charles Barkley impacted a nation 

West High alumna Shirley Wang received considerable attention after her podcast highlighting her dad’s friendship with Charles Barkley went viral, and she was interviewed by the The Washington Post, USA Today, and CNN. I sat down with Shirley and her brother Mason to get the “story behind the story.” By covering this, I learned the value of human interest stories. Additionally, as I worked with Shirley’s request to keep some information private, this story taught me to be a compassionate person with strong moral ethics while fulfilling my journalistic duties.

A spectrum of perspectives

In 2017, the ICCSD surveyed all students to gain an understanding of the student climate within the district and found that LGBTQ+ students felt less safe in schools. I decided to convey this information through going directly to the students. I wrote the majority of this piece, interviewing students from as many facets of the LGBTQ+ community as possible. As some students saw themselves and their communities represented in our paper for the first time, I found that striving to bring awareness to readers about masked issues defeats any potential backlash a story might receive.

We are not your enemy

After attending the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism conference in 2018, I wanted to encapsulate what I learned from my experiences into an opinion column. I chose to focus on the role journalism plays in communities and targeting current hatred towards the media. While columns were not my preferred facet of journalism, I learned to channel thoughts into concisely worded pieces better able to sway readers towards truth.

A toxic tradition 

West High is known across Iowa for upholding its slogan “Where excellence is a tradition” in multiple facets. However, with this high standard came large amounts of negative pressure for some students. I sought to unveil some of this toxicity. It was difficult to find student sources who were willing to speak out, fearing backlash from their peers in this competitive environment. Thus, I learned how to approach sources and coax them into sharing their thoughts.