From the Editor’s Desk: This is what I’m thankful for


Erykah Benson ’17 and her roommate and representative of Kentucky Emily Liu ’17 (Photo courtesy of the Newseum Institute)

Erykah Benson, Editor-in-Chief

Around this exact time last year, my former adviser Rodney Satterthwaite handed me a flyer that would change my life. A single sheet of paper with a coffee ringlet stain. He said he had found it in his mail. On the paper read the “Al Neuharth Journalism Conference” in bright blue writing over a group photo of about 50 kids smiling in front of the White House.

I decided to take the shot and apply for the scholarship. After all, the number one thing I had learned from junior year was that it never hurts to apply to as many scholarships and contests as humanly possible.

The worst you can get is rejection.

When I found out I got accepted to the Al Neuharth Journalism Scholarship and Conference, I was waiting in line in the girl’s bathroom on the third floor of the IA Building during fourth hour. I remember distinctly the summer sunlight inundating the bathroom, gleaming off the mirrors. I almost heard the angelic melody of a church choir singing as I looked down at my phone and saw the email I had been hoping and praying for.

Subject: WINNER – 2016 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

I was utterly speechless. For months, I had been pacing back and forth in my mind as I awaited the results of my submission to this scholarship. But now, it was here, and it felt surreal to actually have been given such an opportunity, an experience that I couldn’t have begun to fathom in that sun-stained bathroom.

I actually felt fear when I got accepted. Not exactly fear, but more the surprise of getting accepted to this conference. In a couple of months I would be joining 50 other kids, one from each state, to a national conference, in which I would represent the state of Michigan. My brain was a tangled mess of emotions: pure joy and utter shock. But when I glided into John F. Kennedy International Airport and dragged my luggage across the tarmac, a sense of confidence washed over me.

It’s so funny now to look back at the first time we had all met each other at the conference. We were all so awkward and nervous. Less than a week later we would be screaming “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of our lungs and playing Mafia in the hotel lobby like our life depended on it. At the same time, within the first couple of hours of our meeting, it seemed that we all automatically clicked. And I think it’s because it didn’t matter if we were from New Mexico or Massachusetts, but that we were all there, as student journalists.

And as journalists, we all knew what it felt like to write under the crunch of a deadline. What it’s like when stories don’t go right. What it’s like to go home after your eyes are bloodshot from a night’s worth of page editing. What it’s like to hold the final copy in your hands like it’s your newborn child. The life we live as student journalists; both the struggles and the triumphs; was the shared experience that bonded each of us in friendship.

Every day, my brain was a sponge, absorbing every ounce of information I could get. We had classes on the changing landscape of journalism in the form of multimedia and social media. We had discussions on photography, breaking news and the first amendment. We talked to freedom riders. I met the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Susan Goldberg (I totally geeked out).

This Thanksgiving, on top of being grateful for my family, the home I live in and the school that I attend, I am thankful to have met each and every student from the Class of 2016 Al Neuharth Journalism Conference. On our last night together as a group, Adam Cole, representative for Kansas, compelled us “not to waste this”. He encouraged us not to waste a week’s worth of bonding, discussion and lifelong friendship. It’s rare to come across people who have such similar interests as you. When you meet them, hold on to them. Whether it’s on your sports team, in your place of worship or school club, don’t squander the memories and relationships you have built over time with people who have similar passions and goals as you.

To this day, we talk in our group chat 24/7, across all time zones, and are currently arranging for our nation-wide secret santa extravaganza. We continue to lean on each other and ask each other for advice. I continue to cherish the friendships I have made and the knowledge I gained from the Al Neuharth Journalism Conference. The experience I had is one that I know is unlike any other and one that I will never forget.