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Julia Roeder earns spot in Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference


The Tower’s leading investigative journalist Julia Roeder ’25 has built up a reputation as the community’s watchdog, primarily reporting on controversies surrounding the Board of Education (BOE). Her dedication to bringing a voice to South students has distinguished her from the masses. This summer, Julia Roeder will be the only student from Michigan to attend the acclaimed Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, held annually in Washington, D.C.

The conference was established in 1999 as a tribute to Allen Harold “Al” Neuharth, founder of USA Today and the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving Americans’ First Amendment rights. Because the program is so highly selective, the application process is rigorous: two essays, two glowing teacher recommendations, three writing samples and a catalog of extracurriculars.

“My wife and I are so proud of her,” Julia Roeder’s dad Ben Roeder said. “We thought she had a slight chance to make it, so we were so surprised and so happy for her when we found out that she was going to be attending.”

South alumna and former “free-spirit” Audrey Whitaker described an educational experience that transformed her outlook as a journalist by exposing her to multiple different kinds of media and other student reporters. Whitaker now works as a correspondent for MLive Media Group.

“I met so many cool people and was amazed by the amazing journalists we got to meet,” Whitaker said. “It was definitely a really positive experience and I think it made me into the journalist that I am now.”

In her essays, Julia Roeder explored her passion for journalism. A regular nightly news viewer since the age of five, she credits her parents—especially her dad, a former social studies teacher—for fostering her interest in the media by encouraging discussions about current events. The path led her to The Tower, where she has spent the past two years covering the BOE, working her way up to next year’s Print Editor in Chief.

“The profound sense of history and the importance of being a well-educated citizen has always been important to my wife and I,” Ben Roeder said. “Both Julia and her younger sister Maddy have grown up in a house where we’re always talking about headlines and what’s going on with current events.”

The agenda will include lectures from the editors of prominent newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Julia Roeder said she hopes to garner a clearer and more concise writing style that she can bring home to The Tower.

“Everyone has big ideas that are hard to put down on paper,” Julia Roeder said. “I’m excited to learn how to improve my skills as a writer.”

Julia Roeder said she is considering pursuing a career in journalism. One of the conference’s many benefits is a $1,000 scholarship to the institution of her choice, a small help as she prepares to take her next big step.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to continuing learning about journalism and anything I can in Washington, D.C.” Roeder said.

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