Suffield High School senior Christina Vega was selected to represent the State of Connecticut at the Al Neuhart Free Spirit and Journalism conference in our nation’s capital on June 24-29. She, along with other high school senior representatives from across the country, gathered to learn more about how journalism works by attending several workshops each day. The conference was started over two decades ago by the founder of USA Today.
In D.C., Christina attended three to four workshops each day and managed to fit in some sight-seeing before the sun set. She was able to expand her vision of the field of journalism by learning from today’s professionals. Part of her workshop included a visit to the CSPAN office where the cofounder posed questions regarding the funding of news stories and the influence which lies beneath the written word in terms of corporate America. She learned about various types of journalism and a journalist’s right to ask questions. She gleaned information about inclusion in this very competitive field and the need to be flexible.
Christina talked about seeing more of the world to actually gain perspective when reporting on the news. She concluded with her mission statement which is to write without fear. That is no easy accomplishment. Not surprisingly, Christina is on the right track and echoes the feeling of journalist Mary Pilon as she speaks of journalism as the ability to “embrace change and uncertainty. It’s about being fearless, personally and professionally.”
While in D.C., Christina made connections with other students. She was interested in meeting teenagers from all geographic areas, from big schools and small ones. It was helpful to see where they were in terms of experience in the field or the struggles that they face as they work with pen in hand. Christina’s hope is to raise up marginalized voices when she is a journalist in action. This young activist segued into her speech at the Pride event this year and the need for all kinds of people to be visible in today’s world.
I asked Christina about her accomplishments at high school, which may have contributed to her choice of careers. She spoke about her role in the Writing Center, her involvement in the Morning Update, specifically as an anchor. She is involved in the Black Student Union, the National Honor Society and the World Language Society. Christina outlined her Capstone Project, in which she uplifted students of color. Her work was implemented with students at McAlister who researched a historical figure of color. At Spaulding, she developed a Travel Across Africa Day in which students learned more about African countries.
Christina’s latest project is to start a school-wide newspaper at the high school level. There has not been a school newspaper for many years, and she has the energy to see this project through. She and her team anticipate a busy year ahead with all the volunteer involvement it takes to put together a monthly publication.
As my time with Christina came to a close, I counted myself lucky to spend time with such an accomplished student. I couldn’t help but circle back to a dozen years ago, when Christina was a first-grade student in my class at Spaulding. She was something special way back then and has really hit her stride as a student and activist. We chatted about the changing times in education. I recalled the days in first grade with the jumbo pencils, and Crayola eight packs of crayons. I was glad to hear from Christina that the students now have access to multicultural crayon packs. Baby steps! I, for one, will be following Christina’s progress and look forward to reading her work, which I hope will help me make sense of this world!