Opinion Writing

I focus my opinion writing online. Before this year, I only wrote first-person experience articles for my blog. This year I expanded my interests and began writing political opinion pieces. The following selections provide examples of my editorial and narrative opinion writing.

Photo Courtesy of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

Photo Courtesy of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

Finding New Bravery

Published on Oct. 1, 2014 online

Last year, I was selected to represent Kansas at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Conference in Washington, D.C. One of the requirements of the conference was writing a column about the experience. I wrote mine about the deep impact of meeting civil rights activist John Lewis at the conference, and how he has inspired me to become a braver person.

He walked into the room, and a boy next to me stood out of respect. There was a hush over the conference room. He shuffled onto the platform at the front of the Newseum banquet room in Washington D.C. He settled into the chair set out for him, folded his hands in his lap and waited.

“I would like to introduce Mr. John Lewis.”

A year ago, I did not know his name. I did not know that his hometown is Troy, Alabama. I did not know that when he was a teenager, a white man smashed a Coke bottle crate over his head in a race riot.

A year ago, Mr. Lewis could not bring me close to tears just by walking into a room. But this summer, Mr. Lewis changed the way I approach journalism.

I met Mr. Lewis this summer at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by USA Today. The conference was designed to bring together 51 of the most passionate student journalists in the country, and to teach us to love the first amendment.

We spent five days touring D.C. and hearing from speakers who taught us the importance of the first amendment. As a journalist, I thought I already knew why the first amendment was important. Yet those five days taught me how critical the first amendment is to a sustainable country.

A month before the conference in June, the first packet arrived on my doorstep. It was heavy and contained my inch-thick rules manual and agenda for the five day convention. Brimming with excitement, I ripped it open and scanned every single item.

My eye paused over Mr. Lewis’ name. He would be speaking about free speech alongside other civil rights activists. I had learned about Mr. Lewis in AP American History; he was a Freedom Rider and civil rights leader, one of the most important men in African American history alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I checked out his 800-page memoir from the library and devoured it in a week. The book focused on Lewis’ activism as he remained devoted to the beliefs of non-violence throughout the civil rights movement.

From his stories of sitting at lunch counters as white men poured mustard in his eyes, to his accounts of the March on Washington, I was in awe.

I couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Lewis. It didn’t matter that the Free Spirit Conference included guest speakers such as David Gregory and private tours of the Capitol building. I knew that the hour with Mr. Lewis would be the highlight of the trip.

To me, Mr. Lewis was something close to a saint — he fought for freedom, for liberty, for the first amendment. And he won.

I could probably write a novel about the ways that the experiences and the other students at Free Spirit affected me. But the day that we met Mr. Lewis touched me the most.

Most 17-year-olds don’t have a clue about Mr. Lewis’ sacrifices and accomplishments. But the 51 kids at Free Spirit did. The group offered more diversity than my Shawnee Mission East background had ever afforded. My dinner table that night consisted of a black boy from D.C.; a Tea Party conservative Pentecostal from Philly; a Japanese girl from Iowa; and a Muslim girl from South Dakota.

Despite our mixed backgrounds, every student understood that Mr. Lewis was one of the brave people who made this diverse collection of students possible.

He took the stage and spoke of quiet courage. He told us that we were born with bravery, with pride, with a duty to serve and protect the rights of others. He told us to use our words with brilliance and compassion.

When Mr. Lewis opened the room to questions, I stayed silent. Before, I had crafted dozens of questions, but I suddenly felt that I didn’t have a place speaking. So I listened.

I listened to my friends as they shared the racism and sexism they encountered in their hometowns. I listened to one girl explain how her school administrator read over every page of her newspaper, taking out anything that he didn’t agree with. I listened in awe as they asked for Mr. Lewis’ advice, and cried as they received his praise.

What I gained during that hour was a deep respect and gratitude for the lack of obstacles in my life. I’ve never experienced sexual harassment on account of my gender, or been insulted or teased for my ethnicity. At East, Mr. McKinney supports the free speech of The Harbinger, and our district is open to the free speech rights of Kansas student journalists.

I haven’t grappled with censorship, or racism, or a close-minded community. But I met 50 kids this summer who had; who stayed brave in the face of criticism and refused to abandon their rights to free speech.

Those kids impressed me and inspired me. They reflected the spirit that drove Mr. Lewis to protest the injustices of his time, and they proved that teenagers still have voices strong enough to change the nation.

I only have one picture with Mr. Lewis. He’s blinking and I’m mid-laugh, but it’s still one of my prized possessions.

Somehow, meeting Mr. Lewis and hearing my friends speak to him changed me. It made me realize that my passion for journalism needs a focus, and that focus should be the truth. It made me start to pay attention to the world around me.

Now, I read the news and try to understand it better. I keep in touch with the 50 kids from Free Spirit, and remind myself to use the freedoms I have wisely. And I look at the picture with Mr. Lewis. I hope that someday I will have the chance to be as brave as him.

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

Why You Should Care: Kansas Senate Elections

Published on Nov. 5, 2014 online

During my senior year, I started a new blog series called "Why You Should Care." In this blog, I provide the facts of hot topic issues and explain why the topics should be important to readers. In this selection, I outlined the details of the election and explained how the results might affect Kansas politics.

Who: Republican Pat Roberts defeated Independent Greg Orman for the Senate seat

When: Nov. 4

Why this election was different: Kansas is a Republican state. Since it was admitted to the Union in 1861, the state has an almost perfect history of electing Republicans — there have been three Democratic senators out of 29 total. So when Kansas voters turn out to the polls, there’s an expectation that they will check the box beside the Republican candidate then head back home.

But this year was different. It started when Democratic candidate Chad Taylor withdrew from the race. Before Taylor withdrew, the Democratic campaign for the ballot was practically a formality. While Kansans weren’t necessarily pleased with everything Roberts had done, they were still guaranteed to vote Republican.

After Taylor dropped out, however, the game changed. As an independent, Orman absorbed most of the Democratic votes from Taylor. But with an independent platform, Orman was able to campaign towards both parties. He claimed to draw his policies from both Republican and Democratic positions on issues, and promised to caucus only with the party that would best suit Kansans.

Orman’s non-partisan approach to the elections attracted moderate Republicans, especially those who were more liberal socially. On the other hand, conservative Republicans argued that Orman — who previously funded Democratic campaigns and mostly discussed Democratic ideals — would run as an independent and caucus as a Democrat.

Regardless, as the election day grew closer, Kansas began to attract national attention because it looked like a non-Republican could be taking the Senate seat.

Why the results matter: On Election Day, the Republicans retained their Senate seat. Orman was beat by a 10 percent margin, which was still closer than ever expected in such a red state. Nationally, the Republicans took both the House and the Senate for the first time in eight years.

Although the expected inevitably happened, this Senate race made a point about Kansas politics. First, it showed that our “flyover” state can have a national sway in politics if the media gives us the proper attention.

In the last month, Kansas took center stage in media coverage of the Senate elections, since a non-Republican in Kansas could be a “swing” vote deciding whether the Democrats or Republicans would control the Senate. With Roberts’ win, the Republicans cemented their control over the House and Senate.

But with this year’s Senate race, Kansas voters brought up a new issue. The popularity of Orman did not come mainly from his stances on immigration or taxes. Orman attracted attention because he ran as an independent, separate from partisan issues, focusing on what he saw as important to Kansans instead of important to the Republicans.

Although Orman was accused of not actually being independent, and although he lost the race, his spike in popularity illustrated the Kansan — and American — frustration and exhaustion with partisan issues.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who Orman would have sided with. His popularity lies in the fact that American voters are done with partisan bickering. We don’t want to watch Republicans and Democrats call each other names and refuse to work together. Instead, we want a government that works together, regardless of party lines, to mold a better future for each and every one of us.

Opinionated: Running in the Rain

Published on Sept. 19, 2012 online

This selection is from my sophomore blog series, "Opinionated." I wrote a series of first-person experiences that had underlying themes or messages. In this selection, I reflected on a cross country practice that reminded me to enjoy unexpected moments.

I learned last Thursday that there is nothing more glorious than running in the rain.

I’m not a cross country star. Not even close. I have a nice spot, about 20th on the C-team, where I can run with my friends and still push myself on hill days. I’ve skipped practices. I’ve cut courses on days where I’m having a “Slack Attack.” I’ve dropped curse words that would get me kicked off staff if I published them while attempting to run up the 75th Street hill on a muggy fall day.

But I love the awful, painful sport that cross country is. I love running. And I’m absolutely insane to say so, but I love running in the rain.

I’ll be honest about this: when it started raining last Thursday afternoon, I jumped up in the air and pumped my fist, absolutely positive that practice would be cancelled. After all, who would have us run through sheets of rain in 60 degree weather?

Coach Tricia. That’s who.

Twenty minutes after my celebration in the halls, I was huddled with my team. Leaned against a blue locker. Shivering. Staring at the coaches in half-hearted disbelief as they explained our four-mile route to us.

I walked out the doors with my running buddies, Chase and Rachel, growling complaints, yet was surprised at how nice the rain felt. It was cool, a relief after the past weeks of humid heat. A pack of boys ran by us, yelling and whooping and jumping on each others’ backs, and for some reason, their energy spread to the rest of the team.

We started running and, after a mile, I realized I was truly enjoying the run. Our pace was a little faster than normal. The water poured across my face, down my shoulders and my arms, soaking my shirt and pants. My hair stuck to my face and hung in my eyes. My skin was cold, goosebumps coating my body. And I felt alive.

The run was invigorating. I didn’t lose my breath like normal. I kept up and laughed and didn’t stop running the entire time. I didn’t feel the need to stop. I didn’t feel the need to use my inhaler again. I didn’t feel the need to hurl expletives at hills or coaches or the sport in general. I raced down the hill to the yellow gate of the junior lot with a grin on my face.

Perhaps it’s my love of fluff, but I feel kind of intense working out in the rain. Perhaps it’s the fact that I feel cheesy and epic, like a Nike commercial, when I stop and drop my hands on my knees and narrow my eyes intensely to peer through the rain into the distance. But I love rain. I love arriving at home, changing into dry clothes and curling up with a mug of tea.

I’ve always prayed for rain during cross country season, since it’s a surefire way to get a meet  or practice cancelled. Now I’ll be praying for rain to come, just so that I can have another chance at a truly perfect run.