Over the summer of 2019, I had the privilege to attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholar Program with 50 other high school journalists from all over the nation. Together, we spent a week long trip in Washington, D.C., attending panels with professionals, visiting monuments, meeting people in the industry and learning about the world of journalism. The program is dedicated to the “USA Today” founder, Al Neuharth, who broke barriers within the newsroom.
Before I left on my first trip alone, I was anxious about meeting others and what I would learn; however, while waiting at the airport, I met two others who were also on the trip. My friends Tim and Sabine also shared their anticipation. Soon, I began to relax because I realized that this wasn’t going to be an intense trip, but an opportunity to learn and explore the industry.
One of the most important experiences I had was meeting so many professionals not only in the industry, but in life. There, I met, Rick Rojas, a reporter for the “New York Times.” He explained to me that I shouldn’t worry about college, and that my passion will take me where I need to be. I met Jan Neuharth, Al Neuharth’s daughter, along with Carolyn Gutz, a four time Pulitzer Prize winner. We also got to be on a live TV audience for “Meet The Press” with Chuck Todd. All these people are influential in current day.
The Freedom Forum team wanted to emphasize the significance of the five freedoms of the First Amendment: press, speech, assembly, petition, and religion. I think that over the week, I came to value how essential they are to our everyday lives. I am grateful to live in a society that will grant the liberty of petition and assembly in order for the public to fight for what they believe in. We also have the liberty to practice religion and not fear that the government will apprehend them. My passion would not be complete without the significance of freedom of speech and the press. Our culture thrives with these liberties because speech allows freedom of thought, to lead to freedom of ideas, and to allow freedom of identity. Without that, who are we as a people?
That week will forever serve as a wonderful experience. I truly miss my friends from all over, and our late night karaoke on the bus, all being sleep deprived, and making fun of each other’s states. Through the conference, I was able to dream, dare and do my passions.