Daisy Creager|staff writer
I could not breathe. Sitting in fifth period on May first of this year, I honestly feared for my life for a moment. As I struggled to catch my breath, I worked equally as hard to comprehend the decision that the email open on my phone had communicated. They picked me.
Created by Al Neuharth, the founder of the Newseum, USA Today and the Freedom Forum, the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference is held for six days every summer in Washington, D.C. Following a rigorous application process, 51 juniors, one from each state and the District of Columbia, are selected to attend.
I did not have much expectation to be selected for the conference, but I applied for my newspaper adviser’s sake. While I was not considering making a career out of journalism at the time, I knew that attending the conference may influence my opinions of the career path.
In the months following the email, I received numerous packages containing books, paperwork, and an itinerary. I had many expectations for those six days in the Capital, but I could not have imagined what awaited me there.
Designed to inspire students to pursue a career in journalism, an impressive schedule awaited us upon our arrival to D.C. We explored the city’s monuments and the Newseum (a museum of news), and had exclusive tours of USA Today and the Capitol building.
When we were not sight seeing, we had sessions with successful journalists such as PBS Newshour anchor Judy Woodruff, former press secretary Ron Nessen and Time Magazine political reporter Zeke Miller, just to name a few. These journalists spoke to us about the the roles of First Amendment and the media, and how those roles are changing.
During the course of the conference, we also had the opportunity to have exclusive question and answer sessions with an astronaut and a judge and were instructed to be as silent as possible while we sat backstage at a taping of Meet the Press in which David Gregory interviewed Reverend Al Sharpton along with the republican and democratic speakers of the house.
Of the experiences I had during the conference, my favorite by far was the people met, adults and teens. The professionals I had the opportunity to meet and talk to that week opened my eyes to the difference I can make if I become a journalist, as well as gave me amazing opportunities to network with people who have been successful in a career that can be difficult to do well in.
The other teenagers on that trip astounded me. Never in my life have I gotten so close to a group of people in so short a time. Those students understood how lucky they were to be there and not only shared a passion for journalism, but an eagerness to learn from each other. I count myself lucky to be considered among this group of aspiring journalists.
In January when my adviser asked me to apply for the conference, I did not imagine that I would get it. After I learned what we would be doing on our trip, I researched opportunities for high schoolers to sharpen their news writing skills and gain experience with journalists and was surprised what I found. There were several opportunities through colleges and local newspapers that I had missed out on because I had not thought to look.
I never considered myself a ‘free spirit’ before this conference. But flying home from D.C., I was different than when I opened that email three months before. I was empowered, connected. I was a future journalist.