From Hillside to Chapel Hill

Besides feeling absurdly old, each day I spend working at the NCSMA office, I become more and more entrenched in a nostalgia matched only by my visits home to Colorado.

Last week, Carroll Hall was taken over by eager and excited high school journalists, a position I was in (what seems like) not too long ago. The NCSMA summer institute is a combined convention, learning opportunity and award ceremony for high school journalists across the state. Each newspaper, literary magazine and yearbook is critiqued, evaluated and awarded for nearly every aspect of journalism, including design, photography, and reporting.

Every yearbook has come through the NCSMA office, and I can’t help but find myself giddy looking at each one. As I check for errors on score cards and critiques, I fight the urge to at least crack open the spine of many of the books that come through. Sometimes a glimpse of the cover is enough, while other times I find myself somewhere in the middle of the book, distracted by theme copy, photography or layout. Each time I look at a different book, my mind races with what I like, don’t like, or what I would do differently with this theme. I have even come up with a few different themes that I would use if I had the chance to do it all over again. And boy, do I wish I could do it all over again.

Yearbook is where I found my passion. Some kids liked sports, drama, clubs or academics (I was in IB. Trust me, they exist). But for me, yearbook was everything. As a junior in high school, I joined Beginning Yearbook and could not get enough. The following year, I served as the clubs section editor and I loved every single minute of it – even pulling an all-nighter at yearbook camp with the editor-in-chief, staying at school from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. and giving my peers grades for their effort, or lack thereof.

I have come a long way since deadlines marked with paper chains and Wednesday work nights, and I find it hard to believe that all of this was such a short time ago.

I brought my senior yearbook with me to college. The (valid) excuse that it contained my only published clips at that point in time was legitimate and acceptable. Those stories, now buried behind articles on university policy or the upcoming basketball season, were my first experiences with journalism and they would open doors for me at college. But that wasn’t the only reason why the 35th volume of the Summit stayed with me at Granville Towers, and even now, in my first apartment.

As a freshman, my yearbook was important to me because I wasn’t ready to let go. North Carolina is quite far away from Colorado, and I couldn’t have asked for a better high school experience. As a 17 year old, that can be hard to leave behind.

Somewhere in the middle of college, my yearbook became a reminder. Discouraged by working for publications that ultimately just weren’t for me, or feeling insecure because of the competitive nature at UNC and vast achievements of my classmates, my yearbook was a reminder of why I was here, and that I deserved to be here. I had realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life in the yearbook room and I had to keep working my hardest to achieve the goals I had for myself, all of which started with that book.

And now, as a rising senior, the book is starting to add another meaning – how far I have come and all the people that have helped me a long the way. I really do think it all did start with that book, and as I prepare to “face the real world”, I still use the journalism skills I learned while sitting on a couch in my favorite room in Smoky Hill High School. More than three years after the book was first published, I cringed reading the copy I wrote as a senior and the photos I took don’t seem nearly as spectacular as the first time I saw them in print. But hey, learning the basics isn’t always easy.

Several times last week, I was introduced as “Carrie Faust’s former student”. I felt special to be recognized in that way, even though that title is approaching four years old. I can’t help but feel gratitude towards my adviser who taught me all of these things and helped me to pursue my goals from early on. Without her help, I wouldn’t have gone to the Chuck Stone program, and would be in a very different position than I am today.

Maybe the nostalgia is getting to me, but I’m extremely lucky to have had such a great start in my journalism career. Yearbook will always have a special place in my heart for that reason – it was the founding brick in the career I am working to build. I know that one day, I will also have to find somewhere special to keep my senior yearbook and remember what it taught me. In the meanwhile, I will have to find some good way to put those yearbook themes I have come up with to good use.

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One comment

  1. Robin Sawyer · · Reply

    Thank you for writing this reflection. It captures the intangible rewards that high school journalism provides for so many students — and teachers. I graduated from high school in 1979, and my four years on the newspaper staff were the highlight of my high school years. I began advising a high school newspaper in 1992, and I still believe I have the best job in the world. As a North Carolina journalism teacher, I loved reading that you enjoyed your time with the NCSMA Summer Institute. This was my 21st year at the Institute, and I still look forward to my time in Chapel Hill the way I did when I was a brand new adviser. Thanks for your hard work for our organization and our students. And best wishes to you in your senior year of college and your future career.

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