Archive for July, 2013

Dream. Dare. Do.

Dream. Dare. Do. The Neuharth family uses these three words to represent the Free Spirit & Journalism Conference, and, most importantly, Al Neuharth’s philosophy in life. For the past few days, this is what we have been doing–dreaming, daring, and doing; stepping beyond our comfort zones and taking risks. I am proud to say that I spoke to and befriended nearly every single person at this conference, a feat that would’ve been impossible for me two years ago. I learned about their life stories, their dreams, and their journalistic experiences. We often spoke for hours at a time, and soon enough, each person became a distinct aspect of our entire class. The 51 state representatives assembled together to create a beautifully diverse group: a girl whose motivations as a journalist are driven by her father’s brief, yet frightening, arrest in Korea many years ago; a girl who rebelled against her school’s censorship of the newspaper by starting a secret, underground publication; a star football player recruited by Harvard; an aspiring President; a boy who dreams of being a foreign correspondent in Russia; a budding politician; and a scientist–to name a few. Everyone in that group is a dreamer–beyond Columbia and Northwestern and Harvard and NYU, each person carries a vision for the future, just as Al Neuharth had. In fact, most of these visions are not only for individual success, but for the greater good. These people are incredible.

If I could summarize every moment of the Free Spirit conference, that would take pages upon pages of blog posts. Thus, here are a few of the most compelling moments of my week:

  • “Adventure is essential for survival”—Dr. Thomas Marshburn, the most recent American astronaut to complete the spacewalk, said these words to us at a session at the Newseum, while also live commentating a live spacewalk. Dr. Marshburn epitomized free spirit for me. Many of us, while growing up, dream of becoming something as idyllic as an astronaut. And Dr. Marshburn did it–he took a dream, and followed it. After hearing him speak, I realized that passion is the key to success–the rest follows.
  • Ron Nessen, the Press Secretary to former president, Gerald Ford, was the session I had been anxious about for weeks. Nessen taught us a different aspect of journalism: getting back up after falling. During the Vietnam war, he was, in fact, shot, which affected the rest of his career. However, he returned to Vietnam three more times after that. Perseverance is the word that comes to mind. Even more, Nessen’s seminar, along with the rest of the conference, rekindled an interest in politics for me, which had started this past year. Political journalism comes with so many dynamic opportunities.
  • Vietnam Memorial– I had never thought that the Vietnam Memorial would have been so heartbreaking. I had always heard about it, seen pictures, but never realized the weight each name carried–the families and loved ones and lives left behind. Ahead of the wall, I saw a park ranger stop and salute. In front of one panel was a bouquet of fresh flowers. Men and women stopped and caressed the names, sometimes crying. Others spoke of those they knew from the war. I never realized how many people had died from the war.
  • Cruise ride along the Potomac–we went aboard a private dinner/dance cruise for a few hours. Around sunset, all of us moved to the top deck, where the beautiful horizon delineated the Potomac. We could feel the wind blowing, hear the sound of the water sloshing, and see how sometimes you just need to stop and take a breath. The latter was especially necessary amidst such a busy week. I always find such peace in floating along rivers.
  • Freedom Riders– people who stood up for what was socially unacceptable; people who took the initiative despite abuse, despite opposition, despite the lingering threats. Many died, but for a cause. We spoke to Freedom Rider Dr. Rip Patton, as well as journalist John Seigenthaler. Seigenthaler’s story was particularly compelling for me–he spoke of how he was raised in a racist environment, and opened his eyes with the help of books. Everything he said was profound—how, while in the military, he had an epiphany which led him to open his mind; how he helped two colored women escape, getting knocked out himself; how he was honest with every word.
  • The 9/11 Exhibit at the Newseum– when I was at JCamp, I spent only about five minutes at this exhibit because I couldn’t bear the weight of the artifacts– the destroyed satellite on top of the Twin Towers, a filled wall of news stories from the day, comments from young children, photographs of the only working journalist who died, and live footage of the unraveling events. It was the latter that drew me back this time. CNN replays its 9/11 newscast every September 11th, but the footage at the Newseum is much more raw and compelling. One of the videos that sticks with me is of a journalist interviewing a crying woman, and finally broke down in tears–he noted that it was his first time ever crying during an interview. 9/11 tore this country apart, but simultaneously brought it together in the aftermath. This was evident when I stepped outside of the theater–three of the other free spirits were huddled around, holding onto each other, tears rolling down their cheeks. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen.

Leaving off on that note, I am honored to have been a part of the Free Spirit conference. I am honored to have been nominated as one of the three most free-spirited girls to run for class representative. And, most importantly, I am honored to have created these connections with such talented, unique, compassionate, accomplished, and ambitious students. Like JCamp, the Free Spirit conference was both enlightening and humbling. It put the world in a new perspective, and made me more aware. When, or if, I become a journalist, working for TIME Magazine or NatGeo or a start-up, I know I’ll remember this conference and everyone involved. Most importantly, I’ll remember Al Neuharth because he taught, and proved, that with a free spirit, anything is possible.


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Free Spirited

It’s been two and a half weeks since JCamp, yet I still would do anything to go back.  I stepped out of the airport into DC yesterday morning feeling pangs of nostalgia.  Two and a half weeks hasn’t nearly been enough to overcome the connections built at JCamp.  However, I have been waiting for the Al Neuharth Conference for months.  I was one of the first to arrive, but as more people came in, I began to notice myself blossoming.  We broke the ice with embarrassing stories, so I had plenty to contribute–I spoke of my wholehearted, and often humiliating, love for food.  And over the hours, we began to build connections between the states off of stories and laughs.

Our first adventure together was the American Indian Museum, which surprised me more that I had imagined.  I know so little about Native Americans, and often overlook the obstacles their cultures have faced.  While walking in, we were given a significant piece of advice: look at the museum as the Native Americans wanted to present themselves, not how you want to look at them.  The entire museum consists of symbols, efforts of expression of their cultures; there is no distinct form or order.  I suppose I found this to be the most beautiful part.

Dinner the first night was at the Hard Rock Cafe, and spent discussing high school newsrooms. Like JCamp, I was instantly drawn to the ambitions of all the students, and slightly disappointed at having missed out on the experience of a proper high school newspaper.  These students create a journalistic community, which reaches out across the nation.  Like the science fair community, people know each other from various conventions or conferences.  But I’ve never had an opportunity to be a part of the high school journalism network, to travel to San Fran or Boston for conventions, to win awards for my paper.  Nonetheless, I collected an infinite amount of ideas of where I want to take journalism at our school next year.

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Conference is hosted by the Newseum, where I once again became reminiscent of JCamp.  Upon arriving, we were immediately introduced to some of the most fascinating parts of the museum, such as the Knight Studios, where we broke the ice with a nearly-professional game show.  By the end of the night, I already began to feel a sense of comfort with the group, comprised of talented, passionate, and outgoing journalists.

That night, we watched history unravel from the bar stools of the hotel restaurant: George Zimmerman was found not guilty.  The verdict came with a cacophony of protests from our group of aspiring journalists.  Twitter began to blow up with the free spirit tweeters, news apps sent out breaking news notifications, various news channels presented the verdict in unique ways (often with plenty of bias).  In fact, this piece of news set the stage for this morning, when we experienced a live taping of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which reminded me of “Face the Nation” merely a few weeks ago.  At “Meet the Press”, Reverend Sharpton, a civil rights activist, presented his thoughts about the Zimmerman trial, which coincided with the peaceful protests that occurred today.  A bit later, the Senate majority and minority leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, respectively, discussed their positions on various issues, sparking great debate.  The host of “Meet the Press,” David Gregory, spoke to us later of his experiences in interviewing; learning from one of the top broadcasters in the nation was both exciting and eye-opening.  The art of interviewing always fascinates me, how journalists can so easily maneuver around a conversation.  But something I noticed from watching David Gregory, that I had heard before, was how the key to interviewing is maintaining a conversation, like an ordinary person.  In fact, seeing the senators move about and speaking to David Gregory reminded me that though prominent, they are people, like us (an obvious fact that’s often overlooked).  They come varied from backgrounds and carry unique perspectives of the world.  We, like them, have the opportunity to rise to the top.

However, none other than the famous Al Neuharth opened our eyes to the infinite opportunities of the world.  Al Neuharth unfortunately passed away this April, only a month before we were notified of our acceptances to the program.  Fortunately for us, his daughter and her two kids joined us today to celebrate his life.  Before today, I didn’t realize the impact Al had made on not only the journalistic community, but the people he met.  He was everything a free-spirit embodies–he would dream, dare, and do.  Hearing his family speak so genuinely reflected upon his influence significantly–he was inspirational and revolutionary.  Raised by a single mother in the Great Depression, Neuharth later grew to become the founder of USA Today, in spite of widespread criticism (it was called the “fast food” of journalism because of the vivaciousness of its layout and content) and the Newseum (the world’s most interactive museum).  He was fearless, both of criticism and failure; he followed his dreams by confronting every obstacle, no matter how high.  And today, that’s why we’re here–to become inspired by such a visionary, and create our own visions.

And today, that’s what I was–inspired.  Al Neuharth is noted for the same strong will I have tried to find in myself for years, and perhaps seeing his success will motivate me further.  I have a few more days of long, yet fascinating, experiences–different, but as incredible, as those of JCamp.  It’s already evident how broad journalism is–in the two days I’ve been here, I’ve learned new things even beyond what JCamp taught me.  And that’s why I love this field.

Keep up with TR for the next few weeks, as I continue with the Free Spirit conference and then fly straight to Amsterdam on Thursday to visit Pablo!  There are always new adventures to blog about.


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Magic (Opal)

And it’s back!  Check out the old Opal letters, as well: From Opal, Fly Away, and The Heart’s Phobias



I listen to the crackling of the fireworks in the skies, and think of how much you love them.  You–the writer–and me–the dreamer–planting ourselves on the edge of the boardwalk every Fourth of July, festooned with red-white-and-blues from head to toe, listening to the water slosh below our dangling feet.  Where do the sparks go afterwards, Oliver? I remember asking you once in the middle of a show, but you had been too captivated by the colors to hear me.  During the grand finale, I turned to you once again, and watched as you fell into a trance, the reflection of the red and gold splashes glimmering in your eyes.  You always loved beauty for what it was, and I always loved you for what you were, Oliver.

I remember the same night for the way my stomach wrenched when your hand, in quick instinct, grabbed mine during the most intense part of the fireworks.  It was always my little secret–us holding hands on the boardwalk below the gust of bursting colors; you never noticed.  I remember trailing behind our parents at the end of the night through the myriad of people, and you turning to me wide-eyed: Aren’t they magical, Opal? you had said.  And in that moment, amidst thousands of people, you were all I saw–my own, magical Oliver.

There were reasons I became a painter rather than a writer.  I, for one, could never explicitly express myself.  But, Oliver, you were meant to be a writer.  You could string words together in ways that would capture anyone’s attention.  You knew how to say what you wanted to say.  In all these years, I still don’t know what I want to say.  For me, emotions are colors that I see on the canvas–never words–and you are like the reds and golds we saw every Fourth of July.

I saw you tonight, Oliver, sitting off of the boardwalk by yourself.  You haven’t changed.  You still wear the freckles on your cheeks and the lopsided smile.  But when you turned back and saw me, I noticed you lost the glimmer you once had in your eyes; the magic the fireworks had once brought you seemed to seep away in a moment.  Yet, every memory of holding hands came back to me, and I realized, Oliver, I am in love with you–wholeheartedly, explicitly in love.

But I also realized that I haven’t changed.  I am still the Opal I was years ago, afraid of you, afraid of feeling emotions, afraid of breaking down this wall between us.  Fear and loneliness are two terrible feelings.  I hope you can only forgive me one day.




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to be a writer

when I am a writer,
if I am a writer,
I will dream of my
leather-bound novel
to be worn-out over time,
its pages folded by readers
who cannot stop,
margins smudged with ink
from tears,
spine disintegrated
from every caress–
because a reader who falls
for my novel
will wear it down with love,
for love is relentless;
there’s something beautiful,
and perhaps a bit reassuring,
about a novel that is falling
apart from love

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Je me souviens.  The Québécois say this to commemorate the people they have lost in battle.  Around the city, you can see this engraved on monuments.

It always strikes me how many unique places there are to discover in this world.  These past few days, my family and I explored Quebec City, a quaint, European-esque city merely four hours from home, where we often felt nostalgic of Europe.  The day started out by driving through the isolated roads of Vermont and Quebec, surrounded by rolling farms and the occasional red-roofed barn.  When we finally got to the city, we sat down at a French café and devoured lobster tails (what else is there to do except eat on vacations?), créme brulée, and apple tarts.  For the rest of the evening, we wandered the serpentine cobblestone streets, stopping at artisan stands, or posing to take pictures by ancient churches.  What struck me immediately about the city was the delicate balance between liveliness and serenity.  The center of the city was bustling with tourists and music in celebration of the two-week long music festival (which we were, unfortunately, missing).  Towards the outside of the city, beyond the citadel, which encloses it, the streets are quieter, and even more beautiful.  Every corner of the city had the European charm we fall so in love with.

DSC_0068My parents had been to Quebec before, so they were my personal tour guides.  They took me to a shopping center on Rue du Petit Champlain, where the doors were painted in vivacious yellows and reds, and the building numbers were marked in halves (ie. 40 1/2).  While taking artsy pictures by the brick walls with hanging flower pots, a very drunken man approached us and told us of his travels to India many years ago (there is nothing I hate more than people automatically assuming I’m Indian;”No, where are you really from?”).  But after humoring him for a bit, we made our way back to the center of the city, passing by the most bizarre stores and restaurants (Le Lapin Sauté, Fuck le Mode, Le Cochon Dingue).  By the end of the evening, I had become familiar with every street, and every restaurant I had passed (food always catches my eye).  On the way back to the hotel, it started to rain, and the city transformed into this mystical town reminiscent of a scene from Midnight in Paris.  The light from the street lamps shined through the raindrops, glowing over the horse-drawn carriages that clacked through the streets.  One of the most beautifully eerie sights I’ve seen.


The next day, we toured around the Citadel, Quebec’s active military base, led by an overly-peppy French Canadian girl (peppier than me).  Every so often, we would hear a cacophony of gun shots from the distance that would make everyone jolt, or see soldiers marching through the grounds.  Because the Citadel is at the top-most region of Quebec, we were able to see the entire city, laid out along the St. Lawrence River.  It reminded me of the old forts in France that we had visited last year with TIE, and the pictures we had taken of the landscapes below.  While walking out of the Citadel, we experienced the changing of the guards, which seems like such an obsolete maneuver, yet continues to be a tradition (inspired by the changing of the Royal Guards in the UK).  I often wonder what leads someone to becoming one of these guards.  I mean, what is the motivation?  It takes so much self-discipline to stand motionless, in the same position for hours.  Should I add that to my list of aspirations?  (Like I need more on that list).

Around mid-afternoon, we took an hour long cruise along the St. Lawrence, which was a little bit meaningless, though relaxing.  The weather was impeccable, and all you could hear was the slosh of the water and the whistle of the wind.  I stood at the edge of the boat for the entire time, taking in the sunshine and summer breeze.  It was perfect; there is something incredibly relaxing about being on the water.  For the rest of the day, we went café-hopping….literally.  We started off at a bakery for desserts, explored to a French café for escargots, and finally ended up at the hotel restaurant for a full seafood buffet experience.


To top off the incredible cuisine (some of the best food I’ve ever had), we took our last strolls around the town at about 10:30pm.  The on-going music festival made for some loud corners of the city, but eventually, we wandered through a park to an open space, where we could hear low hums and the occasional music.  The sight I saw was possibly the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m still not sure if it’ll give me nightmares.  In front of us was a troop of circus musicians, called ULIK et le Snob.  Led by a witch-like woman, each musician wore black robes like dementors and cone-shaped hats lit by flames, and moved around on some sort of battery-operated stands, gliding across the stage.  Each also played a different instrument, often times humming low noises instead of playing. The witch-like woman carried two poles with flames on the end, creating trails of fire on the stage in various formations.  The show created a haunting environment, with bizarre choreographies that somehow fit the music being played  As I took pictures, the musicians looked at me with piercing, soulless eyes while passing.   I left the area a bit disoriented, frightened, and definitely fascinated.  It was beautiful; the perfect end to a perfect trip.

Of all the places I’ve been, Quebec is one of the most photographable.  Every piece of the city fits together like it was perfectly planned.  The colors of the buildings complement each other.  Flowers delineate the cobblestone streets.  Musicians fill the air with classic tunes and sounds.  Although I have quite a bit to learn about photography, I took up every photo opportunity in the city.  And that’s what I love, being able to capture how I see a place.  I still wish it was easy for me to strike up a conversation with just anyone, such as the street musicians or the bizarre circus troop.  In fact, I had trouble speaking in general, since I felt pressured to speak French.   You would think that after three weeks spent in France with complete immersion, I would be okay with the language.  However, the first place I spoke French, the woman looked at me and answered in English; the second place, the man became frustrated with me constantly asking him to repeat himself; and the third place, I kept saying the wrong things.  In the end, I had about two successful conversations, with one person even saying I spoke “très bien”!  I’ve got a long way to go.


So the trip was short, but great.  These family get-aways are becoming more and more valuable to me, especially because lately, it’s become rare for all three of us to be home at the same time, what with business trips and my traveling.  Last night, after we got home, I was looking through my notebook and re-discovered Opal.  I always say I’m done with that series, but I never really am.  I’ve also become particularly infatuated with poetry recently, and trying to make myself a better poet.  How can I, as a writer, say the most with the least words?  I think that’s the question I’ve been asking myself forever.

One more week until DC!  Here’s to a week of actually sleeping in my own bed and catching up with friends.  Happy July (and belated fourth) everyone!

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All this late-night blogging reminds me of last summer, when I would stay up late and become inspired by the silence of the night or the buzzing thoughts in my mind.  Yet, something this summer has felt amiss.  There are so many words in my mind that just don’t seem to come out onto the screen, or paper.  Though, while blogging has taken a backseat, I’ve been able to clear my mind by journaling every night, which is, not surprisingly, cathartic.  I would suggest it anytime you feel clogged mentally.  Sometimes all it takes is a cloud of thoughts poured onto paper to let me sleep well for the night.  Once again, I would blame this on the late night–I have kept myself up with unnecessary thoughts way too many times during the summer.  Sometimes I go back on blog posts and try to remind myself of the voice I once had, and more and more, this voice seems to be fading.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m changing as a person, which I hope I’m not, or if less of my life is about telling stories.  Maybe I’ve come to accept this whole idea of “living in the moment”, rather than obsessing over what to blog about.  I do miss this old, nostalgic life.

A large part of my mental block (I don’t know if I would call it writers’ block) is due to this college essay I’ve been trying to write for weeks.  I am a writer.  I should be excited to tell my story in 650 words or less, no more.  I should be pouring out my emotions and making myself vulnerable.  Yet, I can’t seem to write anything worthwhile.  Part of me is worried that my true self, the vulnerable writer with a compelling story, is not good enough for any school.  Another part is worried that schools will have no reason to care about what I have to say.  After all, I come from no troubled background, I have done nothing worthwhile for the world, I have never really changed anyone’s life–I am just an ordinary person with ordinary stories.  How can I, a plain Jane teenager from rural Vermont, compel someone with an essay about myself?  I suppose I have a few more weeks to figure that out, but maybe that’ll require figuring myself out.

I’ve been able to do that, though.  I used to think that I had a good sense of who I am as a person.  But after JCamp, I don’t know if I do.  After being unleashed into a whole new world–a world that was once so idyllic to me–it feels like in reality, I don’t know who I am.  I learned quite a bit about myself at JCamp.  For example, I am not well-versed in the art of small talk. It’s hard for me to overcome my fears.  No matter how hard I try, living on the wild side is not really my ‘thing’.  I am a creative writer, and nothing more, really.  I don’t know how much I really want to be a journalist anymore.  All of this is confusing in my mind.  I know I have years to think of what I want to do with my life, but I’ve never been one to be spontaneous.  Every minute has been planned out.  And now that I’m beginning to have reservations, it worries me that this course I have set for myself isn’t working out as well as I planned.  But, on the other hand, I guess I feel a little free-er knowing that I do not have to be limited to journalism.  I suppose I can go wherever the wind blows.

This summer hasn’t been much of a traditional summer.  I’ve been consumed with work for my programs–writing, reading, planning things out.  Once in a while, I’ve given myself time off to wander with friends or watch a movie or sit outside and bask in the sun.  Nonetheless, in the few weeks we’ve had so far, I have learned more than I probably have all year.  I guess that’s the beauty of hands-on experiences like SJWP and J-Camp.  I know with Al Neuharth and the Yale program, I will have learned some of the most valuable things I could learn by the end of the summer.  Even more, I’ll have met and heard from some of the most powerful individuals in this nation.  And finally, I’ll have made some of the most incredible connections of my life, as I already have with the two experiences I’ve had to-date.  That, in itself, is worth all the hours I’ve devoted to work.

I started volunteering at a retirement home the other day, and it reminded me of how the elderly can be so refreshing.  There is something relieving about spending time with people who have lived long, successful lives: it tells us that life, no matter how hard the struggles, turns out pretty well.  The elderly and the young are the two most insightful groups of people–they are constant reminders of the simple joys of life.  I spent a few hours helping the ladies with manicures (which I would consider myself an expert on…) and serving lunch, and every little gesture I made was commended by the folks at the home.  One woman, who considered my manicure to be nearly professional-like, smiled when I told her I was just a volunteer, and continuously showed appreciation for everything I had done.  “You’re a lovely girl,” she told me, and just the smile she wore is enough to keep me wanting to go back.  I have spent the past few summers working with children, but the joys of working with the elderly are unparalleled.

Everyone tells me how working at an elderly home can, eventually, be heartbreaking, but I don’t agree.  I think that the elderly have more to teach than we give them credit for.  They have seen the world with eyes that we can’t imagine.  They have faced every struggle that we have yet to have faced, and seen every joy that we have yet to have seen.  They are essentially the experts of this world.  It’s such a nice break from everyday life to volunteer there.  It reminds me that my “problems” are both temporary and insignificant in the course of my life.  That’s a good thought to carry around with me.

So the rest of my summer will continue to be crazy, yet life-changing.  I can’t imagine a better summer; in fact, I have always dreamed of a summer like this.  In a few days, I’ll be heading to Quebec City with the family for some quality bonding time, food time, and photography time.  Next weekend, I’ll be off to D.C. once again for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Scholarship program.  The last weekend of July, I will be in Boston for my senior photo shoot.  In August, I’ll be at Yale for two weeks.  In between, while I’m at home, I’ll be catching up with friends, reading through my must-read list, and attempting to accomplish everything on my summer bucket list (which has been unsuccessful thus far).

Hope you’re all having a wonderful summer, and happy July!!


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