One high school senior’s experience at the Washington Journalism and Media Conference
By Melia Lorenz
According to most U.S. high school students, junior year is the most difficult for a number of reasons. Between the major tests that could determine our future and the pressure being put on us to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives, junior year is not in the slightest bit easy.
For me, a lot of the struggles that I faced last year had to do with the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do after high school, beyond that I knew I wanted to go to college and get a degree—but for what?
The idea that I did not know what I was going to do after high school did not sit well with me. In fact, it actually terrified me.
From the start of the year, I started really looking into some possibilities. Then, one day in November, I got a very formal letter in the mail from George Mason University in Northern Virginia. It stated that I was invited to attend the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC) along with hundreds of other students from all over the country. This conference included a handful of opportunities that I simply could not pass up. I talked to a few adults at school and my mom, and within the following weeks, I was signed up for—I would later find out—a life-changing experience.
At first, I was insanely excited for this trip. I was ready to hop on the plane and get going. But through the busy school year, that excitement soon shifted to fear. I started getting nervous, due to the fact that I was going to be traveling alone for the first time, not to mention I did not know a single other person who was attending the conference, and I was going to be rooming with complete strangers.
Although the fear of this experience essentially silenced my enthusiasm, I knew that it was way too late to back out—I had no other choice but to embark on this journey and see where it would take me.
On the very first day, I did not yet have a good idea of exactly what I had gotten myself into, but I could tell it was going to be a learning experience. That day was mostly filled with traveling and the anticipated arrival, of course, but as I met up with other students who were attending the conference, we all were still a bit unsure of the whole ordeal.
That night, we listened to our first speaker, Sonya Gavankar, director of public relations for the Newseum who has worked as a spokesperson, television and podcast host, filmmaker, and social multi-media content creator. As an expert in her field, she offered us words of wisdom and reminded us how lucky we all were to be there.
At this point, my excitement was growing by the minute. It actually started to set in that this trip was going to be like nothing else that I had ever experienced.
In an attempt to organize 350 high school students, we were all put into “color groups” that were run by a faculty adviser and a junior faculty adviser. After listening to Gavankar’s speech, our first color group meeting was held. I did not know it at the time, but that was my first introduction to some of the people whom I would soon consider my “Yellow Family.” Interacting with the people in my group made me more comfortable with my surroundings and excited for the days that I would get to spend at George Mason.
I could sit here and give you a complete rundown of all the activities that we did and how amazing it was, but that does not do the trip justice, in my mind.
This trip was so much more than just bus rides and sight-seeing and meeting new people. It was days that were jam-packed with words of wisdom, intelligent conversations, and meeting people who actually think like I do.
Being born and raised in Michigan’s smallest county in terms of land area can be both a blessing and a curse. I truly do love it here, but we all see a lot of the same things on a daily basis. And here in Benzie County, everybody practically knows everybody.
Perhaps the most important thing that I learned on my trip this past summer is: when someone goes to a place where they do not know a single person, there is a lot of self discovery that takes place. You are forced to introduce yourself to strangers who do not know a single thing about you, so you get to choose what they find out—there is no preconceived notions or information that they have “heard through the grapevine.” It is simply you being yourself, instead of someone assuming that they know who you are.
I learned so much on this trip, and not just about journalism. Although I did take away a boat load of information about my future career choices, that is not what I hold close to my heart. The people at WJMC are what truly made this conference spectacular—I think we all left George Mason University with unforgettable memories and a brand new group of friends.
The last day at George Mason was filled with tears and hugs and difficult goodbyes. I left Washington, D.C., with an open mind but a heavy heart. I cannot express enough how truly thankful I am to have had that unbelievable experience.
Although I went into my junior year of high school without a clue about what I wanted to do after graduation, with the beginning of my senior year in full swing, I can safely say that I do have a few ideas, but most importantly, I am not afraid of my future anymore.
After this experience, I came home with a newfound faith in myself and an excitement for my future.
If there is any advice that I could give to someone around my age, it would be to take opportunities like this. It may be scary, but it needs to be done. Get out of here, see the world, and cry like a baby when it is over.
I promise: it is worth it.
Melia Lorenz is a senior at Benzie Central High School. She is currently weighing her options of what to do after graduation in May 2020.