Journalism Day 2000: The Day That Changed My Life

This is the story of a single day. 1000 words on one day. I have covered entire years in less words. Why this day? Because I want to focus on that day and the impact it had. Some moments are flashpoints in our lives. I want to tell of one such day.

I rarely went to class events on my weekends. My thought was that time belonged to me. I even more rarely went to such events out of town. Add in the fact it was in a city I didn’t know at all, and there was no sign I would attend. The thing was, this was a special case. This was HS journalism and I loved it so much. Besides, I was 16. Wasn’t it time to stretch a bit?

Before I left for the trip, I had a ritual. I found a book to read–a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel–and candy–robin’s eggs–to take with me. These served a purpose: to ground me and defend me. If I got nervous I could feint to them. This tactic had served me well throughout my childhood. Also they were candy to snack on and a book to read. Yeah there was symbolism there but at day’s end I like the same things others do. I mean I was going to be on a bus for 4 hours!

So it was that I found myself in the predawn hours on a bus going to Jonesboro. I couldn’t read for another 30-40 minutes but I watched the towns go by in the early morning hours. There’s a magic to the world before dawn. The small towns along the highway were asleep, waiting to come alive. Here we were, starting our quest. OK most of us slept but still…

Light finally broke about the time we reached Highway 67/167, which I would live off of 8 years later. I cracked that month’s book (1) and read for about 15 minutes until we had breakfast in Searcy. (2) I’ve got such a strong memory of that day I even want to say I remember what I ate. Unlikely I’m right but still.

There were people I knew on this trip. My journalism teacher, Mrs. Johnson, (3) was an amazing force of support. I also had a number of fellow classmates I knew reasonably well. Much of the journalism class was there and by March I obviously knew them well enough to carry on conversations. Were these very close friends? Maybe not but people I liked.

Breakfast was devoured and onto the road again. I switched between reading and soaking up the journey. It was a gray cloudy morning but there were hints it would break. It was just a fun ride.

Then we hit ASU. I should pause to note the power college held and continues to hold on me. It is a supernatural place. A magic place where we come in youth and come out ready to be adults. I spent 15 years looking forward to it and will spend the rest of my life missing it. At 16, it loomed large.

ASU’s campus was so exciting and thrilling to me. We were based in a lounge that morning and I still remember so many details about the layout 14 years later. The way it had an area that dipped in. The vending machines. The picnic tables outside. I can barely describe the room I’m in now but I recall that place.

Then it was time to get started. After a standard opening session, it was time to start the contests. I chose to enter two that day. The first was website design which made pretty much no sense. I had no idea how to use the software and wouldn’t be into layout work for 8 years. (4) But I decided to do it because I wanted to play with the software. That was all I wanted to do and it was crazy fun.

The next couple of hours were something I really loved. I had the time to wander the campus. You have to understand what it felt like at 16. I was walking around, poking my head into all of the places I could. It was such a beautiful morning despite the gray. One image has forever stuck in my head: a girl lying on her stomach on a table. That image would go on to inspire one of my best scripts. (5)

Then it was time for the editorial writing competition. I had yet to learn how to properly write an editorial but I’d grown up reading them. For the competition, I did have to use a computer, as I would in all competitions. (6) I was given a prompt about a conflict between students and schools and asked to take a stance. As I would for every competition, I took the school’s POV. I wrote my piece and headed on.

From there it was lunch time. The food was pizza, nothing of any real note. What I remember is a single image of standing across the street from a giant shopping center. There was an old abandoned theater across the street and a Hastings. As my brain tends to do, I pondered what it must’ve been like in its heyday. (7)

Then it was time for the awards. We heard the name Wynne a lot, all guessing it was a tiny town nearby. (8) The website design category came and I did indeed take 2nd place. Since I hadn’t put too much into it, it felt cool to be awarded but not much. Then I scored 3rd place in editorial writing.

I won the occasional school competition before this. I did well the year before in history day but that wasn’t my interest. This though, this was something I loved and thought I could be great in. Suddenly I knew I could do well. As I rode home, munching my candy and finishing my book, I knew this was a day I wouldn’t forget.

This was the beginning, not the apex of my competition days. I would go on to enter and win the editorial writing competition at the state level the next year. I repeated my 3rd place in Jonesboro the next year and in 2002, I won outright. I would be entered in several competitions based on my writing throughout the year and won a few. I went on to major in Journalism in college on a scholarship. Then, in 2008, I started drawing a paycheck from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Sure, I was already destined on my path. But on that day I knew I was beyond any doubt.

AFTERWORD: I started writing this entry shortly before the death of Lauren Dunn, my classmate in the 2002-2003 year. I was going to do my full high school experience and in time I will get back to it. I’m settling for this for the moment though.

(1) The books were released monthly right up until the end of the show and a bit after. It used to be a reliable habit to pick them up. Several are by noted horror writers such as Christopher Golden and Nancy A. Collins. On the whole they tended quite good.

(2) I love Searcy. It’s a town I do run up to every so often. Nice Hastings there. Nothing special but I’ve got affection. Great downtown.

(3) Nothing pains me more than the fact that by deciding to put my HS entry on hold, I can’t convey fully the power she had in my career. She was such a wonderful mentor then and really pushed me to do well. I’m happy to know she’ll read this since I’ve stayed in contact with her via Facebook and even saw her last month.

(4) This will all be covered in time. Short version: I’m a  page designer professionally.

(5) That script, Ordinary Girl, is about a fairy masquerading as a human. I’ve written several drafts, none on a working computer though. It’s a really great concept and I’m not convinced it’s not destined for a bookstore at some point.

(6) My handwriting, which is linked to my autism, is bad enough to count as a disability. I used computers in all of my contests. I want to think I got grilled extra hard for it out of spite.

(7) I would finally cross the street during my senior year. I took a few trips to Jonesboro as well. Nothing too special but nice enough.

(8) I actually went to Wynne in 2012. It’s very nice, much larger than the image in my head. ben had an awesome comic shop!

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