By Lauren Peller
It was a Wednesday night at 10pm during my sophomore year of high school, and I was feveriously pounding on my keyboard. My heart was in my throat as I read the fatal error message telling me that my flash drive had been corrupted, and all my painstaking hours of work, laying out my first newspaper, were potentially wasted. All of my efforts selecting titles, design, and photos had vanished. The 16 page paper was trapped inside the flash drive with no apparent way to retrieve it. It was too late to bother my advisors, so I reached out to the only person who could relate to this overwhelming responsibility. I called my Grandmother Carole, whom I had recently discovered was editor of her own high school newspaper many years ago. She laughed and said, “We didn’t even have computers back then, but I know the feeling of being responsible to produce papers on tight deadlines.” “Get a good night’s sleep, and it will all somehow work out in the morning,” she said. I arrived at school the next day to find that an earlier iteration was available on the hard drive at school. My grandmother was wise and knew that she needed to plant a seed of confidence in me. She knew that this wouldn’t be the last time I would need to navigate a bump in the road. Something seemingly catastrophic became something I knew I could overcome. Little did I realize the challenges and demands that lay ahead as I totally immersed myself in the production of the Thunderbird.
I can’t remember what exactly motivated me to join the Thunderbird. I think it may have been in 8th grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Brosdale (Corso), saw something in my writing and submitted my work for an award. Not only did my teacher encourage me, but I also truly believe that she was the catalyst for my love of expressing myself through writing. It may, however, have occurred in 9th grade because my English teacher was one of the advisors for the school newspaper (thanks, Mrs. Dalton). In the first month of high school, I contemplated: what kind of student was I going to be? Where should I focus my efforts to learn the most and blossom? I was in need of my own personalized map. Once I stepped foot in the library Mac lab, I began to imagine a path that made sense. I watched the editors sitting together and discussing ideas, the advisors speaking to the staff, and the long list of articles that needed to be covered for the fall issue. This might sound cheesy, and I am rolling my eyes at the moment, but I knew there was nowhere else I was supposed to spend every Thursday after school for the next four years.
For me, the Thunderbird is most definitely not a typical extracurricular. After writing articles for the first year and then becoming school news and layout editor in 10th grade, I assumed the role as editor-in-chief my junior year. Whether I was coming up with punny headlines, like “Orange you Glad it’s Apple Season,” or forming long lists of article ideas for meetings, I was able to foster creativity and inspire broader content. Similar to assembling a puzzle, I spent countless hours editing articles and painstakingly creating a cohesive layout in addition to managing the entire publication process.
Looking at other high school newspapers, I instinctively knew that the Thunderbird needed to evolve to an online platform. In order to appeal to a wider audience and keep up with technology, I navigated my way through WordPress and helped the Thunderbird find its new home for tech savvy users. As one would expect, in the first attempt of our online version, there was much to learn and refine. Even though there were plenty of bumps in the road for this staff and paper, there were numerous successes as well. Most recently, the Thunderbird won a record high number of 20 LI Press Awards, and received a silver designation for the past two years from the American Scholastic Press Association. These awards validated all of the hard work the staff invested in the paper.
Joining the newspaper was an opportunity for me to endeavor. I worked hard at developing my writing and editing skills as well as being a contributing member of the staff. My parents constantly tell me,“The best prize in life is the opportunity to work hard and take pride in your work.” As editor-in-chief, I have had the “best prize” to manage a newspaper that has defined my identity as a student and a leader. For the past two years as “Editor Peller,” I have found that my experience serving on this newspaper has reinforced the pride one can have in facilitating a collaborative creation.
From what I have learned and experienced while part of the Thunderbird, I uncovered my passion and plan on studying journalism and communications in college and beyond. At the George Washington University next year, I look forward to joining one of D.C.’s finest newspapers,The Hatchet, and continue to apply the skills and lessons I have acquired.
It has been an honor serving as the editor-in-chief for the past two years, and it has been an incredible experience serving on the staff of the Thunderbird for the past four years. I’d like to acknowledge the editors and entire staff who were integral to the production of the paper. I am extremely pleased to be leaving the Thunderbird in very capable hands. I look forward to passing off the newspaper to co-editors-in-chief, Bradley Shanker and Emily Disman. Bradley’s vibrant personality, dedication, and extraordinary leadership will carry the newspaper to success. Emily’s impeccable writing, organization, and direction will lead the staff and paper to even greater accomplishments. I would also like to wish the rest of the new editors and staff the best of luck. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the next chapter of the Thunderbird.
Reflecting back on four years, I would like to recognize all of the teachers and administrators who have encouraged me. Thank you Dr. Woodberry for your approachability and positive reinforcement. Thank you Mrs. Davis for your warm and supportive demeanor. I remember sitting in the Mac lab my sophomore year, like a deer in headlights, first learning the layout process. You displayed a great deal of patience and knowledge while sharing your technical skills using InDesign and Photoshop. Next, I would like to thank Mrs. Dalton for encouraging me to be the best version of myself. From a student in your honors english class for two years to working with you on the newspaper, I am grateful for the opportunities you gave me. You guided me in writing and editing in addition to instilling confidence in me to develop as a leader. Facing adversity, I could always count on words of wisdom from Mrs. Dalton. Another teacher who has greatly supported me was Mr. Pitman, my AP U.S. and “We the People” teacher. You taught me how to speak publicly with conviction and collaborate in a group setting. Thank you Mr. Pitman for teaching me to think critically and persevere.
It is amazing how fast four years go by. I guess it’s true that time flies when you are having fun. Just like the end of the last chapter of a book, the final chapter of high school is always bittersweet. I am ending this last chapter of my book as a student, club member, volunteer, and editor- in-chief. As this chapter is ending, however, my life story is just beginning. As my time in Half Hollow Hills comes to an end, I am able to approach that end, not with fear, but with gratitude for my past experiences and a bright hope for my future on Capitol Hill.