The Knudson Churchill Scholarship Trust
Applicants for the Knudson Churchill Scholarship are required to submit an essay that outlines their career aspirations in automotive technology or print journalism; how this scholarship would help them achieve their career goals; their specific plans for their educational program; and why they would be an ideal candidate as a Knudson-Churchill Scholar.
The winning essays are printed in the October issue of The Sacred Octagon and will be posted here at that time.Read the winning essays below.
As an elementary school student, I asked my parents so many questions while we read chapter books together that they spoke with my teacher about how to handle my interruptions. My parents came back from their fourth-grade parent-teacher conference with a new rule: no questions until the end of each chapter. Since then I have learned to limit my questions, but my curiosity is what fuels my journalistic endeavors. I love that journalism provides me with a platform to ask as many questions as I want and to turn the answers into compelling stories. My curiosity is what inspired me to apply for a position on my school newspaper, The Sagamore , and it is what continues to drive me today.
When I was accepted onto The Sagamore staff three years ago, I was ecstatic -- all my questions would be answered. But when I received my first assignment, to interview students about their feelings about the Paris attacks that occurred in November 2015, I realized it wasn’t that easy. I was curious, yet I was also terrified to talk to strangers. I milled around the central quad during every lunch period, each time finding a student or two who was a girl like me, and who looked young and unintimidating. Finally, after a week of lunches, I was done.
Soon after this assignment, one of my newspaper’s advisers, Marcella Anderson, gave me one of the best pieces of journalistic advice I’ve received. She told me to confront my fears by interviewing the people who scared me most. For me, this was of course senior boys. On my next assignment, I went up to the tallest senior boys I could find. They had crew bags, and they looked terrifying. But they were nice, and everything went smoothly. They told me about how they wanted to make it to nationals. And after that, I wasn’t afraid anymore of senior boys.
Three years later, I am the Editor in Chief of The Sagamore and am now confident enough to interview not just those who I feel most comfortable with, but anyone who will provide me with the best information. I may not be completely fearless, but I am always willing to be uncomfortable and face my fears head on. I have interviewed not only a great many senior boys, but also custodians, administrators, department heads, and people whose backgrounds are completely different from mine.
The defining project that confirmed my desire to be a journalist was an article I wrote at the end of my first year on The Sagamore ’s staff, and it marked the first time I interviewed someone outside of the school. An editor came into the first-year journalism student classroom and asked which staff writers were interested in doing some investigative reporting. My hand shot up. Investigative reporting was what I dreamed about: listening to different versions of a story, filling in the missing pieces, and patching together the truth. The article was about setbacks that my high school’s administration was encountering in its effort to hire more teachers of color. I wanted to interview the town’s human resources director, who was the rule maker for hiring, the person who had frustrated department heads by preventing them from hiring the candidates who they thought were the best applicants. Our social studies department head told me, “She won’t talk to you.” I emailed her many times and called and left messages, but she kept putting me off. Finally, I went to town hall and convinced her to speak with me. She provided the opposing viewpoint that balanced my article.
When I first began interviewing the administration for this article, I was told that it was highly unlikely that the high school would be able to hire any teachers of color. But as I questioned the administrators, they began to question themselves: in the end, the article was widely read, three teachers of color were hired, and I received an email from the head of the English department letting me know that my article had helped to change the outcome of the story. By asking the right questions and by bringing them to the attention of the entire community, I helped persuade the decision makers to do the right thing.
The response to this article was a eureka moment for me. Yes, I’d heard that journalism had the power to effect change, but I’d never really seen it in action. After this publication, I witnessed my articles and those of other staff members bring about change time after time. The result wasn’t always as big as the hiring of desired teacher applicants, but these articles helped change opinions, raise awareness, tell the truth, and clear up misconceptions.
To this day, of all the stories I’ve done for The Sagamore , my favorite is a feature on the school’s custodians. One custodian was a serious painter and another read Freud for fun. One custodian showed up to our interview in a tie, a maroon dress shirt, corduroy pants, and shiny black shoes. Sometime toward the end of the interview, he had stopped talking. He sat for a minute and thought, and then he told me that there is indeed a difference between janitors and custodians: “A janitor cleans. A custodian takes care of the place,” he said. In other words, custodians have dignity. After this, I made sure to always say hi to the custodians when I saw them in the hallway, to thank them when they came to empty the journalism room’s trash bin after school, and to always pick up my trash.
I want to be a journalist because I love telling the stories that would otherwise go untold: the deeper stories that come from the second half of an interview, and the stories that come from people like custodians, who we often walk by without glancing at at all. I still love asking questions, but even more, I love hearing the often unexpected answers.
Receiving this scholarship would help me to pay for a journalism education at one of the best journalism schools. By studying journalism in college, I hope to learn to be a journalist in the larger, more chaotic world beyond my small high school community. I haven’t heard back yet from all the colleges I’ve applied to, but my top choice right now is Northwestern University. Northwestern’s journalism school, Medill, has everything that a prospective journalist could want, including experience. I know that through its residency program, hands-on reporting experience in the Chicago area, and meeting prominent journalists, Medill will prepare me to be a working journalist. But regardless of whether or not I go to Northwestern, I know I will keep effecting change and telling people’s stories. All of the colleges I’m looking at have excellent newspapers, and wherever I go I plan to join as a reporter.
I’ve realized throughout my time on The Sagamore that being a good interviewer is just as important as writing well. When I first started reporting, I believed that journalists were extremely efficient, scribbling down notes nonstop and moving at lightning pace. I know now that the best interviews go slowly, still with lots of note taking but with just as much eye contact. In a good interview, there’s more than just information gathering: there’s human connection. Sometimes that’s laughing, and sometimes it’s trying to hold back tears. I’ve figured out over time when to ask which questions, and how to best get people to open up. Asking a provocative question right off the bat probably isn’t the best way to go, but ignoring these questions altogether won’t get me anywhere either. It’s partly about timing, and partly about being friendly and approachable.
But most of all, I’ve learned that listening well is the best trait any journalist can have. I used to ask a new question the minute someone stopped talking, and listening back to my taped interviews, I would often realize the interviewee hadn’t finished answering a question before I’d jumped in with my next question. Now I wait until they’re done, and give them a minute, and usually they think of something else to say. Just as my parents once asked me to do back in fourth grade, I’ve learned to save my questions for the end of the chapter. I will be the journalist who sits down and listens to those who wish to be heard, but I will also knock on the doors of those who don’t want to speak but must be held accountable.