I know what the column is as soon as I read the title. I have this sixth sense about columns — perhaps a byproduct of churning out at least one every month for the past two years — but this one hits me a little closer because it’s a pitch I’ve never found the courage to translate into prose. I understand her — I understand the frustration of scrolling through endless Instagram posts and TikTok’s of girls with bodies that no amount of time at the gym will make achievable. I understand the self-criticism that manifests as a result, and the resulting urge of a new staff writer to announce it using this newfound platform. I get it. But we cannot publish this column.
I pull her to an empty table the next day in 4th period and open up the document on my computer. Because I want her to publish this column.
“What new piece of information do you want your reader to learn from this?” I ask. “What will you teach them that is unique to who you are? And how can you focus on healing instead of trauma?”
We spend the next 10 minutes drafting an outline for the column. It’s my editing method of choice — as an editor, I strive to be a support system, the foundation and structure upon which my staff writers build upon. We sift through her ideas, extracting the golden nuggets from her draft. We decide on a central message, a connection to the general student population and brainstorm sources that will back her claims with scientific evidence. The second time she sends me her column, it exemplifies a nuanced approach to a complex topic, integrating aspects of her personal experience with facts to create an engaging, personal and informative piece that included both the negative and positive aspects of online body positivity movements.
She does end up publishing that column. And the next time we switch sections, this writer lists Opinion as her first choice.
My role as co-Editor-in-Chief marks my third year of editing stories, and in that time, I’ve honed the balance between cleaning up ideas and preserving the writer’s unique voice. In our first cycle, especially, I sat in countless outline drafting sessions with new staff writers, their nervousness palpable, as we worked together to write meaningful stories. After all, I am no stranger to that nervousness, to the struggle to articulate my ideas. But I’m also no stranger to the intense urge to write about the things that affect us deeply and amplify the voices and issues that don’t ever seem to be heard.
My first story for El Estoque was about overcoming the fear of failure, a story I only pitched because of how utterly terrified I was about failing on this publication. My first cycle as a student journalist was fear as I’ve never known it — I didn’t know how to write a lede, how to ask someone for an interview, how to take photos following the rule of thirds or what a beat story was. By the end of the period, I sorely regretted ever applying for journalism. By the third day of school, I was sure I’d fail the class. By the end of the second week, I was positive I would quit.
So I did everything except that.
I applied for a recurring column in the print magazine during the third week of school. I called it Being Brave and my schtick was just that — I’d challenge myself to face one fear every month. And a couple of weeks later, I applied to become a News Editor despite my glaring lack of experience. As the sole sophomore section editor on staff that year, I questioned myself constantly — who was I to edit someone’s story when they had two years of experience on me? How was I supposed to stand my ground about a story idea against my editor-in-chief? But I persevered, and my courage paid off — both the first package I created as a news editor and my column won first place at the JEA NorCal conference in May of that year. Sophomore year, I put myself in positions where I was terrified to fail over and over, and I kept trying to succeed, over and over and over until I did.
Junior year I tackled a different challenge as a Features Editor during remote learning: helplessness. As the world grappled with a pandemic and a racial reckoning, I turned to journalism and found power in using El Estoque as a platform to tell the stories that matter. I covered local Black Lives Matter activists and the #MeToo movement. I told the stories of immigrants among us, wrote about my own experiences as a Target cashier and explored how national events like the Gamestop incident impacted my peers. In a year of isolation, it was journalism that helped me overcome that overwhelming sense of helplessness by giving me a platform and empowering me to give back to my community.
This year, my courage and empowerment has culminated in my role as editor-in-chief for El Estoque, where I’ve focused on leading my staff writers to similarly have the confidence to recognize their meaning in our school community. As a leader, I’ve learned to find a balance between staunchly pursuing my own vision — like my belief that it was important to cover Homecoming in our print magazine even though it left us in a serious time crunch — and also collaborate with my fellow editors and staff writers. I’ve continued to challenge myself by exploring new sections like Sports and Arts & Entertainment and I’ve seen my hard work come to fruition with 28 total JEANC and National Student Press Association awards for my work on El Estoque, culminating in being named first place as NSPA's Writer of the Year. Leading this publication by working with staff writers and editors to pitch, design, craft and publish stories and magazines has empowered me to uplift fellow journalists and make El Estoque an even more meaningful pillar of the MVHS community.
I will begin the next chapter of my journey as a freshman at Stanford University this fall, where I plan to study communications and public policy. I plan to take with me the lessons I’ve learned during these past three years — courage in the face of adversity, creating change on small scales to overcome helplessness and leadership as a means to uplift others by creating a foundation upon which they can flourish.
Being a student journalist has been the greatest challenge and accomplishment of my life thus far. Every day, I am simultaneously humbled and empowered by the incredible talent and drive of my staff. In room A111, I’m proud to say that the excitement and innovation is palpable — it manifests in the overlapping voices that pitch about current events, the half-finished InDesign spreads that look better than the Pinterest inspiration and the scribbles on whiteboards containing story headlines and featured graphic ideas. Every day, being on El Estoque reminds me of my purpose as a journalist, a student and an active member of my community striving for a more equitable future.
What can I teach you that is unique to who I am?