Poetry for Peace: Young poets take the stage

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

The winners of the Poetry for Peace contest waited in line for their solos on the Regina A. Quick Center stage. Some took hesitant steps to the microphone stand when their names were called, dragging their gleaming red Mary Janes and black dress shoes across the wooden stage. Others approached the spotlight with some pep in their step, smiling and making faces to their family members out in the audience.

Though different in their heights and confidence, these children gathered in the Quick Center on Friday, Jan. 25, for one purpose: to share through poetry their ideas of peace.

Started in 2008, the Poetry for Peace contest allows students in grades kindergarten through eight from the Bridgeport and Fairfield Public Schools the chance to define peace through creative writing. The reading event used to be held in the Kelley Center, but because of growing popularity, the event had to be relocated to the Quick Center.

According to co-director of Poetry for Peace Dr. Jerelyn M. Johnson, associate professor of modern languages and literature, the judging panel received over 1,000 entries. They then split entries by grades, organizing them into four grade flights. From there on, a panel of Fairfield faculty and undergraduate and graduate students chose the winners, honorable mentions and the judges’ favorites.

The winning poems were published in a booklet, which was also distributed to the audience consisting of the Fairfield University community, parents and children.

Applause punctuated each pause before another poet went to the stage to read. Mothers juggled their children on their laps. Kids smiled to the camera as their parents beckoned from below in their seats. Confidence seemed to grow as the height of the poets increased.

The older children naturally took in the world events which disrupt peace, while most of the younger children compared peace to their own everyday activities.

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Certain students shared a humorous perception of peace. In his poem “What peace is to me,” Christopher Cirelli, a Fairfield Woods Middle School sixth grader, wrote: “Peace is not getting haircuts.”

There were also poems that gave surprising insight into how aware children are of the present world.

Fifth grader Alec Nardone from Burr Elementary School wrote that in a world without peace, humanity is on the brink of self-destruction: “We’re all on fire – and we don’t even know it / Soon our humanity will be gone, / Burnt.”

Grace Hilton, a third grader from Timothy Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield, brought up origami cranes, the symbol of peace sprung up after the 9/11 attacks, in her poem. She saw peace in the olive branch that Noah had spotted when he arrived on land in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Nardone and Hilton’s poems showed that, like many of the writings in the booklet, what children know should not be taken for granted.

Not only did the poems serve to entertain and to enlighten, but they also brought into perspective the contrast between the poems and reality’s fragile events that threaten current peace.

Johnson recounted the time when she and the judges met to consider the final entries. Three days later, the Sandy Hook shooting spree occurred, during which 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, most of them children.

Johnson said to the poets in the audience: “I know I speak for many of us when I say that during that seriously sad and dark moment, your words, and knowing that you and your poems existed, gave us hope. Such is the power of poetry.”

Mariam Anwar, a second grader at Osborn Hill Elementary School, wrote a poem entitled “Peace” and won an honorable mention in the grade K-2 flight.

Her opening line states that “peace sounds like the dolphins jumping in the waves.”

Encouraged by her teacher to think about things she liked when describing peace, Anwar said, “I thought about the beach and that’s how I came up with the dolphins. And I like mangoes,” she added, which referred to her line, “Peace tastes like a mango from a tree.”

She said reciting her poem to an audience was “easy” because “I wasn’t looking at the people.”

In his closing remarks, Poetry for Peace co-director and associate English professor Dr. Peter Bayers said, “We would like to thank all of you, the poets who are here, for sharing your voices with us. I think we would all agree that we have learned from your insights, your beauty and your wisdom. Your poetry attests to the power and possibilities of language.

“Your poetry has changed all of us for the better tonight. And for that: thank you.”

Brenda Perry and Wendy Accomando, teachers at Osborn Hill Elementary School, have been involved with Poetry for Peace from the start and always encourage their students to submit to the contest.

Perry, a fourth grade teacher, described this event as “wonderful,” while second grade teacher Accomando said Friday night’s poetry reading was “inspiring.”

“It’s inspiring for us,” said Accomando. “Poetry is a great medium; [the students] can use words, they don’t have to worry about grammar … they are creative and they’re open to writing things.”

Associate professor of philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, who coordinated the judging process, would agree with Accomando, believing that poetry is sometimes overlooked in education. “…A lot of time, modes of expression are squashed and lost in formal education,” she said. “We struggle as professors to bring it back – hold on to it and make it grow!”

Sealey also sees the benefits participants would gain from the writing process. She said, “In order for these children to be productive in life, they have to develop their own voice.”

Carol Ann Davis, published poet and assistant professor of English, is working on an “expansion” of Poetry for Peace. The program, called “Poet in the classroom,” seeks to combine the poetry teaching efforts of poets and interested school teachers.

This year, the Poetry for Peace Contest was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Office of Academic Engagement, the Department of English and the Program in Peace and Justice. Poetry for Peace was also a part of the MLK Holiday Observance Week.

Reporting on this event was contributed by Crystal Rodriguez.

My Reading Resolution (Thanks, Random House!)

Retreat, a blog from Random House of Canada that seeks to help the average reader “read, retreat, and relax,” recently posted a fun activity for the year 2013. I can’t tell you how many times I tell myself to read instead of sleeping until noon every day during school break. My laziness is seriously inhibiting my resolution to read more. But I am also hesitant because I don’t know where to start. What’s in and what’s out in the publishing industry?

Luckily, Retreat understands that life gets in the way of pleasure reading, which is why the bloggers decided to provide motivation with their new Reading Bingo 2013 Challenge. The bingo card has 25 boxes that describe different books. I can choose a book because of its cover, because it’s a book recommended to me, because it has a great first line, and etc. Apparently I can try to fill a row or diagonal (like in the actual game) or I can conquer the whole card. I’m choosing the latter, since I know I’ll be seriously challenged by that number. I like that this game allows me to read books from different genres. I typically read thrillers and contemporary fiction, but I’ll have to read a book of poetry and a book by a Canadian author (of course: this is Random House of Canada).

After a lot of research and an hour of memory retrieval, I’ve planned out my bingo card.

Books

Sorry, my handwriting is so messy. But at least the image is clear–thanks to my iPhone.

This is a long post, so if you are interested in seeing a few books, look at this list and press a bullet for a more detailed description. If you have time to spare, read on, my peeps.

 

A book you chose because of the cover: “Obsession,” by Leonard J. Davis

Summary from Amazon: We live in an age of obsession. Not only are we hopelessly devoted to our work, strangely addicted to our favorite television shows, and desperately impassioned about our cars, we admire obsession in others: we demand that lovers be infatuated with one another in films, we respond to the passion of single-minded musicians, we cheer on driven athletes. To be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern.

But obsession is not only a phenomenon of modern existence: it is a medical category—both a pathology and a goal. Behind this paradox lies a fascinating history, which Lennard J. Davis tells in Obsession. Beginning with the roots of the disease in demonic possession and its secular successors, Davis traces the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive compulsive disorder and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes Davis’s graceful analysis.

 Just look at the cover. This is designer porn right here. I don’t have a zoom function, but apparently the obsession typeface was not produced via Photoshop; it was handmade by poking “tiny pinpricks through heavy cardstock.” Credits for the design and lettering go to Isaac Tobin and Lauren Nassef, respectively. The summary is also intriguing. The line “to be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern,” caught my attention, leading me to ask: “Are we really defined by this phenomenon?” Reading this nonfiction book will surely be an eye-opening experience.

A book you saw someone reading: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by David Foster Wallace

Summary from Amazon: “In this exuberantly praised book – a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner – David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.”

I haven’t spotted anyone reading a physical book in a while. See, the negative aspect of e-readers is that you can never figure out what a stranger is reading! However, I’ve consulted one of my favorite Tumblrs called Underground New York Public Library. Moroccan/New Yorker photographer Ourit Ben-Haïm takes pictures of people reading in the subway. Though she puts in e-reader up once in a while, many of the pictures show people and the books they’re reading. On the front page, I found “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by the famous David Foster Wallace.

A book that will help with your career: “Object Lessons,” by The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

Yup. That’s me with “Object Lessons.”


Some chose classics. Some chose stories that were new even to us. Our hope is that this collection will be useful to young writers, and to others interested in literary technique. Most of all, it is intended for readers who are not (or are no longer) in the habit of reading short stories. We hope these object lessons will remind them how varied the form can be, how vital it remains, and how much pleasure it can give.”

My sister gave me this book for Christmas, and I’ve been perusing it occasionally. I’m excited to dig deeper. I’m considering both journalism and publishing careers, and I see no better way to learn writing than to read select stories from masters. I also admit that I’m not one to read short stories for fun, even though I aspire to write them. I mostly read short story submissions for Dogwood and my Fiction I class. It’s sad, I know, but I’m trying to change. This past summer I picked up a collection from Ernest Hemingway, and I loved it. My next collection after this book is “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. I never heard of him until I read this ridiculously well-written article by Joel Lovell in The New York Times.

A book you saw on TV: “The Beautiful and the Damned,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Summary from Goodreads: “… the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects wild ambition…”

A friend tells me that this novel was mentioned in an episode of “Gossip Girls.” Fitting, I believe.

A book with an animal on the cover: “Disgrace,” by J.M. Coetzee


Summary from Goodreads: “…tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.”

I only know Coetzee as a post-modern writer, but ooh la la, what a plot. By the way, the animal is a dog on the cover.

A book from the library: Random!

A book that is out of your comfort zone: “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Summary from Amazon: “…an epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man…Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.”


I’ve only read two science fiction books in my life: Ender’s Game and Shade’s Children. It’s not that I don’t want to read in that genre; it’s just not on the top of my list. For the spring semester, I will be enrolled in an Introduction to Science Fiction class and I will have to read “Stranger.” There’s no better motivation than mandatory reading.

An award-winning book: “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding

Summary from The Pulitzer Prizes: The novel is “… a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.”

I like depressing books. I like happy books. Makes sense to me.

A book recommended by your local bookseller: “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders

There’s already praise in the book description on Amazon: “Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.”

Taken from Lovell’s article, Saunders on David Foster Wallace and what it means to write: “I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”

A young adult novel: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green


Summary from Goodreads: A girl who has tumours in her lungs meets a guy who is, for some reason, attracted to her. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.”

This was recommended to me by my good friend, Ali, who texted: “Yeah, it’s really good. You would like it especially.” Since Ali knows me very well, I’ll trust her judgment. I think I’ll like it because I already love John. Let me tell you: John and his brother Hank are some of my favorite YouTube Vloggers. They’re the epitome of nerds (followers are called ‘nerdfighters,’) and they are awesome. Based on the summary, I can expect to get a huge dose of angst, romance and life lessons.


A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years: “The Book of Fate,” by Brad Meltzer


“Washington, D.C., has a two-hundred-year-old secret. Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming. So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, a two hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.”

And I ask myself: Why has this been on my shelf for five years?

A book someone recommends to you: Random!

A book with a great first line: “Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka

Summary from Goodreads: “It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”

First line is: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”

A book written by a celebrity: “The Pleasure of My Company,” by Steve Martin

Summary from Amazon: “Daniel resides in his Santa Monica apartment, living much of his life as a bystander…It is through Daniel’s growing attachment to Clarissa, and to Teddy, that he finally gains the courage to begin to engage the world outside, and in doing so, he discovers love, and life, in the most surprising places.”

You’ll never catch me reading Snooki’s biography. So, I chose a funny man named Steve Martin instead. In addition to acting in comedic films, Martin also writes and makes music.

A book with more than 400 pages: “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy

Summary from Amazon: “…tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.”

This is a classic. I bought my copy at a book sale, and I’ve gone through maybe a hundred pages already. Yeah, I know, I need to get working. You don’t have to tell me that again.

A book of poetry: “Theories and Apparitions,” by Mark Doty

From The Independent: Urbane New York peregrinations and conversational musings from the prizewinning American.

Again, I am not a poet; the best I can do is a haiku–a sorely, horrible, and uncreative haiku. This book of poetry can go in hand with the “book that is out of your comfort zone.” I found this book on the Independent website as part of their ‘Ten Best-Selling Poetry Books,’ and I usually trust their judgment.

A book you heard about on the radio: Random!

A book with pictures: “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Summary from Amazon: “This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.”

I’ve only read “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel and “Stitches,” by David Small (both from my college English courses!), but these two have spurred my love for graphic novels. I’ve heard of “Watchmen,” and its raving reviews from graphic novel fans, so I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and check it out. As long as the storyline is compelling and graphics are amazing, I’m sold. Then again, that can be pretty hard to do.

A book recommended by barista: Random!

Hold on – looking for a barista. Contact me if you can suggest a good person or received a great recommendation!

A book recommended by a celebrity: “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn

Summary from Amazon: Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I’m not sure if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but I’ll let it slide, Amazon. Anderson Cooper and I have a close and personal relationship, and he told me once over a cup of Chai Latte on the streets of Paris that I should read this novel. Andy, I hear you now. Will I like it? I don’t know; the ‘suspense’ is killing me 😉

 

A book by a Canadian author: “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel

Summary from Amazon: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

Canadian, ey? JOKES! I honestly don’t know what a Canadian accent sounds like, but I bet Canadians are super nice. I always thought of this novel as a kid’s book because of the cover, which is why I stayed away from it. However, people have been telling me to read this, so I will. Guess I’ll see the movie after.


A book you (should have) read in high school: “The Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad

How dare you, Random House! Of course I’ve read–well, kind of-not-really–OKAY! You caught me, sneaky publishing house. I’ve perused HoD and watched the totally tripping movie version, but I’ll try and get a closer reading of it when I have the time.

From Amazon: Heart of Darkness tells of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, who journeys into the heart of the African continent to discover how the enigmatic Kurtz has gained power over the local people.

A book you would have picked up as a teenager:  “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens

Summary from Goodreads: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

A book “everyone” but you has read:  “Lord of the Ring” series by J.R.R. Tolkien

At first I wanted to read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, but then I decided against it. “Everyone,” in that case, only applies to the female population. My next choice is the LoTR. I used to be a total “Harry Potter” snob. I said, “No, HP is the best!” (Not that it’s a bad thing, but now that I think about it, that assumption sounds so narrow-minded. Luckily no one punched me.) I’ve grown out of that phase and now I want to go back and read what everyone seemed to obsess over in middle school and high school. I saw the movies–fantastic–but I admit I still don’t understand the whole evil eye thing.

I really hope I can complete this challenge. Rereading this post, I’m getting excited about buying and borrowing these books! And you’ll be glad to know that I am sticking with printed books. Reading on e-readers actually cause strain on my eyes. Also, e-readers cannot replace the sensation of paper between your fingers.

Now, I am curious…what will you read? Comment below, you brave souls who stuck around.

Many of these images were found using Creative Commons

Disenchanted, but not giving up

Want to be as happy as this kid? Join The Mirror. That’s Luigi DiMeglio, by the way; he’s the chief copy editor. See? Copy editing can be fun. Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

I’ve always been ambitious, particularly with journalism.

When I arrived at Fairfield University, I knew I wanted to major in journalism. I joined The Mirror, the student newspaper, right off the bat, and eagerly approached the editors with my ideas and comments. The entertainment editor seemed to notice my willingness to take part in the newspaper and he took me under his wing. I learned all about layout and news design from him, and then picked up more skills from my journalism courses. I rose from a contributing writer to assistant entertainment editor, and then, as a sophomore, I became the director of the entertainment section. Using the skills that I picked up freshman year, I tried my best to establish a standard for the entertainment section. I attempted eye-catching designs and longer feature pieces that tested the writer’s skills.

Examining past issues of The Mirror, I consider our recent issues to be so much more comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing than the previous years. We’ve been getting praises from administration, students and faculties, and they are saying the same thing. We’re doing a great job so far. I can accurately say that the editors at The Mirror are incredibly humbled by and proud of their work. Even though we complain about our miserable lives in the office on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings, we love working at the newspaper. Honestly, why else would we subject ourselves to torture every week. We can’t say it’s because of the pay, because, right now, we have no pay. That’s right. We have no external motivation to keep doing this, besides the fact that we love this. We love the environment. We love putting together a paper within 24 hours.

Now, that I’ve been executive editor/vice president of The Mirror for almost a year, I’ve noticed how much my attitude toward everything has changed. Instead of being preoccupied by my own success, I now worry about the legacy of The Mirror. What’s going to happen after our staff is gone? Honestly, I want to view newcomers to The Mirror as potential Mirror editors, and yet, right now, I don’t have much faith. I’m being honest. Maybe a bit harsh, but I’m not trying to distort reality. The journalism bug is not biting the writers.

At some point in the beginning of the semester, I wanted to just give up on journalism. Martin (the editor-in-chief) and I announced a news writing workshop for beginners and for people who just want to refresh their writing skills. I eagerly trekked from Dolan Hall to The Mirror office in the rain. I couldn’t wait to see who’d show up.

No one came.

This was utterly disappointing. I couldn’t believe that students could be so disinterested in journalism. I thought, “What’s the point?”

But I’m definitely not the type of person to give up. My mom and dad would seriously kick my ass because they didn’t raise a pessimistic daughter. They’ve raised a warrior.

So, I constantly ask myself: Why?

My awesome colleagues also contributed to reasons why people don’t often choose the newspaper as their first priority at Fairfield University.

Reasons

  • Being a part of The Mirror is just not worth it.

Talk about a stab in the heart. It’s not worth it to gain real-world experience in the field of journalism? It’s not worth it to hone your writing so that you can communicate effectively? It’s not worth it to learn design and editing skills from experienced editors? Oh yeah, it’s definitely not worth it.

C’mon. Picture this: On your résumé, you can put that you’ve written over 60 articles for an award-winning college newspaper throughout your college career. You can say that you’ve designed this and that. You can say that you were able to balance working in a newsroom and typical college workloads. You can say, to potential employers, that you’ve put together a newspaper from scratch.

  • There’s no incentive in writing for The Mirror.

See the first answer. But there are plenty of incentives. You can get paid, for example, if you’re consistent with your work and apply to be a staff writer or an editor. You get a lot of experience. You get to meet people who are passionate about journalism. You are more than likely to get extra credit in journalism courses. You can impress your peers, professors and family. The list goes on and on. Search for what you believe to be the right incentive and believe that it’s enough to get you involved with this newspaper.

  • I’m just not good enough.

Bullshit. You have something to give us. We know you do, and we want you to give us everything that you’ve got. Do you have an opinion that you just want to get out there? Write for the opinions section. Think you know politics? Impress us with your expertise. Do you have the uncanny ability to spot errors? Copy edit the absolute shit out of our shit. We need your help.

  • It requires too much work.

Don’t even start with me. That’s a cop-out, and it’s a cop-out that we absolutely abhor. I don’t know, but maybe students forget that the editors at The Mirror are students, too, and have their own share of vigorous workloads. And yet, they still manage to come out here and crank out an issue each week. I can honestly say that managing The Mirror and school work is doable. You just have to look hard at your schedules. Instead of, say, taking a two-hour nap when you could be writing an article, take a 15-minute nap, and then work on Mirror business. Work out a schedule with The Mirror editors. I think we’re pretty flexible. Co-write an article and share your load with someone you trust. Please, just don’t tell us that you have too much work, because it’s an insult to yourself and an insult to The Mirror editors as students.

  • The Mirror is too cliquey.

Okay. If someone said this to me two years ago, I’d laugh. As a freshman, I never truly connected with the editors and other writers. I was too scared. The editors seemed to have their own inside jokes and conversations, and I always felt left out. Now that I am a part of the Mirror ‘culture,’ I can say that The Mirror is a bit of a clique. But not in the “Mean Girls” type of way, because we’re all so very different. What I mean to say is that we are not totally inclusive. We are close in the sense that we’re stuck in the office together from Tuesday afternoon to (often times) Wednesday mornings. We go through the same struggles and have the same complaints. How can we not be a close-knit group after all of this?

If you’re willing to stick with us on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we consider you an official Mirrorite (the term is still being considered). If you write for us consistently and drop by to say ‘hi’ once in a while, you’re a Mirrorite.

  • Not a lot of people seem to do it.

This is true. In the beginning of the year, we had about 60 people crowded into our small Mirror office. There were people standing outside of the office, listening in. Sadly, however, the number has dwindled to the point that our Wednesday meetings consist only of the editors. We’re trying our best to keep students’ interest. I mean, we’re not scary. Are we? Sure, the editor-in-chief has a mohawk and a wild beard, but he’s chill…

To end this:

I’m still here, at the newspaper. The editors are trudging along. We get by, because we know that despite the lack of contributors, that doesn’t mean we can’t get an issue out. But I know that we can’t last this long. We need students. Like I said, I am not a pessimist, so I am hoping that in the future The Mirror will get the attention that it deserves and people will throw themselves into the awesome world of journalism. We are not giving up.

What a hell of a ride: Will Write for Food fun

This past Labor Day weekend, I returned to Hollywood, Fla. to participate in Will Write for Food. For this Society of Professional Journalists-sponsored event, 22 college journalists from across the nation gathered in the COSAC homeless shelter to report on the homeless community and produce a 24-page special edition of Homeless Voice, the second largest homeless newspaper in the United States. 

Instead of contributing as a writer, I came back as the Editor-in-Chief. Oh boy, did I put myself through hell.

When I first talked to Gideon Grudo, the EIC for Will Write for Food 2011, I felt as if I was in over my head. Yet, I also thought, “This is my time. I can do it.” So, I said to Gideon Grudo that I would not cry during my time as Editor-in-Chief. He said he wanted me to cry.

I’m still not sure if he was serious or not.

Luckily, people, I did not cry. Yes, there were multiple times when I wanted to rip out my hair because writers weren’t turning in their stories on time. Yes, there were times when I wanted to sink into the floor because of the questions that I didn’t know the answers to. However, I somehow made it through.

It’s surprising how much you can get from just 36 hours of journalism.

Here’s what I learned:

Passion matters.

Photo by Loan Le.

Journalists who apply to this program need to be crazy about what they are doing.

Why else would Andrew Sheeler (WWFF 2011) choose to sit in a mental ward for hours and hours after flying from Alaska on a 14-hour ride, just to write a story?

Why else would Christopher Witten, a senior at The University of Memphis, sleep on the streets of Florida, risking the possibility of getting arrested?

Why else would Jane McInnis, University of South Florida St. Petersburg senior, follow a vendor selling Homeless Voice in the hot and humid afternoon heat in Hollywood, Fla.? She only got nine dollars from all of this.

I occasionally think that my peers are losing faith in journalism, just because of how much it is changing and how stark some of the job opportunities are. Yet, I strongly believe that the journalists who participated this year have experienced either a revival or a boost in their enthusiasm for journalism, and it was wonderful watching how much they enjoyed this time.

The advisers of this program should also be recognized because they took the time out of their busy lives to help college journalists produce this paper. Their advice was invaluable.

This was one of the scariest things that I have done.

(Besides spending a night at the Broward County homeless shelter for a night)

Photo by Mike Rice/WWFF Photo Adviser

Michael Koretzky, director of this odd program, said that my role as editor would be the least powerful out of all the roles. I had thought: “Good. I’m not ready for that much power, anyways.”

Even though Koretzky said otherwise, I still felt like I had a lot of power, and I wanted to use it wisely. I wanted to act fairly and efficiently.

At one point, we had to decide what we would do for the cover story. The art director had taken a cool and impressive photo using double exposure. It looked like something out of a Time magazine. The only problem I had with that photo was that the story attached to it wasn’t very well written. Yet, when the time came to decide, I agreed with the other staffers that we should run that story and the photo. I let my decision be made by the art.

Immediately, I realized my mistake. I couldn’t let that happen, not when I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the end product. Gathering all the gut that I had, I shut the door to our meeting room and turned around. All eyes were on me. I hoped that they wouldn’t notice I was shaking (They did.) I told the staff about my reservations, and they all listened intently.

Koretzky sent me any email after all of this was done:

“You got overwhelmed at distinct moments and showed no fear — even though you felt it. During the photo confrontation, your hands actually started shaking. But you plowed ahead.”

I have a backbone.

I don’t care if people see that I am scared; what matters is that they know that I can get past it no matter what. My mom didn’t raise a coward.

What I can give.

Surprisingly enough, in the past two years of being part of The Mirror, we have never used a budget line.Yeah, some journalists might think, “Are you serious?” Well, yes. We used to keep simple story lists on Google Docs and somehow managed to keep track of everything without needing a budget line. I didn’t know when The Mirror stopped using budget lines; I’m sad that this happened.

I’m bringing back budget lines at my newspaper. It’s in progress now. I don’t know how we survived without them in the last few year. I’ve talked to my staff, gave them a rundown, and everything is going smoothly so far.

More people should take part in this program.

The experience of working on this special edition of Homeless Voice created a bond for the journalists, who before Saturday, never even met each other. It’s the fact that college journalists would voluntarily chose to give up their Labor Day weekend to work at a shelter that makes our group special. It’s good to know that these journalists still exist.

Check out more of the participants’ hard work.

  • Dori Zinn, Society of Professional Journalists blogger (S. Florida chapter), made an awesome Storify of the behind-the-scenes action.

[View the story “Will Write For Food” on Storify]

  • Will Write for Food Tumblr with more photos
  • PDF of the final product: