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It’s a special thrill when I get to work with kids who are writers. They bring unique insights into the essay process, they love to brainstorm, and they want to own every single word. Such was the case with David, a NYC-based private school senior.

David was a writer for his school newspaper. In the three years he had been on the paper, David filed stories which had been assigned to him. As a journalist for glossy magazines myself, I knew that the assigned pieces are the least interesting. After a while, David did what I had ended up doing for one of the magazines I had worked for – robotically reporting, writing, and filing. David was good at these stories, but he wanted a page 1 story, believing he had earned it. One fall day, David pitched a story to his editor about the New York City Marathon. He had heard that a few teachers and students at his school would be running in it. Good angle, a sports story in his wheelhouse, his first shot at something big. David was excited!

Rather than waking up early and going to the checkpoint of the marathon near his home, David was stretched out, on his couch, using the TV coverage to do his reporting for him. He never interviewed anyone, never took pictures, never witnessed firsthand the race. When he wrote and turned in the story, his editor was justifiably upset. The editor called David out, told him in no uncertain terms how wrong he was, and how disappointed he was. Rather than make excuses, David owned his laziness, and retreated back to assigned stories, tail firmly between his legs. “I sort of knew I would probably never get another chance again to write an A1 story.”

Over the next few months, David kept his head down, filed his stories, hoping that his editor might give him another chance. During that time, David did some reporting on his own. He had heard about some conservative students at the school complaining that they weren’t treated the same as liberal students were. David found a group of these kids and interviewed them about their experiences. Then he interviewed some of the liberal students, getting their “take” on things. Turned out David had a story!

Next, he approached his editor with all of the reporting he had done. David had names, pictures, quotes, and a great story. The editor was so impressed, he gave David the go ahead to write the story, and after a few revisions, it was published, on the front page! The reaction from the student body and faculty was extraordinary! David had learned many lessons, and gotten a great personal story out of it.

David, Cornell, Class of 2024