Growing up in the area of the quaint, suburban waterfront town of Gig Harbor, it seems as though I sometimes live out my days in a routine, monotonous manner. Gig Harbor is a very homogeneous town, according to the U. S. Census Bureau, which states that three-fourths of the city’s population is Caucasian. It is for this reason that I have always wondered what it would be like to meet teenagers who have grown up in communities other than the Gig Harbor and peninsula area, or in communities outside Washington state. Last March, I was fortunate enough to have my thoughts answered.

Cassandra Kapp, right, in front of the White House with
the Tennessee representative, Caitlin Lindstrom.
Photo courtesy Cassandra Kapp

As the recipient of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Journalism Award, I traveled to Washington, D.C. along with 101 other student journalists (one male and female from each state and D.C.) to meet with journalists and newsmakers during a conference program.

Although the guest speakers and journalism workshops taught me more than I ever could have imagined, my most life-changing experience was meeting those fellow high school journalists from across the country. Nearly one-third of the student journalists were minorities.

The convention was only five days. However, this was enough time for me to form a very strong bond with the “free sprits.” These kids opened my eyes to the rest of the world, showed me the true meaning of hardwork and dedication, and were the most multifaceted students I have ever met.

The male representative from Mississippi was African-American. He had grown up in one of the poorest cities in the nation and decided to develop a newspaper at his school in order to keep himself busy and out of trouble. He described the blatant racism he encounters in the South. Kids at his school accessorize their cars’ rearview mirrors with mini-lynches. He even witnessed part of a Ku Klux Klan meeting before he “got the heck out of there.” The other Southern students agreed that obvious racism ran rampant at their schools as well.

One of the girls was trilingual and will be attending Harvard University this fall. The boy from Alaska lived two hours away from civilization. Another girl lived through Hurricane Katrina and had to survive on packaged meals for several weeks. The girl from New York City had never driven a car. The boy from Wisconsin would go out “cow tipping” on the weekends. One girl was getting ready for her debutante ball. There were liberals from California and conservatives from Nebraska.

The “free spirits” and I would get in arguments about silly topics, such as what is the correct term for a carbonated beverage. The kids from the Northeast and California swore by “soda,” while the West and Midwest went by “pop,” and the South referred to it as “Coke.”

We were all so different, but yet were bound together by one thing: our love for journalism and the power to change the world, one word at a time.

Today, more than two months after the convention, I am still in contact with many of the “Free Spirits.” With some, I have developed lifelong bonds and I know I will be meeting many of them later in my journalism career.

I urge Key Peninsula students to travel outside of Washington state, whether it is for college or vacation, in order to meet a diversity of people, learn about unfamiliar situations, and possibly, to create lifelong friendships.

Cassandra Kapp is a 2007 graduate of Peninsula High School and the outgoing co-editor-in-chief  of the PHS newspaper “The Outlook,” where she won numerous awards. She will continue her journalism career this fall at Northwestern University in Illinois.

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