Area Student Attends Exclusive Forum

An area high school student with an interest in photojournalism got to see what the future may have in store for her.

Alexandra Harrison, who will be a senior at Maple Grove High School, spent a week at the Washington Journalism and Media Conference in Fairfax, Va.

The conference was hosted at George Mason University from July 7-12, and featured several faculty members, guest speakers and outings to nearby Washington, D.C. Students from across the country were selected to participate in the highly selective journalism forum. Alex was one of three students from New York state.

Since she began attending Maple Grove in ninth grade, Alex has been involved with the Bemus Point Central School District’s newsletter and yearbook as the school’s official photographer.

“I didn’t get the title of school photographer until last year,” said Alex.

“Because I’ve taken pictures (for the school) last year and the year before, they’ve tried to get me more involved (with the newsletter),” she continued. “I’ve also written articles about spirit week and students who’ve won scholarships.”

According to Alex, her interest in photography came about as a way to connect with some of her artistic family members.

“My mom, grandma and aunt are all very artsy,” she said. “They all like drawing and painting, and I can’t do that. I”m not an artist. But I’ve always liked being behind a camera, and I felt being behind the camera was a way for me to be like them. I also like to write. I’ve been a creative writer, and I like to tell stories. By being a journalist, I can do that. I can travel the world and write about it. My goal, before I die, is to be a photographer for National Geographic.”

Because of her involvement in journalism and photography within her school district, Alex said she was nominated to attend the conference as a national youth correspondent by somebody at the school. Though she said she didn’t know who nominated her, she was more than willing to be a participant. The only thing standing in her way, however, was the $1,800 she would need for the tuition cost of attending.

Between March and May, Alex sought out assistance from the community in an attempt to raise some of the money.

“I got a lot of sponsors from the area to (help) send me there, because it was an expensive trip. I typed up a letter explaining who I am, and about the conference, and saying that I’m looking for donations,” she said.

Despite her parents’ offer to cover half the cost if she could raise the other half, Alex said she ended up raising the majority of the money herself. Alex said she received support from Shults Auto Group, Arby’s, Hansen Financial Group, the American Legion, Assemblyman Andy Goodell, B & L Wholesale and a personal donation from Lynn Cowan.

She was also able to save money on transportation costs by having her grandparents drive her to and from the conference.

Alex said the conference constituted approximately 245 people between students, faculty and guest speakers.

“There were speakers from all over the spectrum of journalism,” she said.

Among the guest speakers were: Carol Guzy, photographer for the Washington Post; Hoda Kotb, from the “Today Show” on NBC; Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent; Neil Leifer, sports photojournalist who has worked with magazines such as Sports Illustrated and TIME; and Kevin McCarthy, who is an entertainment reporter, film critic and alumnus of George Mason University.

Alex said Guzy’s presentation was the most memorable of the trip.

“She was by far my favorite,” said Alex. “She showed a lot of her award-winning images that she’d taken from 9/11, and the Berlin Wall when it was torn down. One of her assignments was a piece on pets after Hurricane Katrina. During her presentation, everybody in the audience was crying; including herself.”

Because of her participation in the conference, Alex has gained more than knowledge. Upon completion of the WJMC, she has earned one general elective college credit from George Mason University. Additionally, she was able to network with several of her peers, with whom she anticipates competing for jobs.

“It was nice to be able to meet students my age from all over the country, and be able to talk about problems from their areas. A lot of us came from small areas, and I’ve built several good friendships that I know will last a lifetime. Being able to be in a room of students that share my interests, and talk about what we want to do and have people understand why, is unbelievable to me because there’s not a lot of people who want to make a career out of photography,” she said.

To learn more about the Washington Journalism and Media Conference, go to its website at wjmc.gmu.edu. To see video from the conference, visit www.facebook.com/WJMC.Mason.