When Ashton Duncan, currently a junior at West High, found out she won the Al NeuharthFree Spirit award, she describes her reaction as “a lot of oh my god.”
The annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference program presents one high school senior from each state with a $1,000 college scholarship. In the summer, these students are invited to an all-expenses paid trip for a journalism conference at the Newseum inWashington D.C.
“I’ve never been to Washington D.C. before and I’m glad that I’m getting this opportunitybefore college,” Duncan said.
Duncan is currently the opinion editor of the West Side Story, the news publication atWest. Duncan was encouraged to apply when Sara Whittaker, her journalism advisor,mentioned it and posted information for the staff. The recipient last year was Eleanor Marshall, acurrent senior at West and editor-in-chief of the West Side Story.
“I think that being on the paper has helped me definitely engage in opportunities that Iwouldn’t have had if I stayed in my own bubble. There’s a certain diversity of personalities onstaff, and I think that journalism brings all those types of people together,” Duncan said.
Duncan hopes to pursue a career in journalism, but also wants to branch out and try a lotof different jobs as well.
“I don’t know if it will last the entirety of my life because I would like to do a variety ofthings. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on one thing but I think journalism is definitely something I willdo in the future.”
The Free Spirit program was started by Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today and theFreedom Forum, an organization dedicated to “free press, free speech and free spirit for allpeople.”
Students are chosen based on their ability to demonstrate qualities of a “free spirit” andtheir performance in the journalism community.This free spirit says that she likes to believe that everyone “has a story that they can tell.”
“Everybody has something unique about them, something that nobody else has and Ithink that sharing that with everybody else is cool,” Duncan said.
Favorite Ice Cream: Chocolate chip cookie dough
Favorite Artist/Band: Anberlin
Dream Vacation spot: London
Favorite Class: Brit Lit Honors
Person I look up to: Pretty much everyone. I’m kind of short
Favorite Breakfast food: Hash browns with Tabasco sauce
Favorite Movie: V for Vendetta
Favorite Actor: Misha Collins
Favorite Actress: Olivia Wilde
Dream School: University of Edinburgh
Dream Job: Novelist/ Globetrotter/professor/journalist
People would be surprised to know: My great something uncle invented the sewing machine
By Shirley Wang
Photo by Abbie Skemp