Meghan Morris graduates from Conestoga High School Tuesday night. But she's already taught her fellow students and the school board some valuable lessons about scholastic journalism and freedom of the press.
Morris has been named Student Journalist of the Year by Youth Journalism International "for her dedication to press freedom and high quality work."
The non-profit organization based in Connecticut describes itself as "an educational, public charity that connects teen writers, artists and photographers with peers around the globe, teaches journalism, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and promotes and defends a free youth press."
It was Meghan Morris' efforts to defend a free press, along with her writing talents, that earned her the prestigious award. The story of her award began two years ago when she was a sophomore, in her second year as a reporter with The Spoke, Conestoga's award-winning student newspaper.
"We had a slight issue two year ago when the board looked to change our governing policy. But through negotiations we were able to change that policy so we do not have any issues now and our relationship with the administration is very good."
Morris said she got involved when "the school board was running a routine review of policies relating to students and they changed the 86-word policy that had been in place from 1994 governing student publications to originally seven pages of language including things such as it's the advisor's job to promote a favorable image of the school district and other clauses that were not in line with current student press rights."
The experience at Conestoga prompted her to get involved on a national level. "I lead a national board called 45 Words. That stands for the 45 words of the First Ammendment and that's a national board of students throughout the country helping to work with other students. We present at national conventions, we run booths and put together on line resources as well for students facing censorship," Morris explained.
It was not just her work advocating for a free student press that earned Morris the Student Journalist of the Year Award. It was also her writing and work as co-editor-in-chief of The Spoke.
"I submitted a whole portfolio. Some of the feaured articles in that were some of the interviews with higher profile people such as former Gov. Ed Rendell, it was really a look back at my entire journalism career as a high school student."
As a sophomore Morris wrote a story about concerns over concussions and student athletes before the issue had received national attention and more focused policy guidelines from school districts.
"My junior year, along with my co-editor-in-chief, I wrote a story about religion in high school and that won the 2010 National Scholastic Press Association Diversity Story of the Year honorable mention, one of the top six in the country. I also included photography and design work in my portfolio," she explained.
"I started out as a reporter my freshman year and the newspaper was not my biggest activity then, I was very into my sports. But as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of journalism through some investigative reporting, through some features reporting... I decided to pursue it full time next year as a student at Northwestern, Medill School of Journalism.
“Journalism allows me to tell stories that might otherwise not be told,” Morris said.
Morris also spent the past school year as Web director of The Spoke's online component Stoganews.com. The site, which is run completely by students on their own time and with their own resources from home, was also named as one of the top 36 on line scholastic news sites in the country by National Scholastic Press Association.
At age 17 Meghan Morris is now editor emeritus of The Spoke. "I've retired as editor-in-chief, but I'm still around to help my successors put out their first issue, and my last, really."
Her scholastic journalism career is not the only extra curricular activity Morris has been involved in. "I also participate in a lot of other activities from NHS (National Honor Society) to running cross country and track (Morris is one of the track team captains), and Young Life. But Spoke has really been the defining experience of the last four years for me."
The new student managers of The Spoke clearly have some big shoes to fill. But after a year of working under Meghan Morris and Co-Editor Liz Bravacos and with guidance from Faculty Advisors Susan Houseman and Cynthia Crothers-Hyatt they'll have a pretty good lead for the story of their year publishing The Spoke.