Sterling High School senior Grace Rowland received one of the top honors a high school journalist can earn Feb. 15. She was named Kansas Scholastic Press Association Class 1A/2A Kansas Journalist of the Year.
Journalism adviser Todd Vogts told Rowland about her victory via telephone due to school not being in session that day.
“When I got the call that I had won, I was shocked,” Rowland said. “I was completely expecting to not be picked at all, and when I figured out I had won, I was speechless. It is truly an amazing aware, and I am so honored that my work had been chosen to represent students in the 1A/2A category.”
Vogts said he found out about Rowland’s win on Feb. 13.
“It was so hard to keep it to myself,” he said. “I wanted to tell her right away because I knew how much it would mean to her, but I had to wait so all the winners in all the categories could be told at the same time. I just wish we had school that day so I could have told her in a larger way.”
In order to win the award, Rowland had to submit an essay and create a portfolio of all her journalistic work. This was then submitted to judges, who determined she was the top student journalist in Class 1A/2A.
Preparing the contest entry materials was no small feat.
“It took me almost the entire Christmas break to complete the basic formatting of the website and then the rest of January to perfect it and add more details,” Rowland said. “I wanted to make sure that my portfolio had my best work incorporated in it, so I spent a lot of time searching for my best images, designs and stories.”
Rowland’s portfolio received high praise for her design and photography skills, but the judges also seemed to appreciate the fact she interned at the Sterling Bulletin.
“It’s so great seeing good, down-home community journalism,” one judge wrote. “Clearly, the student got a lot of experience interning at the local paper and probably learned a whole lot about her community.”
A second judge agreed.
“The internship at the professional newspaper is definitely a plus on your side,” wrote the judge. “Plus, you did actual things, rather than watched.”
Rowland said she thought her time with the Bulletin “helped my application stand out.”
“I am so thankful for the opportunity that I had to work there this summer,” she said. “I learned so many new things about journalism from Rene and the other ladies at the Bulletin that I have used this year as a journalist at school. Working at the Bulletin gave me great experience working as a journalist in a real setting, and I am just thankful that they were so patient and willing to work with me to make me a better journalist.”
Rowland’s portfolio can be viewed at https://gracerowland520.weebly.com/.
Vogts said Rowland was his third student to earn the JOY designation after Kasady Smith’s 2015 win and Veronica Norez’s 2016 victory, and he said he was happy about her accomplishment.
“It is an incredible honor for her,” Vogts said. “Grace is an incredible young woman and a stellar journalist. She leads our yearbook, The Cub, and our magazine, The Cub Reporter, like a seasoned veteran. She is always positive and happy. Every day she comes into the class with a can-do attitude. She is a joy to work with, so it is fitting she is the JOY this year for 1A and 2A schools. She deserved it. I couldn’t be happier for her and prouder of her.”
Vogts said he also thought it was particularly neat that Rowland’s win occurred so close to the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Journalism Week, which runs Feb. 17-23 this year.
“It’s a national week that honors and highlights the work student journalists across the country do,” he said. “I know she didn’t win during the week, but we get to celebrate her victory during the official week. I think that’s pretty special.”
Besides receiving a plaque proclaiming her as the winner, Rowland will also receive a check for $750.
“The prize money is the least important part of the award to me,” she said, “but with the money I am going to put it toward my college education. It is definitely going to help with all of the expenses that are involved with college.”
Rowland will be attending Friends University in the fall where she plans to major in physical therapy and be on the track and field team, focusing on long jump and triple jump. However, she said she is keeping journalism in mind for her collegiate career as well.
“I think that even if I don’t end up majoring in it, it will be something that I can continue doing for my own enjoyment,” she said.
Rowland said she wants to stay involved with journalism in some capacity because of the impact it has had on her life.
“Being in journalism is something special,” she said. “I have learned so much in my four years from past editors and my adviser, Todd Vogts. I am so glad I took the chance at trying something that I had never done because I know for a fact that I would have regretted it. I had always been a very shy person, and coming into freshman year that was very true. As I started doing journalism classes, I started to get to know people better, and I got better at talking to people that I didn’t know. Journalism has given me confidence and has helped me grow into the person I am today. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
That was why Rowland said she entered the contest.
“I decided to apply because I remember getting to watch Veronica Norez receive the award my freshman year,” she said. “It was so amazing to watch her use everything she had worked for in her time with journalism, and to be able to showcase that with a portfolio. I decided that regardless of if I won or not I was going to have this amazing portfolio with all of my working in it, and it was going to be something that I would be able to hold on to forever.”
Rowland said she encourages other students to take part in journalism and aim for success.
“My advice for any future journalist is to never settle for being anything less than a great journalist,” she said. “Never settle for a mediocre story, interview, or picture, and never give up on yourself and where you want to be. Always be working toward becoming a better writer and photographer to become a stellar journalist. Journalism can teach you so many life lessons. Don’t be afraid of where it takes you.”