Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hot off the press!

Read the entire 2012 edition of The Princeton Summer Journal here.

What do people in New York know about Sikhs? Not a lot, SJP reporters discovered

This article was written by Makenna May and Laura Nunez, and reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal.

The Aug. 5 attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was the latest incident in a decade-long pattern of anti-Sikh discrimination. Since 9/11, American Sikhs have been routinely labeled as Muslims; in the three months following the terrorist attacks, Sikhs suffered more than 300 incidents of harassment, according to the Sikh Coalition, an activist group.
 
Eleven years later, Sikhism remains badly misunderstood. Several days after the Wisconsin shooting, the Princeton Summer Journal asked approximately 260 people in and around New York’s Central Park several basic questions about Sikhism. The results suggest that, even in America’s most cosmopolitan city, people remain by and large woefully ignorant about the world’s fifth largest religion.
 
Elizabeth, 44, who majored in religious studies, gave a typical response when asked to define Sikhism. “I want to say it is a form of Hinduism,” she replied. In fact, two-thirds of those interviewed did not know what Sikhism is—and, of the entire group, only 36 people could name a salient fact about what the religion’s adherents believe. (Our standards for this last question were extremely lenient: Acceptable answers ranged from the name of the Sikh holy scripture to “people with hairy faces and things on their heads.”)
 
When asked to identify Sikhism, many confused it with other faiths. “They believe in Allah,” offered 59-year-old Janelle. “It’s like a branch of the Muslim religion,” said Joseph, 34. One 36-year-old man guessed, “Maybe Buddha ... close to Christianity.” A middle-aged woman named Susan ventured that Sikhism was based “in a yoga studio.” Hannah, a 26-year-old from New Jersey, didn’t bother faking it. “I’m into fashion,” she said. “I really don’t know anything.”
 
To be sure, the vast majority of those who knew what Sikhism is correctly stated that it is connected to India. And some respondents did know quite a bit more: Rachnaa Baral, 44, invoked the Sikh mantra “to live life in a more disciplined and tolerant manner.” Elizabeth Whitman, 22, knew that the faith was monotheistic, and founded in the 15th century.
 
Sikhs wear turbans, but they are not Muslim; their faith hails from India, but they’re not Hindu. Indeed, Sikhs have long struggled to distinguish themselves from other religions prevalent in northern India’s Punjab region. Granted, Sikhism was heavily influenced by Hinduism and Islam: Sikhism’s first Guru, or holy teacher, was born a Hindu, and Sikh scripture includes Muslim teachings. But Sikhism is not merely an offshoot of its forebears.

Sikh articles of faith, for instance, embody several distinct principles. To prove their absolute acceptance of God’s creations, Sikhs typically do not cut their hair, but instead keep it in turbans or in braids, which in turn embody discipline and cleanliness. And rather than follow a single prophet, Sikhs seek instruction from ten Gurus, who emphasize the importance of personal purity and self-discipline. Finally, where Hinduism is pantheistic, and Muslims worship Allah, Sikhs believe in a universal but more amorphous deity. "Everything is included in this one divine being," says Nikky-Guninder Singh, a professor of religion at Colby College. “You are not excluding anybody, not somebody of a different complexion. There is no fear of the other.”
 
In a case that took place days after 9/11, a Sikh in Arizona was killed by someone seeking to “shoot a Muslim.” Government agencies haven’t been immune to prejudicial behavior, either. After the World Trade Center attacks, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority began preventing turbaned employees from working in public unless they branded their turbans with the MTA logo. (The policy was recently ruled illegal after a Sikh subway operator won a suit against the MTA.) “Our identity matches what is held up to knit the social imagination of what to be afraid of,” said Sikh-American activist Valarie Kaur in an interview. “It’s beards and turbans and dark skin, and it marks us as automatically suspect ... and potentially terrorist.”
 
Sikhism is not exactly a new phenomenon in the United States. Sikhs began emigrating to America around the turn of the 20th century, and now number around 300,000, although estimates vary. What, then, accounts for widespread ignorance about Sikhism? According to Kaur, much of the blame lies at the feet of schools and universities. "You can go through every level of education and never hear the word ‘Sikh’ or ‘Sikhism,’” she said, adding that, when studying at Stanford, she had to create her own Sikhism course.
 
Raminder Singh Bindra, the educational director for a Sikh temple in Lawrenceville, didn’t disagree, but said that his own community bears some of the blame too. “We haven’t done a good job of telling other people about ourselves,” Bindra said. Before 9/11, “we just didn’t even think about it.”
 
Bindra is gamely planning school presentations and educational videos. Vigils at his temple and all across the country have drawn thousands of mourners. But if a recent incident is any indication, American Sikhs still face an uphill battle. Just days after the Wisconsin attack, according to Kaur, a Sikh taxi driver was driving home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where the shooting took place. The man in the car next to him motioned for him to roll down his window, formed a gun with his hand, and warned, “This isn’t over.”
 
Some of those interviewed in New York were angry about the shooting and general lack of decency directed towards Sikhs. “Thinking one race is better than the other, it’s coming out of hatred and ignorance,” said one man. Others were simply embarrassed about their lack of knowledge. “We’re very uneducated," Mary, 50, said. "I feel very silly."

When a hospital exits a low-income neighborhood, what happens to local residents?

This article was written by Lorena Aviles, Delia Beristain, Stephanie Frescas and Angela Kim, and reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal.
 
Long before it opened this past May, the new campus of the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro was already turning heads. In 2009, a health care staffing company called Soliant Health ranked the hospital the 16th most beautiful in the United States—based only on the building’s architectural plans. 
 
Meanwhile, the building attracted rave reviews from the local press. The Trenton Times described the new facility as a place “that aims to promote healing through conscientious design.” The Star-Ledger headlined an article on the move: “A hotel-like hospital in Princeton health network brings comfort to its first patients.” 
 
Many local residents have been equally impressed. “This hospital is like a five-star hotel,” marveled Gloria Martinez, who was escorting her friend to the clinic on a recent weekday afternoon. 
 
And moving the hospital has had undeniable benefits. The state-of-the-art $447 million building—located along Route 1 in Plainsboro—is closer to 70 percent of its patients than the old facility in the Witherspoon neighborhood of Princeton. Visits to the outpatient clinic at the hospital—a facility on which many low-income patients rely for medical care—are up slightly since the hospital moved, according to Lillian Arriola, the clinic’s senior secretary.
 
But amidst all the plaudits and improvements, and even as the hospital serves more low-income patients overall, one question has gone largely unexamined: What about the mostly lowincome community the hospital left behind in the heart of Princeton?
 
When the hospital moved, it made several accommodations designed to ease the transition for the residents of the Witherspoon community, especially those for whom the hospital was a key source of primary care.
 
It left behind a community information center, and it agreed to pay for New Jersey Transit bus tickets so that residents could travel to the new hospital without having to pay the $1.50 fare. (The tickets are available at the information center.) The hospital also donated $200,000 toward the operation of the buses, according to Pam Hersh, vice president for government and community affairs at the company that owns the hospital.
 
Last week, The Princeton Summer Journal canvassed the Witherspoon neighborhood, speaking to 70 local residents to find out how the hospital’s move had affected them. More than half were not aware that the information center was available, and a significant majority did not know there was free transportation to the hospital. 
 
Hersh said the hospital has used various outreach measures to notify community members of both the transition and the transportation. “Advertising of the free bus tickets was extensive—in Spanish newspapers, at the churches, at the library, local newspapers, radio spots, Princeton Human Services Commission, presentations to community [groups] beginning one year before the move,” Hersh wrote in an e-mail, adding that letters went out twice to all patients who use the outpatient clinic. 
 
Maria Conde, an employee at the information center, estimated that about 100 people visit it per week, and six or seven free bus tickets are handed out. But of the 24 people in the Witherspoon neighborhood Princeton Summer Journal reporters  spoke to who had visited the new hospital, only 10 were aware of the  free transportation. 
 
When a group of Princeton Summer Journal reporters visited the hospital at 6:15 p.m. on a bus labeled  NJT 655, they recorded a travel time of 13 minutes and 24 seconds, with minimal traffic. It took about six  additional minutes to walk from the bus stop to the public entrance. 
 
Speaking about the residents of the Witherspoon community, Conde said, “A lot of them cannot transport  themselves, and they hate the bus because they have to carry their kids—it’s a hassle.” 
 
Residents of the community pointed to other problems related to the move. Vandyke Grant, a Witherspoon resident and former hospital employee, said, “Since the hospital moved, it changed the community. We’re hurting. The economy has suffered since the hospital left. People who are elders now have to catch the bus if they get sick.” 
 
Just a few doors down, Grover Tash, a 93-year-old man with a soft voice, hearing problems and critical heart conditions said, “I was not in favor of the move. I think it was a farce.” 
 
One possible solution would have been to leave a  small medical clinic at the old hospital site. Liz Lempert, deputy mayor of Princeton Township, said the local government is working to determine the percentage  of local residents who use the new hospital. She said that if there is a drop off in the percentage of people from the old outpatient clinic who now use the hospital they will consider proposing a clinic in the Witherspoon  area. 
 
Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and an expert on  healthcare economics, said, “I am disappointed that they didn’t leave a clinic. It would be nice to have ... just an outreach clinic with a nurse and doctor.”
 
One Witherspoon neighborhood resident said that “it seems like the dumbest thing in the world” to move the hospital “and not leave some kind of support here.” 
 
Another resident, a diabetic man who recently had a toe amputated, said he now has to walk to the bus  stop twice a week, then from the drop-off at the hospital to the clinic entrance. The relocation “hindered us, because it’s too far away,” he said in Spanish. 
 
“The idea of moving was good for the hospital,” said Juan Francisco, another  Witherspoon resident, “but bad for the community.”
 
Read the entire 2012 edition of The Princeton Summer Journal here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Farewell to SJP

By Darquis Williams (Memphis, TN)

There is only one day left at SJP. This has been an outstanding experience. Throughout this program, I gained immense real life experience in journalism. We sat in on a town hall meeting, which was extremely fun. Interviewing people in NYC and Councilman Liverman were some of the most exciting parts of the program. The speakers were amazing but the discussions between the counselors and students were even better. SJP was extremely humbling, and it has been a miraculous ten days. It seems like it was just yesterday when we first walked onto campus.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dear SJP 2012,

By Melina Torres (SJP '10)

These past 10 days have been just as amazing and memorable for the counselors as it has been for the students. I am sad that I didn’t get to say my proper goodbyes to many of you (please keep in touch). I truly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of you. And I am still amazed that we had so many awesome students in one setting. But really, it doesn’t surprise me at all.

In my 19 years, I have done several programs and met interesting people, but they don't compare to SJP. It will always have a special place in my heart for the life-long friends I’ve made and for everything that it’s done for me. I hope you all know that you are now part of a very tight-knit network and family (cult, if you wish…JOURNALISM!). As the last day of the program wraps up (and I assure you: there will be tears), look forward to months and months of collaboration with your mentors (which you will find tiresome at times, yet rewarding in the end.) Personal narratives when written with utmost sincerity and self-reflection are hard to do. At least for me that is. During the college admissions process, my mentors played an important role in my life. It is my wish that all of you have the same positive experience.

You will also have lots of support from your fellow SJPers who are going through the same process. SJP ’10 (my year) maintained a message forum on Facebook, one that was less intense, and more supportive and helpful than something like College Confidential.

I am now fortunate to attend Yale with other SJP alum who I’ve become very close friends with and have given me the unique type of support that is typical of SJP. I can honestly say that I’ve had the time of my life during my first year of college (which is something you can all look forward to!) But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve encountered some rough-patches here and there. Transitions from high school to college are easier for some than others. While things have been hectic at times, I’ve realized that I’m finding my way. And growing as a person is what college is all about!

Returning to SJP as a counselor has been one of the most rewarding things yet (and I hope to come back again!). I look forward to being a source of support in the upcoming months and working with some of you on college applications. I don’t know if you realize this, but being a counselor has been as reassuring and inspiring as being a student. It’s not everyday that you find a group of teens who are interested in your story and your experiences. Your passion and desire to make this world a better place assures me that our generation will do great things.

Having said that, I look to my second year of college with optimism and fierce motivation. I had forgotten what it was like to work in a newsroom filled with diverse and downright fun individuals. I floated around this past school year trying to find my perfect niche. And now, I’m determined to find a publication that encompasses the ideals and environment of SJP. Until next time! #PUSJP ‘12

Denials and departures

By Karen Oropeza (Fort Worth, TX)

“I am so glad you come home in two more days,” my mom said to me eagerly last night during our conversation. “No, I don’t mom.” I replied. “I return in three days." Instantly, I held my breath and a silent moment followed. I gathered my thoughts and questioned myself, “What day is it today?” Caught up in workshops, writing, and conversations with fellow SJP students, I realized I had lost track of the days, and now faced the reality that in just two more days, I would be packing my bags and returning to Texas. But to say simply that I was a part of workshops, writing, and conversations is an understatement.

I have become a part of a family that is incredibly diverse in cultural backgrounds, knowledgeable in an array of fields, but most importantly, highly passionate about their professions. What I have learned from the directors, guest speakers, and professionals is that passion drives success. Without passion, you lack initiative to work, research, or write.

My only desire is that someday—no matter what career I choose to pursue—I will be as passionate as the staff of SJP so that my audience, boss, students, or whomever it may be I work with, will be influenced by my work.

Being "SJP-sick"

By Marco Rivas

The fact that SJP is almost over makes me a bit sad.

I’m going to really miss everyone. I’ll miss the funny people, the shy people, the smart people, the silly people, everyone.

I think this really speaks to the type of people we all are. Amazingly, in just a week or so, I learned to enjoy everyone’s companionship, to the point where I find myself a little attached to that companionship. I enjoyed making the girls laugh, talking to the boys about “guy stuff,” and having purposeful conversations with the counselors. I enjoyed most of the food, Mexican, South Asian, Korean - yes, I’m excluding those edible heart attacks, which we called hoagies, from my list.

I’m also going to miss the smiles.

Even when everyone seemed exhausted, they would always have a great attitude and a gleaming smile on their faces. Those smiles varied, ranging from cute to dorky to funny, but they were all great. It’s really incredible to see people keep such optimism. We all feel tired and grumpy at times, even having the desire to go crazy early in the morning, but I’m sure that we all are grateful for our counselors for what they have done for us so far, and for what they will continue to do for us in the future.

The future… seems far, but I’m sure it’s not.

Good luck to every SJP student this year. Strive for greatness and success. I don’t necessarily mean taking 40 AP classes and getting a 9.0 GPA, although you should still try to challenge yourself. By striving for greatness and success, I mean doing whatever that makes you happy, because, after all, life is not about being the richest, the most popular, or the smartest, it’s about being happy. So do whatever it is that makes you happy.

Don’t feel that you need to be perfect. Be the greatest you can be, and then some. I hope you all get into great schools, ones that make you happy. I hope you meet many more wonderful people throughout the years. But, I also hope that we all keep in constant contact (although I know that we’re all going to be extremely busy with school, extra-curricular activities, college applications, and dealing with finances concerning college. After all, we’re “academic beasts”; we’re not content with being good, we all want to be great.)

To conclude, I know everyone has been saying that they are homesick, but I, on the other hand, have a feeling that I will be “SJP-sick” when I’m home. I love home, it’s irreplaceable, but SJP has become somewhat of a second home, a second family.

Priceless

By Lorena Aviles (Park City, IL)
“How much are humans worth? Give me a monetary answer,” asked Binyamin Appelbaum.
Absolutely priceless, I thought.
I have lived my entire life believing that a human life cannot be valued in terms of money or in terms of anything other than what it is: life. But on Tuesday, Appelbaum, a journalist for the New York Times, gave a presentation where he claimed that in the eyes of the government, each human life is worth $9.1 million. After hearing the “right” answer, I was very skeptical. What right does the government have to decide the value of life? It is an entity with the power to make laws, but not with the power to end lives.
In my opinion, every single life is worth preserving. No individual is worth more than another. It does not matter if the person is a criminal, a savior, or the person who cured cancer; all human life is priceless and must remain so.
Even though life is an incredible absurdity, life is priceless.

Past memories and tears

By Chemi Chemi (Brooklyn, NY)

Writing my personal narrative for the past few days has been quite a challenge. Every time I read it, the sentences seemed to drag themselves down to the core of my heart, and I ended up in tears.  Those words came alive in my mind, and the past memories grabbed me like never before. The essay reminded me of my struggles. This piece of writing translated exactly how I feel and reminded me of the reason for having faith in myself: the knowledge that I can make it no matter what comes along.

I thank the counselors who supported me - you guys made me feel like I am not alone. I feel very proud of completing both my opinion piece as well as my personal narrative. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my editors. I have also enjoyed every workshop, especially the one on journalism and law. I was just amazed to learn the correlation between the two subjects. During these past eight days, I have opened my eyes to things that I never realized were so important to society.

SJP ROCKS ALL THE WAY!!!

On the home stretch

By Delia Beristain (Fort Washington, MD)

Startled, I jumped out of bed and looked at the time: 7:45 a.m. I had became immune to the three alarms that have annoyed me into consciousness every morning for the past ten days. I quickly changed and headed to the third floor where we normally meet before going to breakfast. It was unbelievably quiet, and I held my breath for a few seconds as I tried opening the door to the common room, only to confirm it was locked.

I was struck with a sense of embarrassment for stupidly forgetting we had been given an additional hour of sleep since we stayed up late investing all our energy in the production of our articles. Unable to go back to sleep, I lay down on my bed almost accepting it would be a terrible day, for I had not been able to work on anything else other than the investigative report with not much clarification its purpose or its angle. Every time we acquired new information from the interviews and phone calls we made, the story seemed to take a slightly different path. 

The pressure of knowing we had a deadline made me feel like we were arduously working for an unknown authority figure whose face we had never seen but who still managed to provoke fear. It wasn't until around 6:00 pm that we had our first official draft, and it became clear that maybe I had underestimated this piece and, in consequence, underestimated my team and myself. 

Staying up until almost 4:00 am and waiting for our work to pass the last polishing stage was probably the most rewarding part of the process. I don't regret having spent a large amount of time on a piece of work that may not immediately pay off or be acknowledged by the public, but that gives me a feeling of fulfillment and pride. Now that I have passed this test, I am more aware of how to exploit my abilities.

The cliché

By David Peake (Chicago, IL)

Coming to Princeton’s Summer Journalism Program, I expected nothing but the best. When I finally made it to Princeton I didn’t get what I expected: I got something better.

After hearing people constantly say, “This program is so wonderful,” it became a cliché. But over time, I became a part of the cliché. “The program actually is wonderful,” often ran through my mind, while the other students and I walked to breakfast together. I felt a change after coming to Princeton’s program. In terms of journalism, I began to open my mind to new perceptions and even new concepts.

The counselors, the students, the speakers—what could I say? They were all fantastic. I’ll deeply miss them, especially the silly, the goofy, the fun, yet intellectual students. I don’t know if I’ll ever cross paths with the SJP students again. And if I don’t, just knowing I got to meet such wonderful people will suffice. Even though I won’t show it, I certainly know they’ll be missed.

As the plane takes off the runway headed towards Chicago, I’ll look down at Newark’s airport knowing I’ve met people who dedicated time, people who looked at things in a diverse way, and people who look forward to my success—but most of all I’ll know one thing: I’ve been to Princeton’s Summer Journalism Program.

Don't forget your commas!

By Kimberly Cionca (Bronx, NY)

One learns a lot in the newsroom. I’m not just referring to standard lessons on news writing or editing, but instead extremely eccentric ones.

For example, our counselor Chan taught me about the Oxford comma. For those who don’t know, it is a comma that precedes the last conjunction in a list.

I’m sure this will clarify any further uncertainties:
com/2011/09/20/strippers-jfk-
and-stalin-illustrate-why-you-should-use-the-serial-comma/

You probably didn’t see that coming your way.

While some people highly support the comma for additional clarity - such as The Chicago Manual of Style (2010) and our very own Richard Just - others think it’s unnecessary. Who ever said English was simple? So here’s my advice: have it your way.

Later, during my editing experience with Katie I learned of yet another odd, but strangely fascinating thing. Katie was editing my Op-Ed about feminism and the impact of a woman’s attire on the cause, which reminded her of a French festival. Brace yourself. In order to combat any prejudices directed toward females, girls in France are encouraged to wear exceptionally short skirts during the festival to make a statement.

Check it out for yourself. It’s referred to as Le Printemps de la Jupe et du Respect- Spring of the Skirt and Respect - or as I understand it, the French festival of skirts.

They always said effective teaching is fun.

If one thing is for sure, it’s that a day never goes by without learning something new here at SJP.

Racing to the finish line

By Makenna May (Coeur d'Alene, ID)

We sat crouched around the laptop, stared at the blank word document, and then turned to look at each other. One question loomed over our heads: where to begin? Laura and I faced a difficult task - writing a feature story about the confusion surrounding the Sikh religion. On Wednesday, our PSJ group had a goal: we wanted to find out just how many New Yorkers know about Sikhism. We wanted to investigate this because this issue is especially pertinent after the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin on last Sunday. We predicted that most Americans greatly misunderstand this religion, and our poll confirmed that notion.

Laura and I spent the afternoon in one of Princeton's beautiful auditorium-style classrooms, decorating a chalkboard with ideas, names, and questions regarding our story with the guidance of our counselor Simon. Hours vanished as we conducted phone interviews, scribbled notes, and drafted a first copy of our story. We worked late into the night, but as we walked back to our dorms, Laura and I felt a twinge of victory and a sweet foreshadowing of how proud we will feel when we complete our article and read it in print in just a few days. We are both excited about this piece because it offers us a chance to educate ourselves about a religion that, quite frankly, we didn't know much about. More importantly, we have the opportunity to teach our readers about Sikhism and reveal the misconceptions about this religion. We have the chance to truly embody journalism and use our power to represent a misunderstood minority.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we have taken the first couple of steps, and from here we will press onward. We await hours of proofreading, editing, and revision, but our determination to write an excellent story will carry us forwards over these next two days.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Deadlines and nap times

By Renan Meira (Queens, NY)



As SJP moves towards its final moments, I can feel a change in the mood of the newsroom. The tensions have risen as one of the most well-known monsters of journalism approaches: the deadline. Even though the effects of sleep deprivation are hard to beat, everybody has been working hard to get everything done on time and to prove how talented the SJP class of 2012 is.

Besides all the writing we still have to be ready to absorb the most information possible from all of our amazing guest speakers. To do so, a nap during our five minute breaks come in handy.

But I’m pretty sure that every minute of every hour will feel worthwhile once we get our hands on the final product of our work: The Princeton Summer Journal.

There is no better feeling than the gratitude you feel when you finish an endeavor, and I can’t wait for that moment to come.

Good luck, SJP’ers.

It's almost the end

By Laura Nunez (Los Angeles, CA)

I am really excited to see the final product of our newspaper. Makenna and I are working alongside Simon on a feature story about Sikhism and we have high expectations due to the amount of time and effort we have been putting into the piece. Everyone has been working diligently, typing away for more than five hours at a time. It is surprising how fast time passes by in the newsroom. Unfortunately the end of SJP has already crept upon me and I realize that despite sleep deprivation I really do not want this experience to end. I feel like I haven't reached out to my peers enough and that I'm rapidly running out of time.

Most importantly I fear that I won't hold myself accountable to following through with the resolutions I have made throughout this experience. I do not want the demands from school or from my family to interfere with my longing to learn more from those in my community. I want to continue reporting and writing, and maybe even start my own blog or publicize the one I keep secret.I have to make the time for what I love.

I really enjoyed yesterday's guest speaker Kristin Dombek. I felt like I could relate to her because she shared that she had a dificult time interviewing strangers. She also explained that the best stories are the ones that make us fearful of the responses. I believe that a good story is going to make people uncomfortable and ultimately as writers we can never satisfy everyone. Overall she was very insightful and humble, which made it a pleasure to participate in a discussion with her.

I guess for now I have to be grateful for the opportunities and experiences that SJP has offered, and come to terms with the end of my term here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Special collections


By Fonzy Toro (SJP 2010)

I’ve always had an interest in collections. Every piece in a collection contributes its own story and it holds a special value. The thought of having a whole collection was appealing because I was able to see the entire picture- with no missing puzzle pieces.

When I was four, my cousin told me that he was going to start a US state quarter collection. That afternoon I went to my mom so that I could check her purse and start a collection of my own. I wanted to be like him (let it be known that he stopped his collection at the fourth quarter once the ice cream truck came along and I obsessively finished in 2009 when the final state quarters were made)

At five years old, I grew an obsession with McDonalds toys. Every Friday, I would tell my dad to take me to the nearest McDonalds after he received his paycheck so that I could complete my collection of these plastic pieces of joy. The excitement I would feel when opening a happy meal box has no comparison. When I would get a toy I already had, well, lets just say I wasn’t a happy kid.

Yesterday as I stared at one of my peers’ navy blue Princeton Summer Journalism Program shirt, I realized that the beauty of a collection does not lie in the completion of the collection. Sure, the feeling of success one receives at the end of a collection is wonderful, but it only lasts a few days. Yes collections are nice to look at, but this excitement ends as soon as the last puzzle piece is connected. I have always been so caught up with the final full collection, that I did not realize that I found most joy in the quests.

Hopping on the train

By Tashi Shuler-Drakes


“There has to be a mistake…There is no way this was meant for me, maybe they wrote the wrong name,” I thought as I read the e-mail inviting me back to Princeton as a counselor.

I remember thinking the same exact thing my junior year of high school when I first became affiliated with SJP. Doubt and denial are always my first reaction to anything good that ever comes my way. And even during most of my time at Princeton, I never truly felt I belonged. Surrounded by amazing students and adults alike I felt mediocre and somewhat ignorant, coming from a low-income city with a poor public school education under my belt.


So being invited back again, the same self-doubt began to flash through my head. What possible insight could I give to these people that they didn’t already have? And what help could I be to these students when I felt so helpless myself at the thought of their most definite intelligence and amazing abilities? As I pondered my decision on whether or not I should go back, I could hear my mother in the background screaming at me in disbelief: “Girl, what is wrong with you?! You better take this opportunity and run with it.”


Replying with a "yes" was a slow and agonizing process but eventually I worked up enough courage and decided I would deal with the consequences and doubts later. Feeling good about my decision, the doubt didn’t really hit me again until I was on the train to New Jersey. Having so much free time to think really allowed cracks to form in my confidence, and I felt those oh-so-familiar feelings creeping back up on me again. Panicking, I thought multiple times on whether or not I should “accidentally” miss my connecting train. My confidence was that low.


Now sitting here seven days in, I feel ridiculous and guilty for thinking like that to begin with. Having met all these kids and having bonded with both them and my fellow counselors, I find myself consistently being inspired. Listening to them speak about the things they love and watching their eyes light up just melt my heart. Knowing how it feels to smile through my uncertainties and portraying a certain level of confidence that I myself did not fully own, I try and always let them know how important and amazing they are.


Reflecting back on it now I realize that maybe I’m not the best writer, and maybe I don’t have the most extensive vocabulary, but I do have something to give: a listening ear. Just by letting them know that I want to know what’s going on with them in their lives, and that I understand their uncertainty and fears, I help them understand that regardless of their doubts, they have a support system. And I let them know that they’re here for a reason. I never want to have them doubt their abilities, or find themselves debating on whether or not they should “accidentally” miss their future trains to success because they didn’t think they were good enough to catch it.

Discoveries in Central Park

By Alejandro Izquierdo (Chicago, IL)


When we were young, our parents always told us, “Don’t talk to strangers!” But this rule does not apply to journalism. In journalism one is encouraged—no! —obligated to talk to strangers for the sake of their story. Until this week, I had never walked up to people on the street and interviewed them, especially not in the famous Central Park.


On SJP’s annual trip to New York to visit news headquarters, we launched an investigation where we asked New Yorkers if they knew what Sikhism is. At first I was unsure about how it would be; throughout the week people had told me to expect to be rejected often in the interviews. I was mentally prepared to deal with rejections but I knew that I might become frustrated after a couple of rejections. But fortunately, that wasn’t the case.


My first couple of interviewees were pretty friendly, which allowed me to feel more comfortable. Eventually I ran into people who did not want to be interviewed. To this day I don’t understand why people don’t want to be interviewed, because I personally would love to talk and answer some questions. Perhaps that is only me, but I still think people should at least listen to questions and try to answer.


As I kept interviewing more and more people I became increasingly focused and lost track of time. After 19 interviews, about an hour had already passed, but it felt like only fifteen minutes. It was time to go back to the bus, but I wanted to stay back and keep asking people questions. I wanted to know exactly how many people knew what Sikhism is. There were many that did not know and I spent some time with them letting them know that it was a religion and that it had no relation to Islam.


After I finished my interviews I reached a conclusion that I was not to happy with: only 6 of the 19 interviewees knew what Sikhism was, none of those 6 were New Yorkers. Most shockingly, 5 of the 6 who knew what Sikhism was… were not American. I found this pretty sad: how can we call ourselves a melting pot and not know about some of our own citizens? We have to be more educated about the world and be more open minded to others' beliefs. This is how we can become better people and a better nation.

A bite out of the big apple

By Michelaina Johnson (Ojai, CA) 


Life is made up of many shared milestones—first step, driver license, high school graduation, first job. But there are also personal milestones, and I crossed one yesterday- my first trip to New York City.


I grew up in a small town and have always wanted to visit the Big City and experience a 360-degree change. The sights, sounds, smells, and sensations nearly overwhelmed my senses. From being on the top floor of the Newsweek skyscraper to walking in Central Park, I got to glimpse a few of the many landmarks and attractions the city offers.

During the entire visit, I was on cloud nine. The cultural diversity and character of the city enthralled me. I counted at least four different languages I heard in one hour within one mile. This was only a glimpse of the cultural education and immersion that is possible in NYC. It is one of the few cities in the world with a massive melting pot of cultures.

I envisioned myself attending university in the nearby area. I saw myself working as an intern at Newsweek, the New York Times or CNN and working toward my future as a journalist. I imagined an experience that would mold my future career and expand my personal limits and cultural views.

The visit lay to rest my desire to visit NYC, which has only been replaced by the dream of seeking a possible future in the Big Apple. 

Through the sweat and tears

By Angela Kim (Los Angeles, CA)


Today has been the most difficult day at SJP for me so far. It was really hard for me to stay awake during breakfast and the morning workshops. But I think I’ve now reached the peak of SJP, the production of the Princeton Summer Journal. 

Even through the lack of sleep and the packed schedule, I’m learning so much more about journalism and reporting than I've ever been able to at my school newspaper. I think this is what will motivate me to successfully finish the article and the program: the fact that the piece has greater community impact than anything I’ve written before at school makes me feel like a real journalist. I know that reporting on the investigative piece will really help me bring back greater knowledge to my newspaper at school and will help me gain a new, unique perspective on what reporting really is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Facing down rejections and mosquitoes

By Delilah Vasquez (Chicago, IL)

Optimism and determination are key characteristics in becoming a successful journalist. At SJP I have constantly found myself being presented with numerous obstacles and tested on these qualities. But while the program is arduous both mentally and physically, I am also aware of the long-term benefits: I get to exercise my mind as I develop new ideas, compose questions, and produce articles.

With every new task comes a new set of challenges, such as writer's block, a journalist's biggest nemesis. Often times my mind goes blank and I find it difficult to express my thoughts. But with the generous help of the counselors, writing is becoming easier.

Challenges also present themselves on the quest for information. Personally, I have never faced so much rejection as I did on the trip to New York. Every person I approached bluntly expressed their disinterest in speaking with me. I was highly discouraged but it took bravery and positive thoughts to continue interviewing.

Even the minor things affect my experience here. The heavy weight of my eyelids, due to my lack of sleep, test my strength. And this morning I woke up with 21 mosquito bites on my legs from venturing out into town in order to gather data on our story on the relocation of the Princeton hospital.

But though my difficulties may vary, they do not amount to the happiness I feel at the end of the day. Every challenge, big or small, makes me prove myself and come closer to achieving my dreams.

Six Days

By Chastity Salas (Bronx, NY)


My motivation sprints, it travels long ways

It called up my determination to battle for six days.
I've been here for simply that long,
And never before have I felt so strong.
I'm not so afraid to share,
I don't put much care,
if I'm wrong...
Because my strong support team can teach me
They'll be there.

People I would have labeled strangers, unknown
Have engaged with me, taught me morals, I've never known
Taught me of friendship. Gee, I have grown
Grown, in little ways
In the speed of six days.

I'm learning to write in news structures 
and... 
Something once as foreign as my left hand
I'm doing... On my own command.
Amazingly, I'm learning many new things,
The future's gonna call, I await 'till it rings.

I've met reporters, some even gave me advice 
Their kindness I didn't have to decode in device
I've seen New York City, in a way I never had before
Sure,
I live there... sure.
I only see the limits of my neighborhood's bloodied floor.

I've only seen success from afar,
And with that price, my dreams had scars
With a limited amount of knowledge
who even suggests college?

But in this amount of time, I'm getting prepared
And let me tell you,
The counselors advice... helps me not to be scared
That is no lie, believe me it's truth.

I can see my future now more than ever, 
I'm learning more and more, I'll be clever
With my school choice,
Because I found my voice.

This is not made to be cheesy or an uplifting ad
I am simply sharing the latest scoop...my story
About this program... I feel so glad,
I'm writing about myself for once.... Oh lordy!

Empire state of mind

By Darquis Williams (Memphis, TN)


On Wednesday, SJP went on a group trip to New York City.

For me, it was a tremendous experience. I had the chance to explore the city's diversity when I interviewed nineteen strangers in Central Park, asking them the question, “What is Sikhism?”

The responses were mixed. Some New Yorkers blew me off, refusing to answer the question because they were too concerned with their lives. But many of them were friendly and charismatic, answered my questions and even tried to keep engaging me in conversation as I tried to move on to the next person.

The atmosphere of the Big Apple was amazing. I really enjoyed the tour of The New York Times and CNN as well.

Also, the traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Knocked down and pulled back up

By David Peake (Chicago, IL)


“Hi, my name is David and I don’t mean to disturb you,” I began. But the woman cut me off in front of everyone with a loud, “THEN DON’T!” Did she really say that? As I walked away I wanted to be angry, but all of a sudden I smirked; I had finally experienced the rejection of a journalist.

People often think that journalists just sit at a desk, write, and publish stories—but they do much more. They go through the good, the bad, the highs, the lows, and even rock bottom. Hearing the rude tone of the woman screaming, “THEN DON’T!” showed me that while journalists often face obstacles in their work, they have to find ways overcome them.

Walking through the park filled with busy people, I kept hearing the woman’s voice resonating in my head. Should I give up on the story altogether? I continued walking and observing the teenagers, adults, couples, and friends as they sat on their blankets. “Do they look like they have much to say? Not them, they probably don’t care. She has headphones in her ears. Wow, she has a book in her hand—she must be smart,” traveled through my head as I walked.

Approaching the woman sitting with a book, I still felt a lot of doubt. I introduced myself asking if she would like to be interviewed. She spoke with a low voice. Before I knew it I realized I was speaking with an intellectual.

After the interview finally ended I was proud of myself. If I had let that “THEN DON’T!” weigh me down, then I never would have met such an intellectual. I learned that journalists must endure until the end, and no matter how many times you are rejected, you can never stop! Yes, journalist do get rejected daily—but it takes a persistent journalist to get the story.

Listening, learning, living

By Karen Oropeza (Fort Worth, TX)


One of the reasons why I want to pursue a career in journalism is because I want to help people who have lost a voice of their own. I know there are many minority groups in society that truly fear speaking up and struggle in the face of adversity.

Before coming to SJP, I never really took the opportunity to interview people for the purpose of writing an article. My conversations with others were no more than casual talk.

It wasn't until yesterday while I walked around the Princeton community to conduct interviews that I truly realized that I love listening to what people have to say. It is not easy for people to open up to strangers and the residents I interviewed gave me, for the most part, short and straightforward answers. But I did have the chance to talk to a woman about her opinions on the relocation of the local hospital and she told me much more than I expected to hear.

I could detect her sincerity in her voice. But I also noticed there was a hint of hope. She really believed that by our publication of this article, the compelling stories of the Princeton residents would be heard and that somehow someone would step up to help them. Therefore, I really do hope that once this investigative article is published, the Princeton city government will respond positively.

All in all, the interview process was a self-test that assured me that I truly enjoy learning about others. I hope that this program is only the beginning of something that can last a lifetime.

A mixture of emotions

By Lorena Aviles (Park City, IL)



I have experienced bliss and range and confusion and excitement all at the same time, but one emotion seems to dominate my heart: hope - hope that good comes from evil and evil comes from afar.

For the past few days, I have been optimistic, cheerful and simply content, perhaps because I am surrounded by counselors who genuinely care about others, or because I am enclosed in an environment where writing symbolizes truth, knowledge and a silent escape, or because I have no reason to be sad.

Sadness is a gloomy feeling, an unnecessary, yet beautiful part of life. The day I arrived at Princeton, I was carrying some personal burdens with me; our counselors, however, were truly sympathetic and made me feel better.


Even though as student journalists we have experienced sleep deprivation and annoyance at times, I can speak for myself when I say that SJP has opened my eyes to journalism- a quest for absurd reality, a quest for desirable authenticity.