The Underappreciated Power of High School Journalism


Anthony Aquino

Here is the lighter that the anonymous woman had kept in her possession after all of these years.

As a seventeen-year-old high school student writing for a digital newspaper, it is easy to feel unheard. After all, it can seem unlikely and even unbelievable that the words we type on our keyboards have the potential to be seen by many and the ideas we bring to the screen will see the light of day. I personally have struggled with feeling underappreciated; I feel as though my ideas are profound and my thoughts are important; however, my medium to reach the public is not as powerful as I so wish them to be.

Then, there are times when something comes along to change all of that.

Because The Wrangler, and life itself, moves at such a fast pace, it can sometimes feel as though each article I write only lasts a week. In the typical week of a high school journalist, an article is pitched, written, edited, revised, and published usually during the span of a single week. When time flies that fast, I find myself occasionally forgetting the subject of my articles–even the subjects of some of my best articles.

For example, I had completely and utterly forgotten that on November 27, 2021, I had published an article for The Wrangler titled “My Grandpa, Our Hero.” I distinctly remember feeling inspired after last year’s Veterans Day. After a motivational lecture regarding American patriotism in my AP United States History class, I decided to talk to my grandfather about his time serving in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War.

Little did I know that I was diving in well over my head. Within minutes of the conversation, I was hooked deeper than I could have imagined. The American in me wanted to give my full attention to his heroic tale of patriotic dedication; however, the budding journalist in me reached for my laptop and opened a Google Doc, desperate to grasp all of the details and document his story. I then researched for weeks, compiled photographs and government logs written during his time in the Navy, and after several drafts, and a long line of pertinent revisions, I produced one of the best articles that I had ever written,

I remember printing a copy of that article and dropping it at my grandfather’s doorstep. I remember my grandmother posting her appreciation on her Facebook page. I remember my dad telling me that he was proud of me “for creating such a well-written and important” article. And then it was over. The next week rolled around. Time kept ticking, and as the next week came in, I wrote a new article, and my grandfather’s article became history, an important but distant memory in a long line of words typed on a screen.

It was revived on September 27, when I received some unexpectedly shocking news. Halfway through fourth period, my journalism advisor emailed me to come upstairs to her classroom as soon as possible, with no explanatory context. The nerd in me worried that I had done something wrong, and she was calling me in for some disciplinary action. However, the nerd in me also hoped that she had been particularly struck by an article of mine, and she had called me in for some congratulations. I could not have been more wrong about either scenario.

When I arrived in her classroom and saw the award-winning smile gleaming across her face, I knew the news had to be good. She looked me in the eye and asked, “Hey Madison, do you remember writing a particularly special article last Veterans Day?” After all of those hours spent and research conducted, there was no way I could have forgotten such an article. I responded that I had remembered; however, I nervously anticipated the reasoning behind her inquisition.

Her smile still beaming, she revealed that a random woman had somehow stumbled upon my article about my grandfather, and was so affected by it, that she reached out to The Wrangler to tell us about it. In her email, the woman praised my eloquent writing in the article, but more importantly, made an unforgettable and unexpected confession–she not only knew my grandfather well when he was in the Navy, but she also possessed an artifact of his from all the way back.

I had to reread the email a second time in order to fully comprehend the situation. This woman knew my grandfather in the late 1960s, held onto a souvenir from his time in the war, and found my article discussing his bravery. The events seemed too good to be true. After some careful safety inspections, the woman kept in contact with us, and she coordinated a way to send in the item of my grandfather’s. It has since been returned to him, and it is now in his possession. 

I was so unbelievably flabbergasted by the length that my article was able to travel. In a time when it can feel so hard to be heard and so difficult to make an impact, I was able to share a story so wide that it elicited genuine, life-changing responses. At that moment, I knew that this story was far from over.