Not only did Louisiana teen Samantha Perez win The Professor Mel Williams Award in the 36th annual Scholastic Press Forum sponsored by American International College. She also got to collect it in person in Springfield, Mass.
So Perez, and her parents, came north for a crazy 16 hours in New England. She got to fly in a plane for the first time, sleep in a big hotel bed where her feet didn't hang off the end and take an endless hot shower. And, of course, she got to meet her faraway Tattoo advisors for the first time.
The prize she collected -- for the best teen journalism of 2005 -- was a much-deserved recognition of the quality of her work on her Hurricane Journal under nearly impossible circumstances.
Let me let someone else tell the impact of her story. Here's what a Waterbury, Conn. high school paper advisor posted on her blog when she got home from the March 15 ceremony where Perez was honored:
In the expansive auditorium ... Dr. Will Hughes, Chair of the Communications Department, stunned me and nearly everyone else in attendance when he took the floor.
"We had 3,600 entries, from as far west as Ohio, and down to Louisiana and Virginia," he said. Gulp. Then he introduced a girl who lost her clothes, her house, her friends, her belongings, her school, her street--basically everything except her parents, a girl who wanted to be a journalist and had just been chosen Editor in Chief of her high school newspaper August 2005, days before the hurricane struck.
She lost that too.
But somehow she started writing, and writing articles in journal form that were printed by [The Tattoo], articles she sent from a public computer.
They called her onto the stage, this average-looking girl in a plaid skirt and dark turtleneck who the college flew up from Lousiana where her family found a trailer.
They gave her the Newswriting Award, and the only words she said--in a very quiet voice--made everyone's eyes tear.
"I lost everything."
"And there's only one thing to do: go forward with your life."
Then she sat down with her parents, the only three things each of them own.
I was humbled; this was the quality and caliber of our competition, students who knew their purpose and against all odds used the written word and pictures to show us how good or bad life can be, and how to never forget how good we truly have it.
... Remember that when you go to bed, or work or school after reading this, a student journalist like Samantha Perez who won the SPF News Writing award and all those displaced from the hurricane still have nowhere to go.
Perez also led a couple of seminars where she told her story in greater depth.
Here are links to the stories that appeared in The Bristol Press and the Springfield Republican:
Television and radio stations interviewed Perez, too. But we don't have links to their stories, unfortunately.
We're so glad at Tattoo Central that we got the chance to meet Perez and her parents. They're good people. We're appreciative of the contest for bringing us together and to a New York reader who paid the airline fares to make it possible for the Perez's to come to Connecticut.
This has been one of the happiest weeks we've had at The Tattoo.
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Copyright 2006 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.