Personal Narrative

Few people know that my favorite book is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Its sepia-colored pages have remained on my nightstand since I moved to London, and its place there is well-deserved, for I have often returned to King’s advice on what to write: “Anything at all…as long as you tell the truth.”

When I was younger, I was pulled toward writing for the freedom of fiction. I dressed up as Cat in the Hat and spoke in rhyme all day long until I ran out of things to say and began to make things up, and realized that fish could be blue and a dog could wear a shoe and I could create anything with the power of words.

Then, many one-way tickets later, I needed continuity about who I decided to be from place to place. In the pursuit of truth, I turned back to writing. On the first day of eighth grade I didn’t know how to open my locker or what a “lorry” was, but I peeled a flier off the wall and applied to be an editor for the middle school newspaper. Journalism became a refuge in telling stories from arm’s-length.

That isn’t to say I was impartial when choosing subjects to write and research. I always gravitated towards issues related to gender disparities and inequality within the school. (I also carved out time to maintain a column where I reviewed trending novels on TikTok, but I felt my sanity slipping away from me after about a dozen installments and let it quietly die out.)

It wasn’t until the end of Grade 9 when I profiled Ms. Abastillas, an elementary school teacher, that I could feel the emanating impact of the work I had been doing for months. Interviews, notebooks full of scribbled quotes and observations, dozens of open tabs with research and Google documents: it all came together when I witnessed, for the first time, the power of storytelling. 

She was born in the Philippines and had made monumental changes to the school’s admissions process and use of authentic materials in Spanish classes. I had similar goals to bring an awareness of Latin culture and stereotypes when I started Latin American Culture Club, but I was unsure of how my identity really fit together as an expat with a scattered childhood and far-reaching family.

We spoke for close to an hour.

Through asking questions and getting to the root of the teacher’s passion for social justice, I realized that I could be unapologetic and bold about the change I wanted to create within my community, and I didn’t need to use my familial connection to Latin America as an excuse to make the school a more welcoming place. I had so much more to say than I was able to as an impartial journalist.

When I pressed pause on my tape recorder, I was certain I couldn’t write Abastillas’ life into a typical profile structure that began with an anecdote and ended with a quote. Her story needed to speak for itself. I reorganized her quotes into a narrative story format, not often used, called “In Her Words.”

I brought a copy of the paper to her classroom. A lot more was said then about identity and belonging and creating that space for other students, but the one thing I remember with certainty is when I turned to leave and she said, “Thank you for telling my story.”

I found purpose in writing about the local police’s exploitation of Sarah Everard, or a documentation of how the community had been affected one year after the COVID lockdown. In Grade 10 I learned to push the boundaries of what was taboo by writing about the political spectrum of gun violence and interviewing Russian and Ukrainian students when war broke out in February.

In Grade 11, I leaned into learning how to be a leader. I made myself available to help with everything from print illustrations to meeting with new writers, popping into the Beginning Journalism class during my free period to participate as much as I could within the Standard community.

It was not clear to me what was shaping up to be my Grade 12 year until a few months into my tenure as Editor-in-Chief at the NSPA Boston conference in November. Speaking openly about the challenges and hard work and irreplaceable joy of being Editor-in-Chief made me realize that journalism had become so much more than writing.

It took a few years of diving into journalism to discover that its power was not solely contained within cited sources or a byline. The medium of storytelling took different forms, but my pursuit of the truth has always remained, and surrounding myself within the journalistic community has always led me there.