That was in 1970, when the media was still governed by the Fairness Doctrine, a policy introduced by the Federal Communications Commission in 1949. Abolished in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine required news outlets to present all sides of a story in an honest, balanced manner.
I had just turned seventeen and had been hired by the newspaper to cover traditional high school events like proms, homecoming courts, and school plays. But East Lansing High School, situated across the street from Michigan State University in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was anything but traditional.
A group of students were protesting a planned presentation by a representative from the Air Force Academy recruiting at the high school. The protests were peaceful. Most of the students said it was their way of objecting to an illegal and immoral war in Viet Nam. Others said they were demonstrating because the right of free speech was allowed only to certain organizations, not others.
The students were suspended. But their actions would influence a full school board review of suspension policies and result in a new procedure for the selection of outside speakers that would involve students as well as faculty. The Reserve Officer Training Corps would continue recruiting on campus, but other organizations were invited too.
The students made a difference.
So, did Nick Sharkey. He was the first, although not the last, to teach me what it means to mentor another. Writing that story would be a turning point in my life. It would eventually lead to a full-time job at the newspaper, a position that not only funded my college education, but also introduced me to the skill, the discipline, and the joy of writing.
I had forgotten about Nick until a month ago. My publicist said I needed a professional photograph of myself for my upcoming book, Uncharted Waters: Romance, Adventure, and Advocacy on the Great Lakes. Initially I planned on contacting a local photography studio. And then I saw P. Havlik, a Holland High School student, photographing sunsets, and I knew what I wanted to do. When I read the following blog on her website, I knew what I had to do.
If you ever see a bad picture of yourself, just think of a sunset. We have all tried getting the perfect picture of a sunset on a camera. The thing is . . . a camera just simply cannot contain and capture all of the beauty in the actual sky. Just like it cannot contain and capture all of the beauty in you.
At fifteen years of age, she was stretching the sunset beyond the skies. And while it can be risky to mentor others, it is only when we reach out to another that we create the human chain of hope needed to heal a wounded world.
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