Ask the Alumnus: Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver attended the SRL summer academy in 2017, right after graduating from Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s now in her second year at NYU studying Philosophy, Spanish and Film. She has a passion for telling stories about the American legal and justice system, and making videos that spread ideas and evoke emotion so people can step out of their comfort zones. SRL asked Mary to reflect on how her time as a student reporter shaped her high school experience and prepared her for the future.

Tell us a little about your life post-SRL. Where are you studying? What is your major?

My life post-SRL has been amazing! After graduation, I went to New York University. I’m now beginning my second year here, and I am thrilled with everything this school and city have to offer. I am majoring in Philosophy, and minoring in Spanish and Film. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to live and study in such an incredible city!

How are you still involved in journalism at college?

I’m less involved with journalism now that I’m in college, but I am learning an incredible amount in my film class about camera work, editing, writing, and so much more. Although I’m not currently participating in journalism, I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on in the world around me, and I always think about current events through an analytical eye.

If you had all the money in the world, what story would you like to tell?

If I had all the money in the world, I would tell a story about the American legal, justice, and penitentiary system and the way it often functions off of profit instead of in the interest of justice or protecting society. People seem to put a lot of faith in the law, but in reality there are many factors that go into the creation and enforcement of a law, and not all of them are actually just, although they are legal. This is something that is hugely problematic, but is easy to live your whole life knowing nothing about if you are in a position of privilege.

People are quick to overlook problems that don’t affect them personally, or that seem to affect only criminals and people being incarcerated, but if those same people knew the full extent of the injustices being committed, maybe they would begin to understand the importance. I want people to be aware that some laws are designed to put pressure on specific minorities, that biased enforcement of laws is preventable even though it happens every day, that it’s possible to pursue reform for inmates instead of dropping them in for-profit prisons, and that we can change the system if we make it the priority that it should be.

How do you think your voice has grown as a storyteller through SRL?

I believe that the biggest strength of a young journalist is perspective. Young people today know that the world is in a tight spot. Living in a world filled with fake news, we know just how important it is to get the truth out there. I think a lot of young people are quite angry about issues that are being dismissed, not given enough attention, or overlooked, and I think we can use that anger and indignation to tell the true stories and make real change.

Which of your stories are you proudest of and why?

I am most proud of a story I made about a solar powered vehicle designed by a local resident of my hometown, Salt Lake City. I worked on that project with two other girls from my class, and it was so cool to be able to meet the engineer behind the vehicles and hear more about him, his life, and his inventions.

What does #IAmSRL mean to you?

To me, #IAmSRL means that I am a part of something bigger. It means that there are young people out there who truly care about the world they live in, and are working every day to learn anything and everything about capturing that world and telling its story. #IAmSRL means that there is hope for our future. Since SRL, my voice as a story teller has definitely changed greatly. I am much more involved now with film than journalism, but film is essentially just visual storytelling. Although many films are fictitious, I believe the most powerful ones are based in reality or true events. I have learned how to tell stories in an engaging and important way, while keeping the viewer’s attention without using gimmicks.

What advice would you give students who are in SRL now?

To any student who is participating in SRL now, I would say take advantage of the program and the people who run it! Don’t take them for granted. They are your greatest resource, and if you really participate in the program, apply yourself, and make connections with your mentors, you will learn so much more than you can in any regular classroom, and you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of people who don’t have that opportunity. SRL was the best part of my high school experience, and it can be yours too, if you let it!