Huff: Grateful for ‘amazing’ Reporting Labs experience

I didn’t expect that being named a member of the inaugural class of PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs All-Stars would lead me to a White House Q&A with the executive director of the Joining Forces initiative and a one-on-one conversation with presidential debate moderator and co-anchor of PBS Newshour Gwen Ifill. But we’ll get to that later.

On Aug 7, I touched down in our nation’s capital for the 2014 Student Reporting Labs program, which included students and teachers from across the country.
It was quite surreal to be in the same city as our commander-in-chief, and the city where journalistic greats Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed one of the largest scandals politics has seen. I hoped some of the city’s magic would rub off on me over the next couple days.

That first night, we all gathered on the patio of our hotel for a meet-and-greet. The event hit a high note when PBS NewsHour Anchor Gwen Ifill entered the room. Shortly after arriving, she delivered an inspiring speech. As a budding journalist, I lingered on every word.

Kennedy Huff and Gwen Ifill pose for a photo during the SRL annual conference.

It was not long before teachers and students flocked to Ifill with questions and photo requests. Hoping not to miss my chance, I introduced myself and even got a picture with her. My journalistic instincts kicked in, and I asked her everything from how she got her start to how I can maintain a successful career in journalism.

I always dreamed of receiving advice and tips from the best in the business; I never imagined it would happen this soon in life.

That night I floated back to my hotel room on cloud nine, thinking of the White House Q&A awaiting me and others that next afternoon.

I woke up that next morning excited about what the day had in store for me. A young journalist from Pflugerville, Texas would be embarking on one of the most important moments of her career. Today was the day I would ask U.S. Army Col. Steve Parker about the Joining Forces Initiative that he works closely on with Michelle Obama.

Around noon we made the trek to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. We waited in line for half an hour, and after going through several security clearances we finally arrived inside the White House.

We took a tour of the Red, Blue and Green rooms and even passed by the historic Rose Garden. The room that piqued everyone’s interest was the State Dining Room, which is where state dinners are held.

Later that afternoon we walked to the East Wing of the White House for our interview with Col. Parker. We lined up and relinquished our IDs to the Secret Service, and after going through several more security clearances we were finally led to the room for our interview.

When Col. Parker arrived, the magnitude of what we were doing as young journalists hit me. Without fear or hesitation, I introduced myself and proceeded to ask my question. Feeling accomplished, I waited as the other students asked their questions, and found my place in the group photo-op.

The rest of the weekend was spent sightseeing in Washington, D.C. The Holocaust Museum, American History Museum and the Newseum were just a few of the long list of stops.

The SRL All-Stars, accompanied by a few parents, pose in front of the Washington Monument.

The Newseum was amazing in how it connected journalism’s future to its past. The sixth floor of the museum is known for its view of the city, and I knew I could not leave before seeing it. After being up there, I can honestly say, I now realize why people fall in love with it.

My last day in D.C. was spent with some of the friends I made there and my family. I left grateful for the amazing opportunity. I would not have wanted to spend my summer any other way than being immersed in the world of journalism.

Editor’s note: Kennedy Huff is a Pflugerville High School senior earlier this year named to the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs All-Stars. Students participating in the Reporting Labs program work with public media mentors from their local stations to produce original news reports. Joining Forces is a national initiative to provide support to U.S. service members and their families.