Name: Mary Norkol
From: Stillwater, MN
Grade: High School Senior
School: Stillwater Area High School
had always considered myself a good-hearted person. I raked the lawns
of elderly citizens in my town and made blankets out of fleece for
children in the hospital. Once I grew older, I became the vice
president of my high school’s National Honor Society and a member
of student council, where I worked tirelessly to organize blood
drives and benefit concerts. I participated in an international
mission trip, roofing the houses of homes in Mexico. This was all
good work, and I have never regretted a second of this commitment to
others, but I was hardly able to see the results of my work. Even
after spending hours every week for a greater cause, I never felt as
fulfilled as I expected to.
beginning college, I realized that this was in part due to the lack
of a relationship with the people I was helping. I almost never knew
them personally, which caused a level of disconnect I was never
comfortable with. I noticed a change after moving to Chicago, a place
where many more people are in dire need of help than in my hometown
of Stillwater, Minnesota.
few weeks ago, I walked the halls of Senn High School as an outsider.
I felt like an outsider, I sensed I was seen as an outsider.
Volunteering for the first time with the Society of Professional
Journalists, I entered the school with a skeptical but open mind. I
knew the environment would be far different from my own high school
years, where I hardly knew better than to assume that the world was
as white-washed as my hometown.
I made my way to the classroom, I could count the number of Caucasian
students on one hand, a stark contrast to my 98% white suburban high
school. Admittedly, I felt uncomfortable and slightly shocked,
despite my self-proclaimed awareness of racial issues. I began
interacting with the students cautiously. I listened first, trying my
best to gauge the most successful way to communicate. I struggled to
find similarities between us at first, until the topics of the
education system and current social movements jump-started a
surprising relationship. Later, I realized that my initial discomfort
merely served as a reminder that I knew very little about the world.
The overall experience proved to me that the best way to help myself
was to help others: to connect with them, to learn about them, to
began to see the positive change in both the students’
schoolwork and their willingness to interact with me. This direct
result was something I had never fully experienced before. I have
always said that I want to do two things with my life: travel and
write. But I now want to add one thing to that list: help others. As
cliché as it sounds, my desire is completely genuine because I have
seen the effects of an open mind and dedicated heart. Now that I have
seen the good I can do, I never want to stop.