FREE SPIRIT DAY 5: Machinations, Graduations, and Congratulations


Well, this is it. The end. The time for people to begin leaving with tears in their eyes and fond recollections of the Free Spirit experience. It hearkens back to a certain APPSE class I once had…but I digress.

Though it was our final day, we certainly weren’t going to waste it sitting around doing nothing, so we bussed over to the Capitol for a tour of the press areas. We got to see the press galleries of both the House and the Senate (literally MINUTES before John Lewis led representatives in the House sit-in), as well as a lot of the backstage rooms and work areas. There’s even some press conference areas that the media has sole control over, meaning a representative can’t just waltz in and declare a conference for himself/herself. The news team has to give them permission. In their own building! Dang! That’s freedom of press right there. I approve. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in either of the houses, but here’s a chandelier. I’ll get some other stuff from the official photographer as well.

After that, it was back to the Newseum for a session with AP Photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner, and all-around photography genius Scott Applewhite. He had some good advice, but the highlight of the session was definitely the photos he showed us. He’s had a long career covering presidents and politics, so there’s a lot of good stuff in his portfolio. For instance, he casually showed us a shot of the president lined up with four former presidents.

Next up: lunch. Let me talk about the food for a second. I haven’t really mentioned it before (in the interest of being concise-ish), but I think it deserves a mention. Every meal that Free Spirit has served for us has been absolutely fantastic and WAY too fancy for a squadron of teenagers. Props to them.

Getting back to the thread, our lunchtime session was a talk with some former Freedom Riders. That’s right, these people (“Rip” Patton, Joan Mulholland, and Susan Wamsley) were actually down in the deep South in the Civil Rights Era getting beat up and arrested to stand up for the right thing. They had a lot to tell us, but I think the most memorable thing was when Rip explained how even though the jailers took their mattresses and put stool softener in their food, they just stayed cheerful and kept singing. When a guard told them to stop, one asked, “What are you going to do, put us in jail?”

Our last-ever Free Spirit session was a talk with Mary Pilon, author of The Monopolists, a book exploring life through the untold story of the woman who invented Monopoly. Ms. Pilon was super chill and fun to listen to. She extolled the virtues of studying abroad and gaining real experience (there’s been a theme to these sessions, I see) as well as taking advantage of the present. Very engaging, great speaker, but a similar message to the sessions earlier this week.

After a group photo on top of the Newseum, we all sat down for commencement. Yesterday, we elected two class speakers to give speeches (Adam from Kansas and Isabelle from Iowa), and they didn’t disappoint. The actual ceremony consisted of us receiving a medal and Mrs. Wells (one of the chief coordinators) reading our most important journalistic experience. My top experience can be viewed here:

We also made a thank you video (I’ll see if I can get it on here at some point), which I think concluded the conference quite nicely; a great ending to a fantastic conference.

Ha! You thought we were done, didn’t you? I wish. Our last activity was a river cruise on a legit paddlewheel steamboat down the Potomac with music and dancing aplenty. There was also a fair amount of standing at the prow feeling the breeze (I may have to become a professional boater) and taking pictures in the sunset.

When we returned to the hotel, there was much goodbye-ing. Tears were shed, hugs were circulated; it was a bit of a scene in the hotel lobby. The journalism crowd is certainly an emotional one.

What’s next for me? Sleep. Some people have to leave really early in the morning, but this old Wisconsinite doesn’t truck out until 11, so it’s a day of relaxing until then. Overall, this conference has been absolutely amazing, yadda yadda, you’ve heard it all before. The truth of everything is that I really have appreciated the things I’ve heard this past week. My brain is now churning with pieces of advice for West Side Stories, so hopefully we’ll see some big changes in this next year.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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