What it means to be a Free Spirit

Senior reflects on his experience at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Journalism Conference.


Photo by Courtesy of Newseum

Senior Taylor Potter (middle right) competes in a trivia contest with Kenji Endo from Delaware (far left), Riley Wallace from Alabama (middle left) and Dominique Di Pietro from Nevada (far right).

Story by Taylor Potter, co-editor in chief

What is it a Free Spirit?


For four months I’ve sat in my purple desk chair staring into a blank Google document, trying to figure out the answer. One would think that the week of experiences in D.C. would provide easy motivation. There would be so many things to write about. I could never figure out what one thing made it special.

But after reuniting with a few of my fellow Free Spirits in Boston, I think I found the answers that I was looking for.


Being a Free Spirit means spreading the word.


Even though our experience is over, it really doesn’t stop for us. One of the first things I saw at the NSPA/JEA convention was two of the Free Spirits– Neel Swamy from Connecticut and Emily Beck from Nebraska– spouting off tales of the trip to any high school junior that would listen. Smiles flitted across the two alumni’s faces as they relived the days of D.C.


And it’s like that for all of us. We love to talk about it. We want other students to be able to have the same life-changing experience. We all loved our time there, but we want nothing more than for the legacy to continue.


Being a Free Spirit means knowing your stuff.


Whether we were discussing politics with former White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen or asking broadcast heroine Judy Woodruff about her career, you can just tell that we knew what we were doing.


During presentations we were all writing notes furiously or hopping in the huge lines to ask questions. We wanted to learn all there was to know.


Being a Free Spirit means being a crazy dancer.


The NSPA dance was all the rage on the Free Spirit 2013 Facebook page. We had high hopes of being the craziest bunch there. We didn’t disappoint.


No, between Dominique Di Pietro (Nevada), Riley Wallace (Alabama), Rachel Hartwick (Ohio) and, probably the craziest of the group, Ally Krupinski (North Dakota), we were by far the most tight-knit and rambunctious mob. If anyone dared interrupt our rhythm, they were met with glares and shoves in their general direction.


And we made it known that, if you take a doll to the dance, we will probably steal it.


Being a Free Spirit means having stupid inside jokes.


“Rachel, how do you feel about bread?”


She quickly launched into how she devoured all the complimentary bread at the Cheesecake Warehouse during lunch, while the rest of us tried to hold in our laughter. But eventually, we lost control, prompting many of the other Starbucks customers to glare at us angrily for interrupting their peace.


Whether it be bread, goats or curry, odds are we have a joke for it.


Being a Free Spirit means shedding a lot of tears, giving a lot of hugs and saying a lot of goodbyes.


This is the hard part.


In that week in D.C, we became a family. We all absolutely fell in love with each other. We knew that we would miss everyone terribly. But there was Boston. We could meet up in Boston.


Well, Boston is gone.


And at the end of the reunion, we had to say real goodbyes. Goodbyes that would span months. We didn’t want to admit it. but we’re all so far apart. It’s just hard.


So at the end of it, I hugged Robert Cole-Evans from Texas to thank him for bringing me out of my shell. I cried because I’ll miss the comedy from Dominique and Lexy Brown (California). I said my goodbyes to Reilly McGreen (Rhode Island), Pranam Dey (South Dakota) and Astha Agarwal (Massachusetts) because we’re so impossibly far.


But if this reunion has taught me anything, it’s that, no matter how long we go without seeing each other, we will be able to pick up right where we left off.


Because that is what it means to be a Free Spirit.

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit Conference is a program designed to teach the values of the First Amendment and good journalism practices. It is composed of 51 student journalists representing every state and the District of Columbia. The representatives attend lectures from iconic journalists, as well as enjoy the sites in Washington DC. The scholarship and conference is sponsored by the Freedom Forum and the Newseum.