2007-05-24 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Future's In Good Hands With These Best & Brightest
By Neil S. Friedman

By Neil S. Friedman

This week I decided to set aside my characteristically acerbic pen - or keyboard, as it were - to give recognition to a few young people I recently encountered in the course of work. One is an exceptional high school senior and the others are exceptional elementary school students. What they have in common are promising futures.

Not being a parent, I usually only come in contact with youngsters when I visit friends or relatives and hang around their children for brief periods or when I cover a story at a local school.

As some adults have a tendency to do when they reach middle age, from time to time I've condemned the younger generation for rudeness, insensitivity, lack of motivation, lack of respect for anyone outside their clique, to name a few, though I'm well aware it is inappropriate to denounce an entire group because of a few rotten apples.

This, then, is a brief homage to youths who do not deserve being lumped with their crude peers.

Last week I participated in Career Day at Public School 276. I volunteer for such events, not for personal gain, but to give youngsters, who may be thinking about journalism as a career choice, a first-hand point of view.

I spoke to several classes, telling them about mandatory education and other required training and preparation, various experiences, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of being a weekly newspaper reporter. (I didn't dwell too much on the disadvantages, which isn't practical in promoting my career to youngsters.) I also spoke about the future of print journalism, which seems to be a dwindling vocation thanks in part to their generation's penchant for preferring Internet news dissemination.

While I was pleased and benefited from the experience, even though a mere handful of pupils posed questions, I was particularly impressed with two dozen or so students selected to be Career Day escorts.

Upon arrival, professional guests are cordially greeted then led to the school library for a brief orientation and welcomed by school staff. To help the occasion proceed smoothly, each professional is assigned a student escort to accompany them to classrooms where they preside for 40 or so minutes.

My escort, fifth grader Natalia Hackett, was courteous, respectful, friendly and gracious - a refreshing contradiction to young people who sometimes act self-absorbed and rude. As I addressed her schoolmates, she patiently sat, watched and listened to my lesson. When the period ended, she politely reminded me it was time to go to the next class.

Later, during a lunch break, I had the chance to mingle with Natalia and a handful of other escorts and took the opportunity to determine if my optimistic instinct about this elite group was accurate.

I inquired about their sources for news, leisure activity habits, career interests, etc. Each one was eager to talk in turn and provided impressive responses that seemed more mature than the average fifth grader.

When I later learned the escorts were interviewed before being selected, I presumed they were the school's cream of the crop and will likely attain their aspirations, as will a sharp Canarsie High School senior I've been working with since last September

After years of figuratively pulling teeth, requesting one student to write about newsworthy events and programs at each local high school, we had little success until last fall when Brittni Kanhai called and informed us she wanted to be the Courier's correspondent at her school.

She made a noteworthy first impression, but I was skeptical due to prior disappointments from other promising freelancers. Nevertheless, the cordial coed erased any doubts with her first assignment. Not only was it surprisingly well written for a high school student with minimal experience, but it also showed a flair for reporting and writing, which are separate and distinct journalism characteristics. Eight months later, we are grateful for the contributions we received from this bright, poised, articulate, responsible young woman, who is graduating fifth in her class of over 400 students.

More often than not, before we gave her assignments, Brittni was motivated enough to offer ideas, which we generally rubber-stamped. She also turned in her reports within the parameters of our deadlines and welcomed the constructive criticism, demonstrating a responsibility not always evident at her age.

Our instincts about Brittni, who plans on majoring in print journalism at St. John's University beginning in September, came to fruition when we learned that News 12 Brooklyn selected her for this week's "Student of the Week." No one is probably prouder than her parents for the cable news channel's tribute, but as her mentors for the last several months, we, too, are privileged to have been associated with Brittni as she prepares to continue her education and pursue her career goals.

While adults sometimes chastise the younger generation for its apparent indifference and self-absorption, my recent experiences demonstrated there are sufficient ripe apples in the bushel to guarantee the rotten ones won't impede their progress.

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