In my former life as an editor in The News Tribune newsroom, nothing recharged my batteries each spring more than supervising the TNT’s all-star graduate program.
Reading through the pile of roughly 100 nomination forms was an annual reminder of youthful excellence on South Sound high school campuses, and it restored my hope for the future. Helping the judges winnow the pile to 12 all-stars – perhaps passing up future genetic researchers, international diplomats and New York Philharmonic concertmasters – was humbling yet invigorating.
In just my first month as editorial page editor, I’ve already discovered a new battery-charging station.
Every January, the TNT’s opinion team reboots its roster of reader columnists. We start with an open invitation for local writers, whether published or unpublished, polished or unpolished, to submit two essays.
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This year’s cattle call yielded 65 applicants, which gave us a larger and more diverse field than in 2015, especially in terms of gender balance. (Thanks, fellas, for putting down your remotes and picking up your pencils this year.)
The midwinter tradition restores our hope in the future of essay writing as a craft. The sorting process is humbling, too. There’s a chance we missed a future Mark Twain, Malcolm Gladwell or Sarah Vowell, but we think you’ll be pleased with the six writers we chose. Their work (yes, writing is work) will take turns running in this space every Monday for the rest of 2016 and into early 2017.
▪ Zac Smith of Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood is a 39-year-old water quality technician for Lakewood Water District. He grew up mostly in Eatonville and enjoys watching movies so funny they make him “snort laugh.” In his sample essays, Zac flashed a humorous touch that nearly made me snort laugh. His first column will appear in Monday’s paper.
▪ Barbara Parsons of Tacoma’s North End bounces between Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, where she works as an adjunct professor of English composition. The 52-year-old vegetarian and amateur historian grabbed our attention with her passion for Tacoma’s old homes, gulches and school buildings, as well as her insights about teaching.
▪ Manola Secaira of University Place is a 20-year-old sophomore at Seattle Pacific University. The Bellarmine Preparatory School alumna caught our eye with an essay about growing up as a second-generation American Latina, one of eight children in a family whose parents immigrated from Guatemala. Manola likes boxing, so any editing we give her should be painless by comparison.
▪ Stuart Grover of Tacoma’s West Slope neighborhood is a 70-year-old semi-retired fundraising consultant who once owned a community newspaper in Columbus, Ohio. He enjoys good food, classical music, literary fiction, baseball and fast cars with manual transmissions. He mentally composed one of his sample essays while floating in a sensory-deprivation chamber.
▪ Michelle Ryder of Bonney Lake describes herself as a freelance writer, community activist and student of the Arabic language. We were struck by the rich life experiences the 33-year-old detailed in her sample essays, including flying into Cairo on the first day of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.
▪ Steve Jaech of Steilacoom taught composition and literature at Pierce College for nearly 40 years. As a 68-year-old retiree, Steve appreciates the senior discount at the Grand Cinema nearly as much as he enjoys being a first-time grandpa. He’s a Shakespeare buff and a poet. He concedes that his turn as a newspaper columnist will make him stretch outside his comfort zone a bit.
We’d be remiss at this point if we didn’t pay tribute to our departing writers. Editorial writer Cheryl Tucker offers these reflections on the 2015 class:
▪ Connie Hampton Connally, a North Ender pursuing a master's of fine arts in creative writing, found life lessons in being an older student, traveling in a son's adopted country and a sister coping with a disastrous accident. She's already a master of creative writing in our book.
▪ Puyallup writer Karrie Zylstra Myton tickled us with her take on being an unlikely Seahawks fan and the challenge of having sons 11 years apart. (Spoiler alert: It's a lot like the movie "Groundhog Day.")
▪ Paula Larson gave us helpful tips on treating people who live with a disability. The retired wildlife biologist also shared the joy and comfort she feels in nature, and confessed that she’s a stalker – of the elusive South Sound orcas.
▪ Mario Peñalver – a Tacoma schoolteacher, theater director and actor – enthralled us with stories that grew out of his Cuban-American-Puyallup roots and advice culled from some of his sixth-grade students.
▪ Deborah Morton, a corrections deputy at the county jail, shared her thoughts on her attention deficit disorder and stories about motherhood that reveal why she has gray hair.
▪ Karin Leeburg Larsen wrote movingly about how her father's life still inspires her, three decades after losing him. And even though she commutes to Seattle, she wrote that living in "my Puyallup" is just fine with her.
Thanks to the Class of 2015 for charging our batteries.
The floor is now yours, Class of 2016.
Reach editorial page editor Matt Misterek at (253) 597-8472 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.