From My Perspective: Free Spirit Conference inspires budding journalist

BY LISA BURGOA

PRINT MANAGING EDITOR

Viewed from the eighth-floor window of the Newseum’s conference center, Washington, D.C., seemed conquerable. Heck, the world seemed conquerable. The sprawling scope of the city was reduced to a diorama of matchbox cars and pebble-sized people, flanked on one side by the white wedding cake of the Capitol Building. RGB LISA B

My reflection glinted on the glass plane, refracting across the patchwork of tree-lined streets. It looked like I had been absorbed into the soul of the city itself. I was part of this buzzing, electric nucleus of politics and history and art. I was part of D.C.

For five sun-soaked days from June 21-26, this was the stomping ground for me and 50 other young journalists selected to represent their states in the annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. Together, we were treated to a dizzying, all-expense-paid program of speakers ranging from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists to civil rights champions, tours through the USA Today offices and press boxes on Capitol Hill, as well as excursions to the district’s monuments and museums.

USE Free SpiritThe Newseum, a museum devoted in chronicling the history of American newsgathering and educating the public about the First Amendment, spared no expense in funding our media immersion. Its conference center on the eight floor served as our home base for sessions with journalists from Politico, TIME magazine and the Washington Post.

No amount of preemptive research (i.e. Facebook stalking) about my fellow Free Spirits could have prepared me for the colorful cast of characters I would encounter at the conference, a motley crew replete with the creativity and courage of seasoned journalists.

There was a boy from the district who immediately trumped all our introductions by nonchalantly mentioning that he once played basketball with the president. There was a girl from Atlanta who could spurt out little-known political factoids at a mile a minute.

There was my roommate, a pageant queen from Idaho who was every bit as brainy as she was beautiful. And there was a girl from Alabama who, in what was one of the most stupefyingly happy moments of my life, announced it was my birthday and caused a chorus of 50 voices to erupt in a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

I’m continually flooded by memories of the experience I shared with the other Free Spirits. Hardly a day transpires when I am not awash with recollections of the time I scoured the entire Vietnam Memorial with the scholar from New Mexico to stencil over the name of her uncle killed in combat, or the time I bristled with indignation as we learned about the student press restrictions imposed by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier in the decadent D.C. district court. I still savor my team’s hard-fought victory in a current events quiz show (go blue team!), and fondly revisit each floor of the Newseum in my head.

USE Other White House Group

Even five months later, the words of the speakers still rattle in my brain. I can never shake off the velvet voice of “PBS NewsHour” anchorwoman Gwen Ifill as she recounted the racism that hounded her early journalism career or former press secretary Ron Nessen’s account of his heated exchanges with the press corps during the Vietnam War. Most of all, I’m still chalked with a tremor of emotion at the memory of Rep. John Lewis’s plight as a Freedom Rider when he spoke about the media’s role in the advancement of civil rights.

All these sessions served to invigorate our passion for journalism, even in an era when the industry is shadowed by a rain cloud of uncertainty. We were all collectively taken aback when David Gregory of “Meet the Press” warned us during a taping of his program at NBC studios that a journalism degree was not a prudent investment.

We each had qualms about the decline of newspapers, the editorialized nature of news networks and the massive layoffs occurring all across the industry. But the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference helped assuage our fears and assure us that we could pioneer a new vision for the future of journalism and navigate the new digitized age.

USE unnamedWhenever I revisit my experiences as a Free Spirit, I feel as if I was transported back to the window of the Newseum, surveying the bustling city below me. I can conquer D.C., the world, the journalism industry and all of life’s “little league failures,” as Al Neuharth would say. I’m invincible.

And when I see on Facebook that the Free Spirit from Colorado is organizing a protest against her school board’s censorship of textbooks, or when the boy from Washington launches a vehement political tirade on Twitter, or when the girl from Connecticut is shaking hands with President Obama, I’m overcome with the feeling that one day we’ll change the world.

Because you know what?

We just might.

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Opinion: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge true purpose should be known

BY EMILY CHAIET

NEWS EDITOR

What is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis? Most of you can probably find the answer on your Facebook feed.

Throughout the past few months, it’s been impossible to go on social media without seeing “ALS ice bucket challenge” pop up. But let me ask you a question: why are you pouring a bucket of ice on yourself?EMILY C COLOR copy

Most of us are capable of dousing ice-cold water on ourselves for the world to see, yet I bet only a fraction of us can say what ALS is and what purpose the ice bucket challenge serves for those affected by it.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Due to the degeneration of motor neurons, ALS often results in death. The life expectancy of an ALS patient is two to five years from the time of diagnosis. Only 30,000 people in the US have ALS, and there is no cure for the disease thus far.

Unlike those who roll their eyes every time they see another ice bucket challenge pop up on their Instagram feed, I feel joy seeing such a little known disease getting attention. Since the ice bucket challenge began, the ALS Association has received $15.6 million in donations compared to $1.8 million in donations it received last year. The only thing I roll my eyes at is how little people will care about the disease once their video is posted.

The problem with the ice bucket challenge is it has become such a pop culture phenomenon that people are forgetting why it began in the first place. If people are not aware of the importance of ALS research, and the impact the challenge has had, the ice bucket challenge is in danger of becoming just another fad that will be buried into the depths of social media in a matter of months.

Why do I say this? Let me take you back to a time when everybody wore “I Love Boobies” bracelets to support breast cancer. How many people still wear those bracelets today? While those bracelets stood for an excellent cause in breast cancer awareness and gave attention to a life-threatening illness, most people bought them for the comical phrase written or to blend in with their friends. The bracelets, which were made to promote breast cancer, became a fashion trend rather than a charitable donation.

The ALS ice bucket challenge is on the path to a similar fate as the “I Love Boobies” bracelets. Due to people’s ignorance, participants have no care to keep the trends going. When such great causes are getting attention, we cannot let them turn into fads.

This is the first time the ALS community has received so much attention, and it would be a shame to see the ice bucket challenge become just another forgotten hashtag on social media. Instead of caring how many likes we get on our ice bucket challenge videos, we should care about how much the challenge has helped ALS research.

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Opinion: College applications break the bank

SABRINA GAGGIA
PRINT EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Tapping away at the keys on my computer on a Friday night while sipping on some much-needed coffee as I fill and refill what seems to be endless question boxes about classes, grades, accomplishments and incomes, my head starts to pound. That’s right, I’m talking college applications.

This process not only consumes first semester seniors mentally but also financially. As a hopeful and dedicated applicant, I make time during my weeks and weekends to fill out the endless sections of my applications and even worse, write and rewrite my essays. But when my decisions on where to apply are affected because of the application fees, I begin to feel as if the application process is not a fair one.
College admissions offices should make applying to schools free or they should at least partially reimburse the students that get rejected from their schools.PRETTY SAB

Normally when $300 is charged to my mom’s credit card in a single hour, a grand purchase has been made. Unfortunately, this has not been the case lately. Large sums of money have been spent, except it has not been on a grand purchase but on a few of my college applications.

Why do some schools ask applicants to pay an $85 application fee? If our application is sent via the web, almost like an email, why do colleges need to charge us this much money to send in our information? Where does the money even go? I understand the people who evaluate the applications need to get paid, but $85 seems like too much money for the amount of work required.

The financial aspect of my college application process has not only overwhelmed me, but it has also made me feel as if all colleges worry about is money rather than education, as if they do not give importance to me or my application, and as if instead of reading my name all they see is dollar signs.

Granted, by allowing students to send applications for free, the number of applications admission offices would receive would increase. However, students’ chances of getting into college would also increase due to the fact that they could apply to more schools. Paying $85 dollars to apply to a school makes me feel as if I am paying for rejection.

Not only is sending the application a financial worry in students’ eyes and in parents’ checkbooks, but also add sending SAT and/or ACT scores along with transcripts to the list – both of which are necessary and not free – and the price becomes absurd. As if college is not expensive enough, the application process just adds to the financial hardship that is college.

Making this process a free one or at least partially reimbursing students who get rejected would allow applicants a wider variety of schools to apply to, further changing the course of future collegiate careers.

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Opinion: Labels hide true identity

BY MEREDITH SHELDON

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

MERE

Filling out college applications, I come across the same question: How do you describe yourself?

An infinite list of adjectives comes to mind. However, the only options in the drop down menu are African-American, White, Asian, Hispanic, Indian or other.

I select white. In this declarative moment, I feel a sense of incompletion. Does “white” really define who I am? I am more than just a color. There is more to my character and my background than an unclear, broad label.

Growing up in a city such as Weston, I have been exposed to many different cultures, especially at the Bay, where more people speak Spanish than English.

Sixteen years in a diverse community equals 16 years of different cultures I collected. These are cultures that have formed my identity. These are cultures that are hidden behind my “white” label.

I consider myself part Hispanic. No, my parents are not from Colombia nor Venezuela. Yet, the majority of my teammates on my swim team embrace these backgrounds. My swim friends constantly speak Spanish at practice. When I visit their homes, I am immersed in a completely new culture with different food, different values and a different way of life.

Even though being Hispanic is not in my blood, it is in my heart. Unfortunately, it is not in my accent. My Hispanic friends constantly joke about my “gringa” voice, but I’m working on it.

I also consider myself part Israeli. None of my family is from Israel, but I am an observer of Judaism. I am immersed in a prominent Jewish population at my school. Some of these Jewish students are native Israelis or have lived in the holy-land for some period of time.

This summer, I traveled to Israel for the first time. I thought I would be confused and unable to understand the language. Although I don’t speak Hebrew, I immediately felt welcome there – partly because of the warm, friendly vibes I received from Israeli citizens, but also because I went with a strong background. My connection to the Jewish community in my school and in my synagogue helped me ease my way into Israel, feeling at home in a foreign country.

Besides Hispanic and Israeli, other cultures shape my identity. The US is a unique and culturally diverse nation. Walking through the crowded school halls is a feeling that equates to navigating the busy streets of New York City – unfamiliar faces all from different places. My school brings global local.

The environment on campus is similar to that of Disney’s theme park, Epcot. I walk around the park experiencing a taste of Italy, China and Spain. I walk through my school hallways surrounded by people speaking Italian, Chinese and Spanish. It is these micro-moments of connection where I am learning, growing and observing, becoming a more culturally-aware individual.

The label “white” does not define who I am. It may imply my ethnicity, but it does not represent the person I have grown and matured to be. Beneath my white skin and white label lie other cultures and traits. These are traits acquired from eating dinner at my Cuban neighbor’s house. These are traits learned through my friends from China, Russia and Greece.

Colleges desire a diversely populated campus, which is the purpose for their inquiry about my heritage. People are diverse not by the color of their skin nor by their place of birth, but by the skills acquired and by the activities pursued. We, as current college applicants, should not be mandated to label ourselves.

So, when asked how I would define myself, I select white. But this selection means nothing. Here’s the thing about labels: there is much more underneath.

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Opinion: Twitter is not the place for grief

BY JENNIFER SCHONBERGER

MANAGING EDITOR

I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. Neither did many others who flooded Twitter with 140-character-or-less messages mourning the loss of the beloved actor and comedic genius on Aug. 11. Still, in typical Twitter fashion, #RIPRobinWilliams managed to become a trending topic within hours of the sad news breaking.JEN JPEG

It’s natural for people to feel a connection with celebrities and to get emotional when they pass away. We admire and appreciate them for making us laugh, for making us think, for bringing some form of positivity into our lives.

Unfortunately, as can be seen in the event of Robin Williams’ passing, this admiration doesn’t always manifest itself as respect once it reaches the Twittersphere. There’s a time and a place for grief, and that day it became evident to me that Twitter is not the place.

It started that evening when my mom came into my room and told me about Robin Williams. I felt a pang in my chest, and immediately thought back to the days of my childhood when I fell in love with the story of “Jumanji” or when I had a “Hook” VHS tape playing on repeat as Williams took me to Neverland and made me never want to grow up.

After I reminisced, my next reaction was to open up Twitter to check how others were reacting to the news. But when I saw all of the #RIPRobinWilliams hashtags flooding my timeline, it disturbed me the way a hashtag symbol, something that is more often used lightheartedly with #tbt or #sorrynotsorry, was now paired with such a serious and grave statement.

I spent a minute trying to come up with a respectful tweet of my own before feeling guilty for how immediately taking to social media to share my emotions has become a natural reflex not only for me, but also for everyone of my social-media-obsessed generation. Why does sadness need to be publicized? Answer: It doesn’t.

It’s true that Twitter is all about giving users the right to express themselves, but it’s also true that there are no Twitter police blocking us from writing anything our hearts desire. This is why it’s up to us to know when we’re going one step too far with our words and crossing a line of respect. This line is bound to be broken when people try to take on such delicate subjects as suicide or depression.

Twitter can be used for good or for evil, and unfortunately, deaths bring out the worst of people on the Internet. On the day of Williams’ death, underneath all of the sympathetic comments celebrating his life were comments of harassment aimed at his 25-year-old daughter Zelda’s Twitter account.

She received hundreds of messages saying her father’s suicide was somehow her fault, and crude, Photoshopped pictures showing fake bruises around his neck. This ruthless Twitter attack during such a tough time pushed Zelda to sign off Twitter and Instagram for weeks to avoid harassment, which in turn pushed Twitter to make a statement on updating its safety policies.

“We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter,” Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, said in a statement. “We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users.”

https://twitter.com/zeldawilliams/status/499432576872755201

Incidents such as these make me question not only human nature but also the nature of social media – what type of person would use Twitter as a platform for bullying? Let’s all do Twitter a simple favor and try not to abuse the right of Freedom of Speech given to us in the First Amendment. Let’s try to be respectful. Hint: It’s not that hard if you’re a decent human being.

Not everything in life comes with instructions. There is no grieving-on-social-media handbook. (No, “Twitter for Dummies” doesn’t count). Simply treat celebrity deaths with the same respect you would if a loved one had died. We all know how the old saying goes: If you don’t have anything nice to Tweet, don’t Tweet anything at all.

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From My Perspective: Finding a life-long ‘best buddy’

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BY ERICA LACHMAN

Renae and I first met in a drama class when I was in the seventh grade. I remember she always wore these pretty pink outfits with a matching hair-tie to pull back her black, curly hair.

I don’t remember our first conversation, but I knew we would become friends. Before long, we became close and now we are sisters.

The way she sees the world is how I see it. We both see animals and we go crazy. Laughing is a must, and keeping close friends is important. After she asked me in eighth grade if I could join Best Buddies, the organization that pairs special needs students with friendly partners, I jumped on the idea. It was a way to become even closer, and there is always something to look forward to, like the Petting Zoo and movie nights.

Though Renae is autistic, she has one of the biggest hearts. She puts people before herself and her priority is to make sure everyone is okay.

When I was stressing over school grades, she became very worried that school was affecting me. She likes to dance, I know she does; it just takes a tickle or two and she’ll start jamming.

Her mother, Brenda Wadler, has got to be one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. She told me once that she wants to give Renae the most normal life as possible. Renae’s upcoming “Frozen” themed birthday party in May will be my fourth year attending. Renae deserves great parties, and her parents succeed in giving her those.

Renae has made me a better person: the way she sees how people feel, how she smiles at all times, and how she lights everything up with her happiness. She has made me a happier and positive person throughout my days.

Once, I lost my iPhone and, without my knowing, Renae did not give up looking for it and asked several administrators about it. An administrator told me he had found it. I wondered who asked him if he had it, and sure enough, it was Renae with a big smile on her face. The way she cares about others is mesmerizing.

Recently, we’ve been talking about our favorite dog, the Great Pyrenees (which looks like a small polar bear). All of our common interests show how much we are together.

I am looking forward to the Best Buddies Walk later this month where I can walk with my partner in crime, my second half, and my long lost sister. Renae is an amazing friend whom I hope to keep forever.

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The Lightning Zap: Pi Day


BY JUANA CAPELLUTO

MULTIMEDIA EDITOR

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Opinion: Embracing the ‘pro’ in procrastination

BY BRITTANY ZEIDEL

MANAGING EDITOR

We’ve all been there.  Calculus homework due tomorrow, English project due Friday, physics assignment due Tuesday, and a dozen quizzes and test scattered sporadically throughout the next few weeks – so the logical thing to do at this point would be to sit down, get it all done, and call it a day.

But guess what I’m doing. Nothing. Should I be doing my schoolwork? Probably.  Am I going to? Definitely, but later.

To dawdle, to lag, to defer, and to loiter all translate to mean basically the same thing: to procrastinate.  In literal terms, when one procrastinates, he/she puts something off “until tomorrow.” The word procrastinate is even derived from the Latin pro, meaning “forward,” and crastinus, meaning “belonging to tomorrow.”

My grandmother was a procrastinator, my mother was a procrastinator, and now I guess one could say I am a pro-procrastinator. The trait is in my genes and is a part of who I am. Although the procrastination lifestyle is not exactly encouraged or accepted by all, it is the way that I function the best.

Procrastination has a negative connotation, so to be accused of being a procrastinator is usually taken badly. But whenever I am faced with this accusation, I embrace it. The “pros” in procrastination tend to be ignored since not all can harness their procrastinating powers usefully, but the actual concept of it should be reevaluated and accepted.

In order to successfully procrastinate, one must be aware of sudden and looming deadlines. For me, in those precious last moments before I’m supposed to be done with whatever needs to get done is my most crucial time.  My stressful race to completion combines with frantic desperation to produce something that I would not have been able to make otherwise. Therefore, determination and procrastination generates innovation.

Procrastination also becomes useful when dealing with unpredictable circumstances. Events can get canceled and deadlines can become eradicated. That outdoor event that you’ve been decorating for the whole week – gets rained out.  That math test you studied with a tutor for weeks – gets postponed. That party you bought the perfect new outfit for – gets canceled. These situations can and do happen, but are avoidable by procrastinating until a reasonable time to start preparations, arrangements and plans.

Procrastinating has also saved my physical and mental health. People tend to put a tremendous amount of stress on themselves when they plan so far in advance for what has the potential to change.  Ironically, prioritizing more hours working rather than hours necessary for sleep is unhealthy and can actually make someone less efficient, which has the complete opposite result from the intention. While my classmates are already sprouting gray hairs from stress, I experience relatively much less stress since all my stress runs its course within a short time period right before something is due.

Evolving into the pro-procrastinator that I am now didn’t just happen overnight. It took time, experience, and a few last-minute successes to reaffirm my procrastinating confidence. I am fully aware of my responsibilities and deadlines, so whatever needs to get done will always get done and on time, and I guarantee it will be spectacular.

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Opinion: Identity can sometimes be a surprise

Opinion: Identity can sometimes be a surprise

BY ILANA SPERLING

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

It happens every time. Whenever I mention where I’m from, someone around me is shocked. It shouldn’t bother me, but the fact that I am so often judged by my appearance is disappointing. I have strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, a German last name, and an American accent. I used to love saying where I was born whenever I had the chance, but now that I’m older I realize how unfortunate it is that my looks determine others’ expectations.

I was born in Bogota, Colombia. Although I moved to this country when I was a year and a half old, Spanish was my first language and I speak it fluently. My parents were both born and raised in Colombia, and lived there until they decided it was an unsafe place to raise a baby. My family moved to the United States in order to pursue opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have.

Moving to the U.S. gave my parents the freedom to practice their religion comfortably, and to not live in fear. I am Jewish, and this is mainly how I identify myself. As a Jew, I’ve learned that my ancestors suffered persecution and discrimination, and my parents have instilled in me the idea that education is the one thing that cannot be taken away. Even as a young child, I strived to do my best in school, and I earned the label of gifted. This led to an even greater struggle with my identity. I became a Jewish, Colombian gifted student.ilanaimo

I have had mostly the same people in my classes since middle school, and at one point or another my peers have found out that I am Hispanic. Although some are surprised but try not to act it, I often receive very dramatic reactions from those who have just met me.

Usually after people first find out, I am asked to speak in Spanish. This question makes me uncomfortable since I’ve lost my Spanish accent due to constantly speaking with my American friends in English. My Colombian family makes fun of my accent, so in a way, I’ve become ashamed of my language.

My traditions are more Jewish than they are Colombian, making it difficult for me to relate to the 2,165 students at school who are from South American countries.

As a Colombian Jew, I often find it difficult to fit in, and I feel as though I don’t belong in many social circles. This is extremely difficult because of the preconceptions people have and the stereotypes they form in their heads when I talk about where I was born and what my religious affiliation is. This has led me to feel uncomfortable when filling out questionnaires, especially on college applications.

Being judged by my appearance has caused me to fear being judged by my representation on paper. Although colleges won’t know what I look like when they read my application, they should develop a sense of who I am from the information I provide and the voice in my essays.

Identity is integral to one’s sense of self, and because of the struggle I have faced in deciding who I am and what I should portray myself as, I feel as though my sense of self is fragmented.

Being Colombian is like my secret weapon, but it’s one I’m not always comfortable carrying. I love being able to understand those around me who speak Spanish, and communicating with people in two languages is a skill in which I take pride. But being Colombian and Jewish has also made me self-conscious.

When I was choosing which college to apply to, one of the biggest factors I considered was whether or not there was a large Jewish population. Being involved in the Jewish community has allowed me to feel a sense of belonging, and this involvement with my religion is something I will take with me when I am no longer living at home. However, I know that in the future when I have my own family, I will want my children to speak Spanish, because being bilingual is so beneficial.

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Opinion: Television inspires creativity, not laziness

BY JENNIFER SCHONBERGER

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

The misconception that watching television “rots your brain” has always struck me with a sense of disbelief. I think back to the Friday nights of my childhood when my parents would let 6-year-old me stay up late to catch an episode of “Full House,” and I see myself now eagerly staying up past midnight every Saturday to catch an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”

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Growing to appreciate television over the years has not sentenced me to a lifetime of lethargy on the couch, as some may expect it to, but instead has impacted my own creativity and taught me how to handle life situations.

The writers that manage to get people addicted to television shows have a purpose, and they are genius enough to know how to lure people in. Through carefully constructed plotlines and messages sewn into a TV storyline, there is a tremendous amount of talent put into the production of a television show that should inspire younger generations to think in such innovative ways.

To learn through watching TV, you don’t necessarily need to be on the History Channel or watching an educational documentary. I have picked up information that will stick with me for a lifetime simply by watching sitcoms. On an old episode of “Friends” I learned what could ease the pain if I ever get stung by a jellyfish. By watching the comedy series “Modern Family,” I gained a sense for how diverse a family can be. Although it may seem silly and useless at the time, this information builds up into a collective archive in my brain where it is available for reference at any moment. In daily life, I find myself making allusions to episodes of TV shows all the time without even realizing it.

More than anything, TV has contributed to my sense of humor. I can attribute my understanding of sarcasm to the times in which I observed comical situations on television. For a person to interact with others, sarcasm, quickness, and wit are perfect qualities to make use of in social situations.

As a writer, I can honestly say that most of my creativity has stemmed from things I’ve seen on television that have subliminally etched themselves into my brain. These ideas inspire me to see situations from more than one perspective. If anything, watching television has not brainwashed me, but stimulated my creativity.

Not all that can be found on TV is worthy of praise, of course. However, once the junk is sorted out of the mix, the power of the pure imagination that is put into television shows can shine. Television is not just a series of pixelated images on a screen. What we watch on this screen truly broadens our awareness, exposes us to life outside of our own personal bubble, and teaches us about social skills, life values, and communication.

Looking back, I am extremely thankful to my parents that they never sent me up to my room years ago when I used to stay up late watching “Full House.” I have no shame in admitting to all of the essential morals about relationships and family values that I picked up from the Tanners and their fictional experiences in San Francisco. Television has taught me how to be a person and handle my own nonfictional life, a lesson that can’t be found in any textbook ever written.

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