BY MATT CRANE
Leah Gibson has a busy summer ahead.
Gibson, a junior at Starkville High School, was selected as the 2012 Mississippi Free Spirit Scholar and will attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. this June.
“When I was little, I thought I was going to be a lawyer,” Gibson said.
Her passion for telling others’ stories and a love for her community, however, led Gibson to begin pursuing her dream in the field of journalism. Gibson is heavily involved with the Starkville High newspaper, The Jacket Buzz, which is guided by journalism teacher R.J. Morgan.
Morgan has been with Starkville High since 2007, developing the newspaper and starting a morning broadcast show called “My Morning Jacket.” Morgan said he is proud of his student for earning the honor and even envious of Gibson’s opportunity.
“I’m just jealous that I’m not getting to go,” Morgan said. “She’s going to have the opportunity to listen to a lot of great speakers and receive some high-quality instruction in the field.”
Before working with The Jacket Buzz, Gibson started her own website, using her blogs as writing samples when applying for a position with the student publication.
“I think it’s great that we have this program at our school,” she said.
Working with Morgan and her fellow students allowed Gibson the chance to see that journalism was something she wanted to do before she went to college, she said.
Gibson, a self-described people person, said her involvement within the community and a willingness to always help other people are the reasons she wants to pursue broadcast journalism.
“Broadcasting will allow me to do what I love everyday,” she said. “I can get awareness out there about certain issues, and I think that’s the perfect outlet.”
Gibson started a local campaign two years ago called Teens for Jeans which, in partnership with the Aeropostale clothing line, recycles jeans which are distributed to homeless teens throughout the country. The issues and concerns with today’s youth resonates with Gibson, she said, and drives her to begin a dialogue about what is going on with the people her age.
“I feel that all of us as youth have a voice,” she said. “I want to be in the forefront, and I want people to see where we’re coming from.”
Gibson said she first became aware of the conference when Morgan placed a poster about the event in his room. She says she was hesitant about applying, having already committed to traveling to the Capitol this June as a member of the EPA Youth Leadership Tour representing 4-County Electric Department.
Thankfully for Beth Fitts, the director of the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association, Gibson decided to apply.
“They were looking for excellent students with good character, good work and who were responsible,” Fitts said. “We just thought Leah would be excellent.”
Fitts said Gibson will have the opportunity to meet with a variety of journalists and political figures while at the conference. The experience, she said, is one that may very well change her life. Fitts recognizes the importance of fostering a passion for journalism in students today.
Fitts said she was ultimately drawn to who Gibson was as a person, and said her character and work represent Mississippi very well.