2022 Special Award for Services to the School goes to graduate editors Ryan Eng, Julia Maciejak, and Jasmine Palma

2022+Special+Award+for+Services+to+the+School+goes+to+graduate+editors+Ryan+Eng%2C+Julia+Maciejak%2C+and+Jasmine+Palma

Brian Sweeney

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With the year coming to an end, there’s one more award to give out. It’s an award that The Classic first gave in 2017 to Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan for their coverage of that year’s principal controversy. I described it as “an award that I made up and that no one else will get in future years unless they reach [Mehrose and Sumaita’s] level.” Five years later, I think it’s time to give out this award once again. It’s called the “Special Award for Services to the School” and I’d like to give it to Ryan Eng, Julia Maciejak, and Jasmine Palma, our outgoing Editors-in-Chief.

Their journalistic courage was most on display for everyone earlier in the year when the issue of sexual misconduct at THHS became a citywide story. Perhaps the most dramatic day from that period occurred on the first day of S!NG. For two weeks Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine had been working diligently to cover the story as carefully and quietly as possible, but on that Friday, things were escalating. 

The three got to work the moment they arrived in school, despite having tons of other things to do. Jasmine had a big science research event she had to prepare for that weekend. Ryan was helping our multimedia team put on the first livestream we’d done since FON 2020. Julia had a key role in SING. They were taking calls and working to finish, right up until about 10 minutes before SING was set to start. People were looking for them, the clock was ticking, and only minutes before showtime, they cracked a key part of the story and then ran down to help put on the show.

After what was perhaps the busiest weekends of their lives — S!NG, the story breaking, them unexpectedly ending up on the front page of The New York Post — the rest of our world was processing everything, but on Monday morning, Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine were working again, interviewing again, writing again, and publishing by that night.

All of this was done while bearing witness firsthand to stories of incredible pain, suffering, and abuse. And that needs to be acknowledged because while I want to celebrate Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine, we need to underscore that what they helped bring to light is something citywide, countrywide, worldwide that needs more work, more attention, true justice. 

There are many people behind this work, people whose names remain known only to Ryan, Julia, Jasmine, their successors, and some of their predecessors; these are people who are incredibly brave. Almost all of them said they came forward out of a desire to make sure that nothing ever happens like this at THHS again. That courage may yield change well beyond THHS

For THHS, I can say that the experts the editors spoke to all agreed that it’s next to impossible for a school to train a person to not want to do horrible things, but it is possible to create a culture that keeps those who would do harm away from places where they can do harm. Sometimes that culture is achieved through strong training, clear policies, and a willingness for a school community to speak openly about sexual misconduct. I think that can also be achieved by having people like Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine saying: we will not shy away from these stories — we have a major platform, and we will use it to sound a very public alarm. They let the world know that they will use that platform, that The Classic will always use that platform — through proper journalistic standards and practices — and I think that alone has protected many future students. I hope that, in doing that, they’ve honored those sources who so bravely came forward and trusted them and their predecessors. 

And so, it is Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine’s unwavering commitment to hear people out, to connect dots, and to push powerful people to answer difficult questions that demands recognition. 

I said earlier that these events were “dramatic,” and while we were living through them, we all kept comparing it to a movie or a Netflix series. As an English teacher, I always instinctually go to compare these important days to fictional stories, particularly ones about young people taking on forces that should be beyond them. At a certain point, though, you realize that Ryan, Julia and Jasmine aren’t like those fictional characters, the fictional characters are like them. You realize that they are the real people behind these metaphors. That there are real people like this. 

I think of when Dumbledore talks to Harry Potter after he faces Voldemort in the flesh for the first time: “You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you tonight,” he said. “You have shouldered a grown wizard’s burden and found yourself equal to it.” Harry is not real, but these students are, and we could have said that to them almost word for word (…save for the wizard part, which would not have made sense).

I think of everyone watching the kids on Stranger Things over the past month (some of the characters are high school journalists). You’re all watching the show thinking, “these kids are remarkable and inspiring,” and I’m thinking: I know those kids for real. 

You could say that I’m just spinning a narrative myself now. That I’m just making them seem grander than they are, larger than life. But the rest of the world didn’t see them in these moments, doesn’t know the full stories, and only sees what Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine were able to publish.

But, like Mehrose and Sumaita, I had already written recommendations before their mettle was truly tested, and I like to refer back to these because I see it as proof that what was in them before their big moments was already apparent to anyone who had worked with them. I wrote each of these things about them in separate letters:

  • I’ve learned a lot from Ryan, mainly that there really are Ryans out there in this world. I would want one of them on my college campus. He’ll achieve great things on your campus too, but above all, he’ll be good to the rest of your students every moment that he’s there, as he has been to ours.
  • No matter the challenge, there’s a joy Julia takes in taking it on, a vivacity in her approach, that is simply inspiring to watch. She is one of my heroes…and it’s because of that energetic demeanor, that willingness to take on anything and everything with a smile and a laugh and a backbone of iron to hold it all together.
  • Jasmine is a gifted journalist, but she’s also a truly impressive leader. Those who work on the paper admire her talents and respect her judgment. This is a student-run paper and on more than one occasion I’ve told students who come to me looking for input to seek it from Jasmine. I trust her final say better than I trust mine. There’s no downside, no drawback to her; if I said a negative word about her, I’d have to see a priest to ask forgiveness. …Jasmine doesn’t just impress me, she inspires me, and I simply cannot wait to see what she will achieve in the years to come.

All of that was on display when the time came. Ryan was the one with the conscience of a saint who wanted to make sure that every decision was fair, was right, was for good, the one who would ask “should we do this?”; Julia was the one who could boil everything down to its essence and make it clear what had to be done, the one to tell Ryan, “this is the right thing— now let’s do it”; and Jasmine was the one who could reason through it all and say “this is how to get it done.” All of that made them an inspiring, unstoppable team worthy of this award that only The Classic hands out. 

And if it’s true that Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine are people who seem pulled from the pages of fiction, it’s only fitting that they get this award, which itself is pulled from the pages of the Harry Potter series (a series the four of us have had a yearlong debate about). The highest award given at Hogwarts, given only to a student who protects the school at great cost and through extreme bravery, is called the Special Award for Services to the School. It was given to Harry when he saved the school, it was given to Mehrose and Sumaita when they saved the school, and I give it to Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine now. 

That they deserve this is undeniable; that I will miss them more than words can say is equally undeniable. Even as a younger teacher, I was always known as someone who tells stories about previous years of students. Working with all the editors and staffers of The Classic is one of the great privileges of my life, and as I get older, it becomes clear that these stories are the things I treasure the most. Future students will hear tales about Ryan, Julia, and Jasmine — and the class of 2022 — for as long as I am teaching, and for that I have nothing but gratitude.

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