Meet the 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference Scholars

Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

By Freedom Forum

The 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference class includes 51 high school juniors representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These scholars were selected from among a record number of more than 200 applicants.

More than half of this year’s class (53%) are students of color, and 69% are women.

Many are active in their school journalism programs, including 15% who are editors-in-chief of their high school publications. Several have been published in or interned for state and national publications, including:

  • Honolulu Star-Advertiser
  • WHYY (Philadelphia)
  • VTDigger (Vermont)
  • NPR
  • Education Week
  • Time for Kids
  • PBS NewsHour

The class includes winners of the New York Times Personal Narrative and Student Editorial contests.

These students’ work in journalism has featured personal stories of mental health, race and culture, gun violence, literature, education, student press freedom, veterans, incarcerated writers and many more issues of importance to young people and their communities.

In addition to journalism, this year’s Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference scholars include students who have found success as an accomplished pianist, interned for a state representative, testified before Congress, achieved Eagle Scout status, played competitive tennis and been Model UN delegates. Members have participated in a wide range of charitable, civic and volunteer efforts in their communities.

Each of the selected students for the 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference exemplifies Al Neuharth’s call to “Dream. Dare. Do.”

Hear from the 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference Scholars

Elise Spenner

“As a journalist, I’ve learned when to use my story as a bridge to reach those who are different from me.”

Elise Spenner, California 

Elise Spenner
Evianna Hall

“The core of my passion for journalism is learning and expanding my worldview. … I love the possibility of my writing bringing that new perspective to someone else.”

Evianna Hall, Colorado 

Evianna Hall
Naomi Myint Breuer

“Journalism has helped me find my voice.”

Naomi Myint Breuer, District of Columbia

Naomi Myint Breuer
Talvin Gupta Dhingra

“Journalism can be a powerful tool for social justice, providing a platform for those who are underrepresented or oppressed to share their stories and advocate for change.”

Talvin Gupta Dhingra, Massachusetts

Talvin Gupta Dhingra
Isabella M. Jacob

“For our generation, our stories will be a lifeline for our future and the preservation of democracy.”

Isabella M. Jacob, Michigan

Isabella M. Jacob
Iris Jiani Xue

“I consider it my duty as a citizen to engage in truthful conversations through journalism.”

Iris Jiani Xue, Mississippi

Iris Jiani Xue
Tanisha Agrawal

“Journalism fosters the exchange of stories, something that starts small but leads to big ideas and potential change.”

Tanisha Agrawal, Pennsylvania

Tanisha Agrawal
Margot Ross

“The duty of a journalist is to elucidate beautiful, unsung, compelling narratives and speak truth to power.”

Margot Ross, Tennessee

Margot Ross

Class of 2023

Alabama
Venecia Lewis

Alaska
Haleigh Bolton

Arizona
Samuel Luba

Arkansas
Katherine Henry

California
Elise Spenner

Colorado
Evianna Hall

Connecticut
Christina Vega

Delaware
Isabella Lehr

District of Columbia
Naomi Breuer

Florida
Riana Mahtani

Georgia
Sydney Martinez

Hawaii
Shane Kaneshiro

Idaho
Kara Skiles

Illinois
Tomas Moran

Indiana
Malak Samara

Iowa
Wesal Haroun

Kansas
Joaquin Davila

Kentucky
Treiston Collins

Louisiana
Alyvia Pierson

Maine
David Rush

Maryland
Paige Plater

Massachusetts
Talvin Dhingra

Michigan
Isabella Jacob

Minnesota
Orion Kim

Mississippi
Iris Xue

Missouri
Serena Liu

Montana
Henry Jagodzinski

Nebraska
Anthony McGill

Nevada
Max Grinstein

New Hampshire
Kelly Egan

New Jersey
Jiwoo Lee

New Mexico
Louis Herndon

New York
Laila Guzman Griffin

North Carolina
Nadia Armenta

North Dakota
Hannah Sarkilahti

Ohio
Kyle Smith

Oklahoma
Nicolette Berlin

Oregon
Zoe Toperosky

Pennsylvania
Tanisha Agrawal

Rhode Island
Darrien Giuliano

South Carolina
Jordan Davis

South Dakota
Reese Duncan

Tennessee
Margot Ross

Texas
Eshaan Mani

Utah
Indiana Plant

Vermont
Hannah Cunningham

Virginia
Clare Kirwan

Washington
Minoo Jang

West Virginia
Jeremiah Hurd

Wisconsin
Leah Beyer

Wyoming
Emma Johnson

About the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

The annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference for high school juniors returns to the nation’s capital June 24-29, 2023.

The program was established in 1999 to honor Al Neuharth, founder of the Freedom Forum and USA TODAY. The conference is designed to inspire and encourage students to pursue journalism. Today, there are more than 1,400 “Free Spirits” including journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, ESPN and network-affiliated TV stations.

Free Spirits have been described as people who “dream, dare, do.” Those are words that conference participants demonstrate each day, and they are the program’s motto.

“A free spirit can also be a risk-taker, a visionary, an innovative leader, or a courageous achiever who accomplishes great things beyond his or her circumstances,” said Neuharth, who died in 2013.

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