Position: A&E Section Editor
College: University of Kansas
I had this set image in my head of who I was going to be in high school. In middle school, I went through a regretful “sk8r” phase where I too often sported checkered Vans, skinny jeans and that grimy Hurley hoodie that’s probably buried in my closet somewhere. I still wince when I think about every “sk8 or die” sticker I slapped onto my three-ring notebook.
Entering high school, I needed something different. I had always been shy — not introverted or reclusive — I just kept to myself and didn’t say much unless I was spoken to. My social anxiety at times could make Michael Cera seem like a smooth talker. Regardless, that wouldn’t be a problem for me, because I was a turtle, and no matter what, this turtle was staying in her shell for the entirety of her time at Shawnee Mission East. I thought if I wiped away the unflattering, excessive amounts of eyeliner from my face and shed my oversized band tees, I could still try to survive what I believed was to be a painful four years.
And I’ll be honest: a good portion of high school was painful. But, I made it painful for myself by never attempting to make an impression on anyone.
Something changed, though. Not all at once, but gradually. And it began with a phone call first semester freshman year.
I remember the voicemail on my phone being something of this nature: Stephen Nichols. Editor of the Harbinger. Needed a portfolio of my work. Now.
I listened to the message a few times over. I shoddily put together a few run of the mill pencil drawings I had into a plain manila folder and slipped it onto Tate’s desk the next morning before school. And thus was the beginning of my four year involvement on Harbinger.
Walking into room 520, the J-room, for the first time as an actual member of staff was like entering an abyss of peoples’ faces Photoshopped onto inanimate objects, and intimidating upperclassmen bantering mixed with blaring rap. And dare you ever set any of your possessions down on either couch facing the center of the room; they would be lost forever, sucked up into a black hole of newspaper stacks, remnants of food and tangled computer cords.
After a year and a half of hiding at the other end of the journalism room with the only company coming from my Texan adviser sitting at his desk, I decided to go on the spring journalism trip to Portland, OR. Portland seemed like a neat city but, my mom repeatedly telling me, “Honey, you’ll make new friends! It’ll be such a good experience for you!”, fueled my decision more than I’d like to admit. Going into the trip, I was horrified. Maybe I would sit alone on the plane ride, since none of these people really knew me. Or maybe I would be left in the hotel room during day outings. Maybe I would even get lost on the streets of Portland because I would be forced to wander the concrete jungle by my lonesome. And all I had to do was speak to people. It seemed like a simple task.
The first night we ate at a Greek restaurant and I ordered a dull salad. I didn’t say a word as I sat at the other end of the table. On the second night, we ate fish and chips at a little Irish Pub and sat a big rectangular table – this night was different. I felt comfortable around that group of people. We all differed from each other, but were all there, in that city for the same reason: journalism.
We rode the light rail to the convention center for journalism related shenanigans, standing due to lack of seats. We goofily danced while holding onto the handles above us so as not to topple over. On our way back to the hotel, we passed a brick building that read “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD,” painted on the side of it. We finally stopped, and all piled out of the street train, half running/walking back to the hotel.
That night was the first time I had ever really broken any sort of social blockade I had in my mind. I enjoyed being in the company of those people, even though I had never truly spoken to them before.
We all met in the lobby of the hotel that next morning. The co-editor at the time, Tim Shedor, was already sitting down when I plopped on the floor next to the couch where he was. He turned and looked at me in a sort of perplexed manner and bluntly asked, “Are we ever going to see ‘outgoing Kennedy’ again, or was that just a one time deal?”
I thought about that comment for a while. I made an effort to be somebody – in track, cross country, Harbinger. After that definitive night, I realized I could make an impression on people and that high school could be a pretty amazing time in my life if I just let people know who Kennedy Burgess was.
When I walk across that stage next week, grab my diploma and look out to my fellow Lancers, I’ll know I did just that.