You only have 275 words or so to work with, so this can be done lightly, in a paragraph or so. After all, as Anastasia Economides, a Times staff editor who judged in 2016, pointed out:
At their age, I was always too intimidated to even read The Times, let alone reflect my thoughts on the very big issues that adults with authority are trying to tackle. After reading some of these well-processed statements and passionate opinions and empathetic voices, I have newfound faith in our future leaders-in-the-making.
How did this piece impact you? Did it teach you something? Challenge you? Reassure you? Move you? Make you angry? What emotions did it stir, and why?
What happened as you read? What was going through your mind? What specific lines, quotes, words or details stood out? Why?
What questions did it raise for you? What does it make you want to know more about?
What connections can you make between this piece or topic and something else you know about? Why? For instance, does it remind you of something else you’ve read, seen or heard? Something you’ve studied in school?
What did you think of the piece overall? What were its strengths and weaknesses?
Take us into your thought process as you read by describing what you notice and wonder as you go. For example, check out how Hannah Li made sense of the Times’s reporting on Beyoncé by explaining her initial confusion and how she resolved it.
Example: In 2017, Hannah Li, of Syracuse, N.Y., chose “To Beyoncé or Not to Beyoncé: The Challenges of Confirming the Birth of Her Twins,” and wrote:
As long as you’re not living under a rock, you know Beyoncé recently had twins. That’s not news. But what was news to me was that The New York Times took great precaution when publishing the story. I mean, it’s Beyoncé! We want all the news we can get regarding her pregnancy. We don’t care if it’s just rumors! Right? Wrong.
In “To Beyoncé or Not to Beyoncé: The Challenges of Confirming the Birth of Her Twins,” Maya Salam explains her process of confirming details. When the rumors first leaked, all the gossip mags and many news sources jumped to publish something about the twins. Facts couldn’t be confirmed since neither Beyoncé or Jay-Z were talking, but that didn’t stop publications. Salam contacted many sources she had deemed reliable but she came back empty-handed from most. Nevertheless, she persisted and eventually found solid information.
This made me realize that The New York Times actually cares about all its facts, even in the most trivial aspects of life. Beyoncé is famous, so gossip mags and fans don’t really pay attention to the fact that even though Queen B is sometimes seen as a goddess, she is, in fact, human. So it’s important to keep the facts about her twins straight. In this era of fake news, it’s important to stay vigilant about what we hear and read, especially on the news. And if news sources have to work hard to get the facts straight on something as lighthearted as Beyoncé, then they must work even harder to maintain the veracity of harder topics.
Show how a piece changed your mind or broadened your understanding of an issue. Notice how, in just 273 words, Louise Dorisca managed to write a stirring, beautifully expressed reaction to the 1619 Project, which was not just one article but an entire special edition of The Times Magazine. Then take a look at how John Fernandez Philippides embedded family history in his explanation for how a piece on cars changed his mind about data privacy.
It’s been 400 years since the first slave ship landed in America. Four-hundred years later, the country it was built upon remains. For me, the word ‘slavery’ brings up images of people, humans, being dragged away from the only home, family, and freedom that they have ever known, and being loaded into floating wooden prisons as cargo. From that moment on, they were no longer humans, they were slaves, and they would forever be.
I thought I could fully wrap my head around the severity of it. However, truthfully, I was never one to lament slavery. I never personally felt victimized by it, though I knew that if I was born only 300 years ago, I would be a slave. When I was younger, I recall my father telling me about his country, Haiti, and how it was the only place on Earth where if a black man stepped foot there, he was free. I now understand that freedom from slavery does not come without a price, and Haiti is still paying for theirs.
America is paying off their freedom, and it is very costly. Traces of slavery are found throughout America’s health care and prison system, in the wealth gap, and in the education we receive, like scattered pieces of broken glass. And as long as those pieces remain, I will be a victim of slavery. Even though I didn’t receive the whip to my back like my ancestors did, the scars will still remain. I am now aware of them. If I continue to be, maybe my children, and their children after, won’t have to be born with those scars, too.
Example II: In 2017, John Fernandez Philippides of Boston chose “Cars Suck Up Data About You. Where Does It All Go?” and wrote:
Born in 2000, I have rarely worried about the risks of the digital age. But this article about the information that cars collect about us spurred a dramatic shift in my opinion about privacy and data-tracking. For a long time, I didn’t care what information companies and the government knew about me. I couldn’t believe that my mom required us to keep our new Amazon Echo turned off and far from where we talked. When I complained about her unfounded paranoia, she revealed that her reasons for moving Alexa were more complex than I thought.
My mother’s family lived in Argentina during part of the “Dirty War,” a period starting in 1976 when the government abducted and killed thousands of Argentine citizens. Her father suspected that the government was spying on his family. When a group of soldiers entered their apartment and tore through his family’s belongings without their consent, they fled to the United States. I learned that the fear of surveillance is more deeply instilled in my mother than it ever could be in me, and my apathy began to erode.
Last week, as I read about how auto companies sell information about our driving habits and daily routines, sometimes without our consent, I wondered whether my family would have survived if the Argentine government had access to that kind of data and technology.
Now, unless I need her, Alexa remains turned off in my study.
Example: In 2019, Jordan Ferdman of New York City chose an article headlined “Dozens of Young People Hospitalized for Breathing and Lung Problems After Vaping” and wrote:
I couldn’t have been older than 8 years old when my parents introduced to me the concept of intent versus impact. The idea that when you hurt someone, or your actions have a negative consequence, your intent is not what matters.
I cannot help but wonder if executive James Monsees understands my parents’ guiding principle. Though he acknowledged the rampant use among underage Americans, Juul products continue to sell. The effects of this are not, by any means, difficult to find: Shelia Kaplan’s “Dozens of Young People Hospitalized for Breathing and Lung Problems After Vaping” makes this abundantly clear. The bathrooms at my school are affectionately referred to as the “Juul rooms.” A well-known — and admittedly overdone — joke passed around in the hallways is about “toilets in the Juul room.” It would be easier for me to count my friends that don’t own a Juul than to count the friends that do. The vaping device has become so ingrained in teenage life that it’s difficult to go a day without seeing one peeking out of a pencil case or smuggled up a sleeve. Several of my classmates cannot go more than an hour or two without taking a hit in the school bathroom or, in some cases, the back of a classroom.
Executives claim hooking teenagers on nicotine was not the intention of the company, which is valued at $38 billion. But it is the impact, and failure to not only own up to that but to take larger steps to mitigate its damages is a disservice to the country’s youth.