Friday, May 18, 2007
Big night for teen blogger
It seems like just yesterday that Michelle Nickolaisen, author of the Victim of Reality blog, was sitting in the back of my trailer classroom at Diamond Middle School, the most gifted writer and most original thinker in that seventh grade writing class.
When class discussions were held, other students loved to take positions opposite Michelle's just to get her riled, and more often than not they succeeded.
It was during one student-initiated discussion that Michelle and her classmates, including Zach Towers, Stacia Martens, Lydia O'Donnell, Shane Gallagher, Chase Sexson, Leanne Ross, and Amanda Brashears, questioned the way the local media handled the coverage of the death of Dr. Greg Smith, the Diamond R-4 superintendent at that time. They were particularly upset with the way the media kept questioning Smith's widow. That discussion inspired me to write my first novel, Small Town News.
I was fortunate enough to have Michelle in my class for two years. During that second year, for one quarter, she was in two of my classes, writing and reading. It was during that reading class that I suggested that Michelle and Alicia Bradley start journals of their experiences when they reached high school and maybe, at some point, fictionalize them and turn them into novels.
They did not wait for high school.
That night, the two eighth graders started their blogs. Michelle's first blog was "Seceding from Society." Up to that point, I had never heard of a blog before. After they eagerly told me of their online journals, I decided that even an old dog like me could learn new tricks, and thanks to Michelle and Alicia, The Turner Report was born.
On the day in the summer of 2003, when the Diamond R-4 Board of Education held a meeting to determine if I would be put on an unpaid leave of absence, it was Michelle who surprised me (and the board, as well) by organizing a show of support and writing and reading a letter of support for me at the meeting. That was a gutsy move for a young woman who was barely out of eighth grade and something for which I will never be able to repay her.
When Small Town News was published, having seen her organizational ability firsthand, I hired her to be in charge of publicity. She helped organize the successful signings at Neosho and at Hastings in Joplin (the Hastings signing for Small Town News, to this day, is the biggest the store has ever had).
So there was no way in the world I was going to miss a chance to see Michelle Nickolaisn receive her diploma. When I walked into Diamond High School tonight, the first people I saw were Michelle and Stacia Martens. Then the other old familiar faces quickly gathered around- the kids who helped make arriving at Diamond Middle School a joy every day. We all talked for a bit, then I entered the gymnasium to watch the ceremony.
Though Michelle is just as vertically challenged as she was in seventh grade, she stood tall when she received her diploma from her mother, Beth Nickolaisen, a member of the R-4 Board of Education (not one of those who was on the board when I was there).
A few moments later, Michelle turned her tassel, flung her hat in the air, did her best to dodge a barrage of silly string.
And I will admit it, my eyes were a little moist when I saw the members of the Diamond High School Class of 2007 end their high school days. Michelle and her classmates taught me as much as I taught them (which is the way education should always be).
Michelle Nickolaisen has entered the adult world. I have no doubt she will take it by storm.