Sandpiper alumni achieve excellence in college and beyond

Which Carmel High School course singularly equips a student for remarkable success in college and beyond? Newspaper. Writing for the Sandpiper under the guidance of Mike Palshaw has proven to be priceless experience for rising journalists, authors and college students in a wide variety of majors.

It’s more and more common to see Danny Funt’s face on CNN these days. He graduated in 2010 from CHS, then attended Georgetown before earning his Master’s in journalism at Columbia University. Electing to take Newspaper his senior year at CHS groomed him to write successfully for the Columbia Journalism Review.

“The Sandpiper was valuable because it taught me to pursue stories even when sources aren’t cooperative,” Funt asserts. “Some highlights have been profiling [New York Times columnist] David Brooks and the abruptly fired longtime editor of Esquire, David Granger, writing a feature on The Marshall Project and going to Yale to cover protests for racial justice in winter 2015.”

Even before he completed his journalism degree, Funt wrote for Georgetown’s student paper and earned money during summers by writing for the Monterey Herald.

Josh Marcus, a 2013 CHS graduate, is also pursuing journalism, but from a different angle. As he prepares to graduate from Macalester College, Marcus plans to pursue a career in public radio—specifically in investigative journalism. Like Funt, Marcus traces this interest back to his time at the Sandpiper.

“The Sandpiper was the first place I did an investigative story—on Adderall usage among teens—which was a really important experience for me,” Marcus remembers. “Two years ago, I looked into how the city of St. Paul was handling veteran homelessness—they made this big promise to end it and I wanted to follow up and see how they were doing. It turns out that they didn’t magically end veteran homelessness in a year and I investigated why that was so—what was working and what wasn’t.”

Marcus’ story aired on Minnesota Public Radio. Don’t be surprised if in a few years Josh Marcus’ voice presents NPR’s morning edition on your way to school.

Although the majority of former Sandpiper contributors are not pursuing careers in journalism, each makes regular use of habits and skills gained by writing for the CHS student publication.

Short-story author and 2015 CHS graduate Sam Graves has taken a different approach to writing after his tenure at the Sandpiper. As he finishes up his general education courses at Monterey Peninsula College, Graves is already on the lookout for a publisher for his growing collection of short stories.

Edie Ellison, a sophomore at Brigham Young University, won the $12,500 3M essay contest in 2014, using her writing abilities in a way that profited her high school’s scholarship fund as well as her personal bank account. Yet Palshaw’s assignments equipped her with skills beyond essays and articles.

“CHS Newspaper taught me how to talk to people,” Ellison recalls. “I had to interview a variety of people like the Carmel police chief, a radio DJ, CHS staff, students.”

Sandpiper journalists interview an average of three to six people while preparing an article. Multiply that by four articles monthly, and each staff writer invariably develops a comfort level with coming up with story ideas, designing and securing interviews and distilling research into an orderly presentation for readers. These real-life skills are referred to by classical educators, like those at the Circe Institute, as the steps of invention, arrangement and elocution. No other CHS course teaches students what to write, who to ask, how to make it happen and how to summarize it all in a meaningful way.

Carly Rudiger, also a 2015 graduate, is pursuing a Marketing major at Northeastern University and credits her valuable internships for tech companies to additional skills that she learned and sharpened through the Sandpiper.

“I have written quite a few blog posts for the company—SmartBear—and edited countless others,” Rudiger asserts. “I feel like my time working for the Sandpiper could not have prepared me any better for a job that requires clear, concise writing.”

In the case of Michael Montgomery, a Biology student at University of California Davis, writing is integral to his personal and academic careers.

“Writing has always been a big part of my life,” Montgomery emphasizes. “Whether it’s an essay, a newspaper story or a poem, writing is my primary means of distilling and solidifying my ideas about myself and the world.”

A common thread for Montgomery and other CHS Newspaper alumni is that their post-high school writing isn’t bogged down by having to learn diction. Graves voices the hard-earned benefits from which prior Sandpiper staff all continue to reap benefits: mastering the strict grammatical dogma of the Associated Press style gave them the priceless foundation for excellence in future writing.

“My main job for the Sandpiper was as a copyeditor,” Graves remembers. “It certainly helped to hone my grammar skills and made me a merciless stickler who instantly scans every document for typos.”

Even though Newspaper students groaned and sweated under Palshaw’s insistence on precise format, consistent quality and thoughtful creativity, his high standards carved them into clear, concise university-level writers. Montgomery, also a former copy editor, finds Palshaw’s rigorous training useful on a daily basis in college.

“All those hours spent cutting my Newspaper stories to meet word count have really come in handy,” Montgomery enthuses. “Being able to condense and focus my writing is truly an invaluable skill, and I owe a lot of that to the practice I got in Newspaper.”

At the university level, California State University San Luis Obispo student and 2016 Sandpiper writer Aaron Kreitman has learned that there is no magic formula for becoming an effective writer. Like Montgomery and other former Sandpiper student writers, he also now more fully appreciates the endless, challenging high school newspaper assignments. They prepared him, and his Sandpiper peers, for the inevitable writing demands after high school graduation: “I’ve found writing in college a necessity, to clearly communicate ideas in something as lengthy as a research paper or as tight as a sentence summary.”

Writing for the Sandpiper clearly prepares students for real careers, real college assignments, real life.

-Connor Suess