Reflections from New Voices student leaders: Kiley Clarquist

Kiley Clarquist with other members of her student-run magazine, Hook.
Kiley Clarquist with members of her student-run magazine, Hook. PHOTO COURTESY: KILEY CLARQUIST.

This past summer, 32 student leaders from 13 states, participated in the Student Press Law Center’s annual New Voices Student Leaders Institute – a free online program for high school students to improve their leadership and organizing skills, develop their role as leaders within the New Voices movement, and identify a strategy that could be instrumental in their state’s New Voices efforts. 

After spending two weeks learning from SPLC team members, special guest speakers and one another, the New Voices student leaders are prepared and ready to put their newfound leadership skills into action in their states.

Photo of Kiley Clarquist

Kiley Clarquist is one of these students. Clarquist is a senior at Pewaukee High School in Wisconsin where she is the Editor-in-Chief for her yearbook, The Pirateer, and a writer for her school’s student magazine, Hook. She shared her experiences at the Institute and what comes next in her advocacy work. 

If I could use one word to sum up what I learned at the New Voices Student Leaders Institute this year, it would be resilience. Toughness in my actions, springing back from any rejections or hurdles we have and may encounter throughout our journeys as student journalists. The stories we seek to tell are worth sharing, and should never be silenced regardless of our age. 

The words from guest speakers such as student press freedom advocates Mary Beth Tinker and Cathy Kuhlmeier, to author Rainesford Stauffer, ingrained in me that even a small step of advocacy makes a big difference. They taught me that the fight to gain press freedom is one that will take a lot of effort and mental capacity, yet it is such work that I and others do that will make journalism better. With every conversation started, we are pushing past opposition –– even if it doesn’t feel like it. They inspired the confidence I sought to continue my personal advocacy, as well as sparked the flame for many others. 

However, it wasn’t only their words of wisdom that stuck with me. The words of students just like me also put into perspective the importance of our work. The censorship many have faced would be debilitating if not for the incredible resilience of my fellow New Voices advocates (certainly reinforced by the Institute). They showed me that I wasn’t alone. Even though we only connected through computer cameras, their stories crafted a community of reassurance and hope for the future. 

I know that with all those wonderful people by my side, any goals set can be accomplished. Their resilience radiates.

– Kiley Clarquist

As for my student press freedom advocacy work in Wisconsin, we hope to focus on starting our campaign and getting the word out to local communities about our issue. We want to recruit more student journalists and educate learners about their rights –– as well as the rights they lack ––  and what we are doing to change that. 

My newsroom has been censored for the past two years, in part because intimidation led us to self-censorship and burnout. We fought hard to keep our publication ours, yet that battle showed me that this is an issue bigger than just my district; thousands of other students struggle with media censorship, too. Stories never told, conversations never started, information never gathered. 

I learned to have the resilience to keep going in the fight for student journalists’ rights. I learned to fight so that the future generations of storytellers don’t have to. I learned that I am never alone in this struggle, but to keep going regardless of all the rejections. 

We are resilient, and we will tell our stories. 

Learn more about how you can take action to restore and protect student press freedom in your state.