Letters to a mentor, teacher and friend

I truly believe that some people come into our lives for a reason. In high school, Kathy Habiger, my journalism adviser served as my mentor and friend while I was a reporter, news editor and co-editor-in-chief of the JagWire newspaper. Habiger, as I always referred to her, single-handedly altered the course of my life several times during the three years I had the great privilege of being her student. Habiger is the reason I am studying journalism at the University of Missouri. I credit her with everything I know about journalism and ethics, and she taught me a great deal about living as well. Below is the letter I wrote for Habiger’s application to the Journalism Education Association’s Yearbook Adviser of the Year competition:


“I don’t think I could ever write a letter that even begins to describe the impact that journalism adviser Mrs. Habiger has had on my life. There are two types of people in this world – those who live for their own existence and those who live for others. Mrs. Habiger is definitely the second type, living for the success of student journalists. Mrs. Habiger is an unmatched advocate, teacher and motivator for her students who has singly handedly altered the direction of my life and the lives of others.

I was in a tacky Christmas sweater shop in the Mall of America in Minneapolis when I received a phone call from Mrs. Habiger last October. My journalism staff was in town for a national journalism convention, but there was turmoil back home. I had written an article called “Football team unfairly overshadows other school activities” two days before that had since received hundreds of comments on our newspaper’s website. Now, my principal was receiving angry calls from parents about the comments, which had turned hostile and unproductive. What makes Mrs. Habiger so special is the fact that she called me about the issue. Mrs. Habiger needed to take some action to ease the situation, yet Mrs. Habiger would not act without my advice and approval. Although many people thanked me for writing the column, many people, especially football players, were against my opinion. At the moment when I needed someone to support me the most, Mrs. Habiger stood by my work, never once failing to defend my right to publish the opinion.

Mrs. Habiger again served as an advocate for me when I published a controversial article in March about the uncertainty of a volleyball coach’s job and the lack of trust and job security for athletic coaches. The principal and athletic director of my school met with Mrs. Habiger about the article several times, wary about the topic. And following the article being published, our newspaper staff received an angry email accusing me of libel and privacy invasion. Mrs. Habiger, however, knowing that the information I published was accurate, verified and about a public official, constructed a thoughtful response to the accusation that quickly ended the accusation. Ultimately, the district’s superintendent personally thanked Mrs. Habiger and me for running the story. Mrs. Habiger stood by my side throughout the entire circumstance. Mrs. Habiger knew that by allowing me to report on difficult topics, controversy and upset could follow, yet she only further encouraged me to develop my story and pursue the topic. I can’t thank her enough for the hours she devoted defending me, at times risking her job and sanity for the sake of student press freedom.

Since the time Mrs. Habiger wrote, “You’re a natural ” on the first story I ever turned into her for my Beginning Journalism class, I knew I had an enthusiastic cheerleader in my life. Mrs. Habiger has again and again given me confidence that I didn’t know I was lacking. From the time Mrs. Habiger offered me a $500 scholarship to attend the National Scholastic Press Association national journalism convention in D.C. my sophomore year, to the time she asked me to compete along with one other writer in the Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s Statehouse Reporter for the Day competition, Mrs. Habiger has found opportunities for me in an activity I quickly found a passion for. I have been to local, state and national competitions and a number of journalism camps and conventions all with the support of my greatest fan. Her encouragement helped me gain enormous confidence in myself.

From the start of my time on newspaper, Mrs. Habiger has additionally helped me learn to be an adult. Very few classes have made me feel empowered. Mrs. Habiger always made me feel important and meaningful. As co-editor-in-chief of the newspaper for the 2011-2012 school year, my ideas helped shape our award-winning website and paper. Just as she asked for my thoughts in the midst of the football column and coaching story, Mrs. Habiger started every newspaper class by asking me what I wanted to talk about and asked me what I thought at every step of the newspaper publication process. Young people learn best through experience, and Mrs. Habiger thrives off teaching through example and empowerment. In this way, Mrs. Habiger altered the way I thought while she was my teacher.

Everything I know about journalistic techniques, ethics, writing and reporting, I have learned from Mrs. Habiger. More remarkable than those skills, however, Mrs. Habiger has taught me how to overcome challenge. I had never been truly challenged in a class before I joined the newspaper staff. I had faced classes that had challenged my GPA, sure, but never a class that had challenged the way I thought and acted. Every time Mrs. Habiger would hand me back the rough draft of a story, however, her famous red pen marks would challenge me to write stories that were more thoughtful, unbiased and truthful. Newspaper quickly became my favorite class. Under Mrs. Habiger’s design, newspaper became the sort of class I had only dreamed about. Students almost exclusively ran the class while Mrs. Habiger served as an incredible mentor for staff members.

Most importantly, Mrs. Habiger set an example of the kind of person I want to be and has impacted my future dreams and aspirations. Mrs. Habiger is one of the most hardworking, passionate, kind and intuitive people I have ever met. Teachers often came to Habiger for technology help or advice and I saw her put down her work again and again to help others. So much of Mrs. Habiger’s life is devoted to her publication staffs. She stays after school until at least 4 p.m. every day and often stays for journalism work nights twice a week that run from 3-9 p.m. Additionally, Mrs. Habiger has been involved in countless journalism activities and conventions, rightfully holding leadership positions and winning well-deserved awards. I hope that I can mimic this work ethic in my life. She truly has a passion for journalism (which she brings to every journalism convention she attends) and an even deeper passion for teaching student journalists. Mrs. Habiger can see the beauty and importance in every person’s story, which fuels her drive. Her ability to understand people and reach out to them has further made the journalism room like a second home to me.

Perhaps some of the greatest examples of Mrs. Habiger’s impact on my life resulted once again from two acts of incredible encouragement. At Mrs. Habiger’s suggestion, I created and submitted a 45-page portfolio of work for Kansas Scholastic Press Association’s Kansas High School Journalist of the Year competition. I will always remember when she hid behind the water fountains in the cafeteria with yearbook editor Rachel Mills while I was on the phone receiving news in March that I had, in fact, won the competition. The pair tackle hugged me and I could see that Mrs. Habiger was almost happier than I was about the award. Whenever I am feeling homesick, I picture Mrs. Habiger’s glazed eyes, filled with pride in that moment. I saw her look at me like that again when I was later named a runner-up for the Journalism Education Association’s National High School Journalist of the Year competition in April at a journalism convention in Seattle.

After I returned to the journalism room after a couple hours of interviews for a story I wrote called “Coaching evaluations under scrutiny,” Mrs. Habiger again altered my future. She told me she hoped I wouldn’t give up journalism because, “Nobody cares like you do…and you wouldn’t put in all of that work if you didn’t love it.” Although I had applied to be a journalism major at a couple of schools, Mrs. Habiger’s words and then a hug from her, further confirmed my passion which started with her.

I hope these examples provide even a small picture into Mrs. Habiger’s incredible talents as a yearbook and newspaper adviser. I credit Mrs. Habiger with the confidence, skills and passion I have in journalism today. Remarkably, I am just one of dozens of students who have been a product of something I like to call Mrs. Habiger’s “dream factory.” I have seen time and time again how Mrs. Habiger’s belief in her students has impacted lives around her. During my time in high school I have spent hundreds of hours with Mrs. Habiger. Our conversations about serious and funny topics alike have shaped some of the best times of my life. I can’t think of anyone else I would have rather spent those hours with and I don’t know how to thank someone for everything that has come to be important to me in my life. Mrs. Habiger is not only a “once in a lifetime” teacher, she has truly shaped my upcoming lifetime as well. Please consider her a top candidate for the award.”


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