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Witness to History

It’s one thing to live in the moment of major historical significance, but it’s another to document it for a generation.  That’s what University View Academy eleventh-grader Cecilia Spencer of Baton Rouge will do in this age of coronavirus.  “I’m a little nervous about this, having a voice in such a big event…,” she offered.   “I’m mostly concerned about not doing this right, that I may not capture this in the right context,” Cecilia confessed.       

She’s one of 30 students from across the country selected to be part of an elite group for the 2020 Student Reporting Labs Academy held by the Public Broadcasting System.  The students’ project is to chronicle with video how young people are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Physical distancing has even affected how the reporting lab will function. Usually, the 2020 fellows would go to Arizona State University in Tempe for the academy, but in the interest of safety, it has morphed into a virtual lab.  It’ll be a ten-week session online to tell the story of a lifetime.  “I was disappointed at first, but anything is better than dying,” Cecilia stated flatly in the way of understanding the gravity of the pandemic.

Media is part of the Spencer family because mom, Frances, is a journalist.  She is a former newsroom copy editor and editor of The Advocate Newspaper website in Baton Rouge.  But Cecilia says she didn’t become interested until she enrolled in a media class at UVA last year.  “Mostly just messed around with a camera,” is how she described her inspiration to do more.  Cecilia is also a gifted music student who plays the cello, piano, oboe, bass guitar, ukulele, and saxophone.  Her love of music led to one of her video projects being featured on the PBS News Hour website.  The subject did not have a musical theme.  She interviewed a student, a fellow cellist from Zachary, about racist stereotypes in classical music.  Click HERE to view.  That video was her breakout work, and it came after Cecilia attended a media workshop in New Orleans, where she got tips and pointers from experts.  It also prompted her to apply to the Student Reporting Labs Academy.  Cecilia says she has a rough outline of how she will use her camera to portray the lives of young people during the pandemic.  “I’ve got a few ideas.  I’ve been in contact with a lot of people who were pretty social and have been impacted negatively by all of this,” she offered.  Keeping with physical distancing, Cecilia says in-person interviews will be mixed in with video calls or conferences. 

She also talked about how it’s changed her life.  The stores Cecilia shopped at that are closed, the deserted streets, and how parts of Baton Rouge look like a ghost town.  “I plan to get pictures of that,” she explained.  Spring Break is usually a time she visits her grandmother in Georgia.  But that trip is canceled.     Her video project should be complete in June.  “It’s something I’m looking forward to.  I’m also looking forward to this pandemic ending,” she said.  Until then, Cecilia will use the lens of a camera to record history.  “I hope to be part of the process of never repeating something like this again,” she said with conviction.    


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