What I Learned From Rigging The Homecoming King Contest

On the first day of senior year in high school my group of friends came up with an ingenious plan. Keep in mind that we weren’t the most popular bunch, not disliked but not the kings of the school either. If anything, we were just kind of there.

It started when our friend John excitedly joined the group and introduced his bold plan. “I’m going to win homecoming this year,” he said, cackling like a madman.

We loved the idea.

Me and Reece would play the background. John was more of the outward type, much more suited to the main actor in this play, while we were more the Karl Rove, Machiavellian types. We decided on that day that our goal for the year would be for John, who played no sports, wore glasses and had a lisp, would win the homecoming contest. At first it appealed to us mainly because we could piss off the football team, but eventually it became more about the challenge.

We lobbied hard for John. On voting day, we went around to each lunch period, selling the idea of John as homecoming King to everyone we could, especially targeting the underdog types; the shy kids, the goths (or “freaks” as they were called), the potheads. all of the rejects basically. They all loved the idea of John, a very unhomecoming King type, getting the top honor and flaunting his banner all over school.

Support came from surprising places. We tapped a nerve in any kid who had ever been picked on, laughed at and generally made to feel like shit in the ongoing saga of high school. Before long, we had people who didn’t even know John as our biggest supporters.

When it finally came time to vote, we were again surprised to see people sporting hand written “John For Homecoming” t-shirts on people we didn’t even know. The gym was electric. I sat down on the floor, waiting for the announcement. John had made the final five.

It wasn’t long before we knew he would win. The crowd was on John’s (and by extension, our ) side. And soon it came, the announcement and the subsequent handing over of the sash. To this day, whenever I see John we always talk about our victory. It’s probably pathetic to say but this but it still might be one of the greatest accomplishments I ever was part of. Judge me all you want.

So why am I telling you this story? It isn’t to simply brag about some stupid thing we did over 10 years ago (although I do love telling the story!). Rather I’ve been thinking why this event was so special and why it meant so much to us.

Because on that first day, making John homecoming King seemed to be an insurmountable task, like getting Charles Manson elected president. It could have been simply laughed off, forgotten about. But we didn’t let it go. We set a clear goal and we followed through with lots of hard work. It may not seem to be a major accomplishment but it was to us. Why? Because it was something unlikely that we made happen.

Lots of times I’m filled with doubt over whether I’ll ever be able to write for a living. Maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’m not commited enough. But then I think of John wearing his homecoming sash and I remember that we made the impossible happen. In those moments, my goal seems more attainable.

So go out there and become the homecoming King. It’s not as impossible as you might think.



Published! Obama and Keystone XL

I’m happy to report that I got an article published a couple weeks ago in the Boston alt-weekly paper Dig Boston. The article concerns a visit by President Obama to Boston, where he attended a fundraiser for recently elected Senator Ed Markey.

But Obama’s visit wasn’t the main story. Rather, a group of protesters stood outside the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury to give voice to Obama’s wishy-washy stance on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Markey has been an outspoken opponent of the pipeline, which will deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada all the way through the Midwest and into the Southern United States. Protesters claim that the pipeline risks costly spills to the communities which the pipeline will flow through. While Obama has signalled that he doesn’t exactly agree with the pipeline plans, he has been timid in outright opposing it. Many see this waffling as a disappointment, as environmentalists had thought that they had a partner in Obama. You can read the complete article here.

Keystone XL protest
Protesters outside the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston

But I didn’t want to write simply in order to congratulate myself. I wanted to detail the steps that I took in order to get the piece published to show other writers how to get their work published. I was surprised with how easy it was once I got over the hurdle of putting myself out there.

First off, I recognized that I had met the editor of the Dig a few years ago when I worked at a summer camp. Who would have known that a completely unrelated job would lead to a writing gig? It goes to show you that opportunity can come from the most unlikely of places.

I got an email announcing Obama’s visit, both from a Democrat-based group and also from a environmentalist group, 350.org, that was organizing the protest. Another lesson here is get your name on as many email lists as you can. These can lead to valuable tip-offs to future stories, as well as contacts and sources for your story.

I realized that Obama would be coming to the Reggie Lewis Center, located minutes away from where I work. I figured that I could shoot down there, talk to some people, and still be out of there in time for work. I shot an email over to the editor of the Dig, asking if he would be interested in the story. As an alternative weekly, the Dig often covers environmental issues and other stories that aren’t covered in the mainstream press.

I assumed that I wouldn’t hear back. However, within an hour I got a response that the editor was indeed “very” interested in the story. It was on.

I got to the protest, which already had a good amount of people even though Obama wasn’t to appear until hours later. I talked to a bunch of protesters including the guy who appeared to be leading the group. In addition to interviews, I snapped a few photos of protesters holding up signs. Later that day I typed up a short story, about 500 words or so, did some fact checking and research on the Keystone XL, and within an hour and a half, had a story I was happy with. I sent it over to the editor and crossed my fingers.

I hadn’t heard anything in two days. I assumed that I had written a terrible story and they wouldn’t use it after all. That was until I checked my Twitter and saw a tweet from the editor, hyping the story. I hadn’t realized that a busy editor isn’t going to personally email to tell me that my story had been published. Welcome to the real world.

Even better was the next day. I was in the middle of moving so I needed some newspapers for packing. The Dig is free so I reached into the Dig receptacle to grab a stack. On a whim I opened up the paper and, there it is, my story on page 4! I was unwittingly using my story as cushioning for my pots and pans!

Seeing my byline was exciting and boosted my confidence. Going through the process and seeing how easy it was to get this story published was a huge learning experience. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get yourself out there. I wasn’t expecting a response, nevermind get published. It’s easy to be self-defeating and think your idea is “stupid” but you will never know until you try.

That’s one down, hopefully many more to go!