This week’s Student Feature Friday is 10th grader Gemma Sampas who describes finding her passion for writing while in the 8th grade. Whether it is going to Dublin by herself to take a writing course, taking on the role of Social Media Editor without having her own strong social media presence, or venturing into the world of the Holliston Cable Studio for the first time, Gemma is clearly willing to step out of her comfort zone on a regular basis. Gemma stated that these experiences taught her that “when you are put to the test you can rise to the occasion.”
Equally impressive is Gemma’s maturity and persistence. After attending the Harvard Crimson’s yearly seminar as a 9th grader, she was interested in attending the event again this year. The seminar is taught by Harvard students and Gemma described it as an amazing experience held in an environment with so much history and prestige. Typically 9th graders from the school attend this event so she independently contacted the organizers to see if she could attend as a 10th grader. Impressed by her persistence, they had her arrive early to assist with registering and orienting other students and then allowed her to attend the event for free. This type of perseverance, self advocacy and focus on goals is unique and something to be celebrated. For more information about Gemma’s progression as a writer, see our conversation below.
Q: During our conversation you described your 8th grade English class as a turning point in your writing. How did this class help you identify writing as your passion?
A: Prior to eighth grade, my sentences were swollen and rambled along, I would make references to movies I’d never seen and quote books I’d never read. I wanted to write, I wanted it badly, because something about the way it made me feel told me it could lead to something bigger. However, I wasn’t able to pursue creative writing in a school setting until eighth grade. My teacher for the year was Mr. Craft. He taught me how to write in a way that allowed me to keep my naivete yet develop a dependable set of skills. That year, I created a portfolio of work that was both completely my own yet indebted to him. Looking back now, I am truly grateful that I didn’t a let nascent passion pass my by.
Q: Journeying to Dublin on your own at 15 years old for a three week writing experience is pretty impressive. How did the program influence you as a writer?
A: The program taught me that security can be found in the most surprising of places, even in your own work. For some context, I left for CTYI a day after my last final, boarded a flight, and found my way to the Dublin City University campus. I soon learned I was the only student out of six hundred coming from the U.S.. The first few days were intense for me. My peers were all numbingly intelligent, charming, and interesting, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to show my genuine self. The course I took was Novel Writing, and was taught by a published young-adult author, Claire Hennessy. Once we began writing exercises in class, I knew that the “self” I thought I’d left behind in Holliston was still intact. Claire’s class taught me that I will always find my way back to myself through writing, and, consequently, the pieces I produced in her class are some of my most personal to date.
Q: In your role as Social Media Editor for the Holliston High School paper, what has been the biggest learning curve? Why is an online presence important to you as a writer?
A: When I was handed the role of Social Media Editor of The Holliston Vision I was really surprised. I had never thought of myself as any kind of newspaper editor, and don’t keep a prominent online presence. As Social Media Editor, I am assigned the role of maintaining our Facebook page, publishing articles, and trying to come up with new ways to keep ourselves relevant amongst our peers. Although I was hesitant at first to take the position, it has been such a rewarding experience. I now know how to manage a website and promote our new work over social media, two things I will need to be well-versed in when the the time comes for me to brave the writing world by myself. Keeping an online presence is so crucial for writers because it works as an interactive platform and a way to keep others posted on your work.
Q: Stepping out of your comfort zone and using the Holliston Cable Access Television studio to record your “talk show” is a big step. How did you come up with the idea for hosting a “talk show” with your friend and how did the first experience differ from your creative writing experiences?
A: Eric Salhaney and I shot the first episode of The Thing Is around a month ago. When coming up with the idea, we agreed that a high school talk show could help discuss topics important to us and our peers. I wasn’t nervous for it until the day came, and although I had no idea how it would turn out, I knew I had to go through with it to find out. The episode went really well, despite being much scarier than I had anticipated. We are in the process of editing it now, and, I have to say, the biggest difference from talking and writing for me is the revision aspect. We originally wanted the show to be one take, but now we realize that 9 minutes of witty, interesting content is hard to pull of, especially on the first time! With writing, I can revise the smallest sentence, I can go back and put in prettier words, I can have control over how I come across. There have definitely been multiple times in the editing room where I’ve shrunk in my chair out of embarrassment because of a bad clip of myself I have to watch over and over again as the team edits it out, but it’s all a learning experience. I know we’ll get better, but I’m also learning to appreciate the awkward parts of the process.