Lake Zurich High School Student Media

Bear Facts

Lake Zurich High School Student Media

Bear Facts

Lake Zurich High School Student Media

Bear Facts

Seniors sign off

A farewell to four seniors
Photo by Grace Sun
Bear Facts seniors, (from left to right) Emma Harper, Sashrika Shyam, Lindsey Bitzer, and Gurneer Sidhu, pose outside of the school. Each of them have made lasting memories while in the program and say that they will miss one another when they head off to college.

Coming into the journalism program during the pandemic, a lot has changed for these four  seniors. As their time as a part of the Bear Facts staff comes to an end, the class of 2024 reflects on their experiences and memories these last four years, as well as their future.

Emma Harper – Magazine Editor-in-Chief

What started off as a fascination for fictional journalists like MJ and Lois Lane, Emma Harper will be continuing her journalism career at University of Missouri. Though this future was not always so clear to her, being a part of Bear Facts has been a journey of learning.

“My freshman year was so awkward. We were also on Zoom, so it was rough. I remember at the end of my freshman year, I had to go take videos of seniors who are graduating, [and] they’re like, ‘here’s where I’m going.’ I just talked to all these random people I didn’t know and approached them in the hallways. I almost broke down, it was so scary,” Harper said.

Despite her initial anxiety, including the fear of stepping out of her comfort zone and the difficulty of “[facing] people saying no,” Harper says that “having to do all of those things” has eased the discomfort she experienced before. “Ask for forgiveness, not permission,” was a saying that Harper’s former adviser, Carolyn Wagner, taught her to overcome her worries.

“I did a journalism camp this summer, and one of our assignments was to walk around the town and find stories,” Harper said. “I fully just approached a bunch of strangers on the street and was like, ‘hey, what do you think’s happening here? What are you doing?’ They just had conversations with random people. It was so cool and so nice to see [that] people don’t really care that much. Honestly, you are the only one thinking you’re that weird.”

As her confidence grew in something that was once so foreign to her, Harper realized fully during her junior year that “[she] not only [loves] writing,” but also telling people’s stories.

“I think it is important to get people to talk about their lives and to see different perspectives than your own. I think that’s something we’re missing in a lot of others in life and like that’s one way you get to showcase other people’s voices,” Harper said. “Even in our school, […] I feel like a lot of the times we hear from the same people: our student council members or the presidents of different clubs, but we don’t always get to [hear] the inner voices. It’s important to talk to the people who aren’t always leaping at the opportunity to share their voice, but [whose] opinions are so valuable.”

Another instance that helped Harper expand her love for journalism towards the end of her sophomore year, when there were concerns about the continuation of Bear Facts’ quarterly print magazine. In the process, Harper says she “did a lot of research on freedom of speech laws and journalism.” Having to fight for the program, Harper felt it showed her how much she loves it, and how “big of a deal it is to have free press” and share news.

With these aspirations in mind and the support of her adviser, former adviser, and classmates cheering her on, Harper hopes to amplify the voices of people on an even wider platform than Bear Facts.

“I think my goal in life has always been to have a career that lets me help people. That’s not the first thing you think of when you think of journalism, but I think to me, it is. It’s helping people understand the world they’re in and helping people share their stories, and as a journalist, I will be able to do that by getting different perspectives and talking to people who aren’t always talked to,” Harper said. “I think it’s all our jobs to make the world better than it is right now. It’s important to be a good person, and I’ve been wanting to use the abilities I have to help make the world a better place in whatever way I can.”

Sashrika Shyam – LZ Life Editor

Who knew a bowl of starbursts at middle school activity night could lead her down a path that would define a large part of her high school journey? Sashrika Shyam did not, but journalism turned out to be much more than just writing.

For Shyam, Bear Facts grew to be a community of people” full of close friends, lifelong friendships, role models, and advisors. 

“As a sophomore, it was my first time having a page [in the magazine] that I needed to work on. The only other people I knew were Emma, Gurneer, and Lindsey, but they were all in my grade. I hadn’t really had the opportunity to really talk with other people who were in the journalism program,” Shyam said. “I remember Kaitlin Geisler, now one of my best friends, was in my section and she was next to me. I saw her phone, [and] she was listening to a song that I really liked. I got up the courage to be like, ‘Oh, I really like that song.’ The rest of the night, we just were laughing and playing music and [working] on our page. That’s where I first saw what [an] amazing community journalism could be.”

It is through these relationships that Shyam was able to see how different of a course journalism was from others, giving her a “class period where [she] could be herself” without any pressure.

“I feel comfortable talking to every single person in that classroom all the time. Arguably, you guys know more than a lot of people do about my life. I think that really sets us apart because it’s not just like, ‘We’re here to learn.’ But it’s also “We’re here to put something together that other people can learn from. We’re here to create.’ We all connect over that same passion for a magazine and a website, and I think that’s really special,” Shyam said.

Though the friendships Shyam within the Bear Facts have unmistakably made a mark on her life, the stories she has heard from her interviews have also shaped her. Hearing about others has taught Shyam that journalism is “more than just about [her] and more than just Lake Zurich,” because everyone is going through something different.

“One of the big ones [was when] I wrote about how students are being affected by the Israeli and Palestinian conflict in Gaza. It was not about the conflict itself; it was more about how students here are dealing with it. I thought it was a really great way to make more people aware of what’s going on,” Shyam said. “It was an eye opening experience hearing people who struggled in something so huge, [and so much] bigger than Lake  Zurich. These are my friends, these are the people I see every single day. You always think ‘Oh, that’s all the way across the sea. It’s not going to impact us whatsoever,’ and then I’m interviewing all these people who are telling me stories about how it’s impacting them.”

Besides the influence that Bear Facts has had on Shyam personally, she also enjoys how “rewarding” it is to see the impact her stories have had on the student. This sentiment is reinforced through the stories she wrote in Bear Facts’ perspectives section, as the former perspectives editor, which Shyam says have given her the opportunity to share both student’s and her own opinions.

“I think my favorite story I ever wrote was on gifted kid burnout. After that story went out, I had old friends who were also in gifted advanced placement programs with me and in elementary and middle school, come up to me in the hallway and be like, ‘I read your story and I really liked it.’ It really applied to me,’” Shyam said. “I guess it was the most gratifying story because I got a lot of feedback from people I hadn’t spoken to in months […] and they really appreciated me writing that story because it felt like I saw what they were going through.”

Although Shyam will soon be heading off to the University of Cincinnati, the skills and lessons that journalism has taught Shyam will remain with her.

“I plan to go into the medical field, so being able to treat different people who come from different backgrounds with respect, regardless of what they’re going through, is very important. [There’s] more than just the medical side of it, but the patient care side of it,” Shyam said. “I’m definitely going to be a part of their student publication. My school doesn’t have a minor for journalism, but I’m considering getting a certificate in journalism because I think that’s an important skill that I still want to take with me and show other people that not only can I major in something STEM related, but I’m also able to write and edit and design.”

Lindsey Bitzer – Sports Editor

One moment she will be falling out of her chair; the next, she is asking for a disco ball to be hung in the room. Though she never quite got the latter, Lindsey Bitzer has been running the show in the sports section. 

Bitzer has been writing about sports since she joined Bear Facts when she was a sophomore and has been the Sports Editor for the last two years. Along with her personal connection to sports as a Cross Country and Track athlete, Bitzer has enjoyed her time in this section.

“I like sports because unlike Spotlight or News, it’s very lighthearted. Other than LZ life, [sports] is more concentrated, so you have a basis of where you’re trying to get stories from. Although, sometimes it’s very hard to come up with stories because there’s only so many [sports-related] things that you can talk about,” Bitzer said.

Though many of the stories written in Bear Facts’ Sports section are “lighthearted,” such as stories asking about students’ past experiences in sports, Bitzer adds that there are some, such as her article on the new Morgan’s Message club, that have been “compelling to write” and more impactful.

“When I was interviewing the girls, […] they talked about their own struggles a little bit, which was nice to not just me as an athlete, [but also] to other [athletes struggling with mental health] who might read that you’re not alone,” Bitzer said. “That’s kind of a big part of what I feel like journalism is. You write for several different reasons, but one of them is to share news with people so they can connect [with others.]” 

Writing in sports has also given Bitzer a lot of important friendships. She says that Bear Facts has allowed her to “form bonds” with people in other grade levels and have “fun [even] while in school;” One such person was her former Sports Editor and Magazine EIC, Parker Carley.

“We always had fun talking about stories or trying to come up with stuff [to write about] or  talking about school because we were doing all these extracurriculars. Having that connection was really nice,” Bitzer said.

From the close-knit relationships she has made to “seeing all of [her designs] and work unfold” in a magazine or web story, Bitzer says that she will miss her time as a Bear Facts staff member.

“All the wonderful memories that I’ve made [are] something that I’m gonna carry with me  all throughout college. I also really hope to keep in contact with everyone because of the friendships and the people that I’ve met,” Bitzer said. “I think I’m gonna be very sad because I’ll be leaving the environment [that] I’ve [been] in for four years. I’ve loved every bit of it.” 

Gurneer Sidhu – Spotlight Editor

Working on an eight page spread, interviewing four to six people for one story, and spending hours brainstorming thoughtful design elements is a lot of work. Though Gurneer Sidhu is heading off to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to become a doctor (also no easy feat), she says has loved English ever since she was in middle school.

“I really didn’t like writing up until eighth grade, and that’s because of Mrs. Galati. She was an amazing literature teacher and she made us do all these in depth essays and writing and everything. I just fell in love with it,” Sidhu said.

Despite Sidhu’s clear passion for writing, the literary analyses she wrote in middle school were much different than journalistic writing. Sidhu says that she struggled a lot in the beginning, constantly “comparing [herself] to everybody else” and feeling that “her writing was so much worse than anybody else’s.” In the process of becoming the journalist she is today, Carolyn Wagner, former journalism teacher, had been a guiding light for Sidhu. 

“It was right after I interviewed one of my last sources and I started writing, [I remember] being so frustrated with how [the story] was coming out, and I literally just gave up,” Sidhu said. “But then I got an email from Wagner and so did my mom and my dad […] being like, ‘I’m so impressed with how you interview people. The way you interview people is not something you would expect from a J2 [student] and I’m so proud of you and I really hope that you stay and continue journalism.’ It made me the happiest person in the world. I was like ‘Mom, Dad, look at what she wrote about me.’”

Through these experiences, Sidhu says that she has “learned to appreciate journalistic writing.” In particular, her favorite part of journalism has been being able to interview people, as they feel like “having genuine conversations” with others.

“I really love talking to people and getting to know more about them. [In] personality profiles and spotlight articles, you get to learn about people, their beliefs and how all their life experiences led them to have certain worldviews. I’m interviewing people I barely knew or, maybe I knew really well in middle school, but I don’t know now, and I’m learning so many more things about them.”

In fact, Sidhu says that interviewing has taught her an important lesson that she will take with her past high school: being open minded.

“I think when you expose yourself to all that diversity [in] beliefs and thoughts, it’s inevitably going to force you to rethink some of the things that you [believe in]. If I’m not talking [to] people who have different viewpoints than me, it makes it easier for [me] to automatically shut those ideas down,” Sidhu said. “Once you start meeting people, you make those ideas a lot more human and realize that, the same way my experiences and my stories shape my worldview, the exact thing happens for other people with ideas that are so different than mine.” 

Having been in Spotlight for the last three years and Spotlight Editor for the last two, Sidhu has heard her fair share of diverse perspectives. Though, for all the work that Spotlight is, she says that if she “wasn’t in Spotlight, [she] wouldn’t be in journalism.” 

As Sidhu heads off to UIUC, she says she will try to write for their magazine and continue to report on topics similar to how she would in a Spotlight issue, adding that it would be “really weird not to be doing journalism anymore” after working on it so long. Regardless of her future plans, everything that Bear Facts has taught Sidhu will stay with her.

I think [journalism] helped me grow as a person and it instilled a sense of curiosity in me. I ask why to everything now. The whole idea of journalism [is to]  ask ‘Why, why, why,’ and get every detail of everything from people. I want to try to understand people [and] why they do the things that they do,” Sidhu said. “Without journalism, I genuinely do not believe I would be the person I am today, [and] I’m so grateful that I joined journalism.”

As these four seniors leave and step into the next chapter of their lives, Bear Facts wishes them the best of luck in their future endeavors. Thank you so much for everything that you have contributed to Bear Facts these last four years.

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About the Contributor
Grace Sun
Grace Sun, Secretary
As a junior, this is Grace’s second year on the Bear Facts staff, acting as secretary and Junior Spotlight Editor. In her free time, she enjoys running (sometimes), napping, reading, and doing various kinds of arts and crafts. As of now, Grace does not know what her future will hold, but she is working on it. She also has a stuffed animal dog, who Bear Facts loves dearly, named Bruno. 

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