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Cottonwood High graduate will cover Demos

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Teen Newsweek has selected a correspondent of sorts from Cottonwood High School.

Student Melissa Wall, who won the publication's national essay contest on teen issues, has been assigned to cover the Democratic National Convention for the magazine. Wall graduated from Cottonwood last spring and her debate skills netted a full scholarship to the College of Eastern Utah, where she plans to major in English and minor in communication.

"I'm just interested in politics. That's why I wrote. I wasn't even aware of what I'd win if I did win," said Wall, who hopes to become an attorney and work behind the scenes in political campaigns.

The essay contest invited teens to write about the most pressing issue they face and what the president might do about it. Wall chose voter apathy.

"(Teens) know that they have rights, but they don't know that with those rights come certain responsibilities. Most teens don't realize that there is more than one side to every issue and that voting is an important political action. They are the next generation of voters and they simply don't know," Wall wrote. "We should not be allowed to stumble blindly through the political system, to be swayed by a candidate's smile."

Wall suggests the president set up programs to help instill patriotism in young children (the Utah Legislature did something along those lines this year) and invite teens to enter discussions about national issues.

"The reason hers stood out was simply because of its unique approach," said Eric Oatman, editorial director for the Connecticut-based Weekly Reader Corp., which publishes more than two dozen student-geared magazines, including Teen Newsweek. He estimates his staff sifted through more than 500 entries.

"Hers was more of a personal observation of the students around her . . . , and she made a very persuasive case as to why students needed to know more if they were going to grow up and actually vote."

Wall learned of her award three days after her teachers did. That's because she was taking five Advanced Placement tests and was not in regular classes. When she was called to the counseling center for the announcement, she dreaded that maybe she'd somehow not earned enough credits to graduate. The fear, however, quickly dispelled.

"I was just so excited I ran through the halls back to debate class. I almost fell on the floor," she said. "I couldn't talk."

Wall and her mom, Marcie Peck of Sandy, will spend Aug. 14-19 at the Los Angeles convention, where Vice President Al Gore is expected to receive the Democratic presidential nomination.

Wall was not on the school journalism staff, but is talking with folks — her mother minored in journalism in college — about tricks of the trade. She also plans to get in touch with Utah Democratic Party leadership before the trip.

Wall, who will be accompanied by two editors, will post her impressions and daily reports on the Weekly Reader's Web site, www.weeklyreader.com/teennewsweek, Oatman said. She also will write a report to be published in Teen Newsweek in September.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com