The Power of Persistence

Suzanne Dewey
Imagine being a high school senior in the press box with CBS, CNN, and the major media outlets while Senator Kamala Harris, candidate for the Democratic nomination, is feet away providing her stump speech to a gathered crowd in a New Hampshire venue. This is an unlikely place to find the co-editor-in-chief of Holderness’ Picador. A high school journalist with press credentials? How did that happen?
Kitt Urdang ‘19 came to Holderness from a ski academy in Vermont. She came because she wanted to be a better skier but also wanted to be more challenged academically and have more of an intellectual life than she was currently having. As a new tenth-grader, she lived in Yellow Dorm and to her own reckoning, she was immediately happy, overriding her initial fears and reservations. She has enjoyed an active and engaged athletic experience at Holderness -- three years of varsity soccer, two years of competitive alpine skiing, and two years of varsity lacrosse. Even though she came for alpine racing, this year, her senior year, she switched to Nordic skiing and will also try crew this spring. “I am surprised at how much I like Nordic. It has changed my appreciation for endurance sports. I even like running more!”

Kitt knew she didn’t want to ski competitively in college and thanks to being exposed to other possibilities, she felt comfortable switching sports. In her words, she became “way more involved with The Picador and became the co-editor-in-chief. Like many high school students, she found new passions and was happy that Holderness provided a flexible canvas in which to pursue new endeavors!

Kitt became involved with The Picador soon after the 2016 election in her tenth grade year. She was close friends with then editor Chae Hanh ‘17 (currently a sophomore at Penn). Chae encouraged Kitt to write a post-election piece. “I was super-excited about writing. I never wrote in such a manner outside of English class and realized I really liked it. Chae liked my work and motivated me to do more.”

“I joined The Picador staff as associate editor in eleventh grade and wrote about political stuff -- climate change and the electoral college. I wrote an article with Will Harker ‘18 because he had a conservative point of view and mine is more liberal. We wanted to share both of our voices and encourage others who might be too shy to talk about issues because they are emotionally charged. We wanted to show that different points of view can work for discussion.” Kitt has lots of ideas about how we can be more politically engaged. She thinks Holderness should consider a class in political engagement and has even proposed it to the academic committee. She says at her prior school they offered a civics course that covered Locke to the founding of the United States and that has served her with a foundation of knowledge and it continues to inform her interests.

The Parkland school shooting was pivotal for the United States and for Kitt specifically. She learned big lessons while gaining support for the March For Our Lives movement. She organized a group from Holderness to join other students in a demonstration in front of the New Hampshire Statehouse. Ten students from Holderness, Rev. Weymouth, Rev. Hill, and Ms. Barton combined with a group from St. Paul’s. Kitt explains “I learned a lot. I assumed everyone was thinking the same way I did. I wasn’t thinking about our protest as political.” A photo of the Holderness group was posted socially and ignited some controversy on campus because not everyone did feel the same way. Initially, Kitt was shocked and angry with the criticism and wanted to respond emotionally. “I ended up writing my college essay on what happened and what I learned. Thanks to Mr. Herring [faculty advisor for The Picador], I didn’t publish the first draft I wrote and didn’t write angry. I focused on the broader impact of the article. I learned about respect and finding mutual understanding versus defaulting to anger or yelling. I guess the process is what bothered me most. Sure, disagree, but don’t wait to tell me. No one came to have a dialogue before the protest and that would have helped me understand differently.” This experience taught Kitt a lot about herself and about how important it is to obtain varied inputs and to try to work through problems and disagreements with diplomacy. She is interested in pursuing politics or journalism and because of this experience, she understands that sometimes, showing up and taking action leads to new understanding.

When she learned that candidate Julian Castro was going to be speaking at the Politics & Eggs breakfast at St. Anselm College, Kitt knew she had to be there. She spoke with Director of Equity and Inclusion Jini Sparkman who encouraged her further. She knew that the Politics & Eggs program was a forum for New Hampshire business leaders. “Many people go to these breakfasts but they are not seventeen.” Kitt tried conventional methods to get into the program -- emailing, calling -- she made no headway. Acting on a suggestion from her father, Kitt used her press credential (The Picador is a news outlet, afterall) and applied herself toward getting into that breakfast. She eventually made friends with the organizer and they granted her a press pass for the breakfast once she submitted papers for The Picador.

“It was great to go to that breakfast and hear Julian. I was the only kid. I sat with the press.” Kitt learned that Kamala Harris was also coming to New Hampshire, a month later, for the same Politics & Eggs program. She reached out to her now organizer friend and was again given a press pass for the event. “That was definitely a different experience. The night before the event, Mr. Herring and I learned that they expected an overflow audience so we arrived early. It was packed. Mr. Herring had to go into a small closet. I was able to wedge in under the CNN camera right by all of the spaces reserved for the big networks. I stayed with the press corps the entire time. I tried to behave like everyone else but no one could believe I was representing my high school newspaper!”

These experience have increased Kitt’s interest in the political world and in journalism. “I do see the power of the press. You can portray someone by how you write about them. That’s a lot of responsibility and it’s important to try to accurately portray someone.”

For Kitt’s senior thesis, she is focused on the different movements in the United States that have brought about or are working toward social change. She is specifically looking at women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives, and the Zero Hour movement. “I want to look at the problems in the world today and see what movements are happening, are they successful, and will this change matter?” Kitt will  spend her March Experience in Stamford, CT, with Building One Community, a program that provides legal services and job training. She will tutor kids in the homework club and help adults learn English as their second language. She will be using some of the Spanish that she learned at Holderness to communicate with some of the English language beginners. “I don’t know what it will be like but wonder if there is an immigrants rights movement in the making. I am excited to be helping people while observing if there is a movement forming.”

Kitt doesn’t know where she will be attending college next autumn -- she’s applied to several schools but she does know that she will stay engaged in social justice. She’s learned that she has a responsibility as a journalist -- not to get emotional and to work to accurately portray people -- to be thoughtful about the impact and power of words. She also advises others interested in doing big things, “You have to put yourself out there. You have to keep asking and not be discouraged when the answer is no but see if you can find another way in. In trying to get that press pass, I was really scared but really wanted to have the opportunity. It all worked out.”

In talking to Kitt, one gets the sense that she will work hard to make things work out. She is a true Bull -- passionate, determined, and ready to help others.
 
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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257