A Goodbye Letter to The Yorktown Sentry

Sofie+Dalton+%28left%29+and+Lizzie+Koumans+%28right%29

Courtesy of Sofie Dalton

Sofie Dalton (left) and Lizzie Koumans (right)

Sofie Dalton, News Editor

On March 13, I stood in the middle of the Yorktown atrium after the last bell of the day had sounded looking around and taking it all in: the tall glass windows, spiraling staircase, hallways towering above and students milling about over the tile floor. Arlington Public Schools (APS) had just announced that school would be closed for the next month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many of my peers I had been expecting this news, but it was still shocking to hear. A month was a long time to be out of school. A long time away from my friends, classmates, teachers and the school that I love. 

As I stood planted in the atrium that I have walked through countless times over the past four years, a small voice in my head told me to say goodbye. You might never come back here as a student. This might be your last day. I quickly dismissed the voice, telling myself that we would be coming back and finishing out the school year. However, deep inside me I still knew there was a chance that we would not return. So I quietly said goodbye before letting my feet carry me out of the atrium, down the hallway, into the senior lot, into my car and away from 5200 Yorktown Boulevard. I am now grateful that I took that moment because the voice in my head, as much as I hated it, as much as I wanted it to go away and never come back, was right. We would not be returning to school for the rest of the school year, and that was the last time I would ever stand in the atrium as a Yorktown student.

The abrupt termination of the school year has been hard on everyone, including me. There are so many things I miss about Yorktown: everything from the familiar hallways to the sound of the bells ringing to my friends, classmates, teachers and administrators. However, one of the things that I miss the most is The Yorktown Sentry: my school newspaper, my eighth period class and most importantly my family. I wish I could go back and walk through the door to room 249 one more time to hear the familiar chatter of my classmates and walk through the rows of desks to find my seat, saying hi to everyone along the way. I can still picture the classroom and remember exactly where everyone used to sit, and for those who did not like to sit, where they used to roam around. I miss The Sentry with my whole heart, but I am also so grateful for the time I spent there and the memories and friendships I made. I was going to have to say goodbye at some point—as much as I wish I could have stayed forever—so now is as good a time as any to reflect on my journey with the class.

It all started when I was in eighth grade and my mom suggested that I apply for the school newspaper. I have always loved writing, from the time I was five years old and wrote little stories with my messy handwriting, back when I thought “said” was spelled “sed” and did not know a comma from an apostrophe. I was already a part of my middle school’s newspaper class, so I thought continuing with journalism in high school would be a great idea. I filled out the application with one of my articles from middle school and sent it off to Yorktown, a place that was still a looming unknown to me. Honestly I have no memory of finding out I had been accepted into the class, but I do remember seeing “Journalism: Newspaper” on my freshman schedule.

What I remember most clearly about my first day of high school is walking into The Sentry class for the first time. I stepped through the doorway to find a classroom filled to the brim with students, some sitting on desks, some laughing with friends and some twice my size. It was one of the most overwhelming moments of my life. I asked the teacher, Ms. Wiedemann, if I was in the right place and my heart leapt when she said yes. I found my way to an empty desk in the front right corner of the room and quietly took my seat. Everyone had to share their name, grade, how many years they had been on staff and something fun they did over the summer. When it was my turn, I somehow got to my feet and quickly spoke while trying my absolute best not to make eye contact with anyone.

While the first class was definitely intimidating, I soon grew to love The Sentry. I learned how the class worked: the editor to reporter communication, the check system for completing articles, the style of writing and the style guide—including the important rule of never using the Oxford comma. I also loved the collaboration that The Sentry offered: we got to peer edit each other’s articles and I learned so much from the other reporters and from the editors. 

The second article I ever wrote was about George Mason High School in Falls Church and their fight to end the censorship of their school newspaper. I put a lot of work into the article and hoped that it would turn out well. I will never forget the day after I finished it when I was sitting at my desk in class and the head editors, who I admired but was slightly terrified of, walked by my desk and told me my article was amazing. I said thank you, but was so excited and proud that I could not say much more. That is one of those moments that will forever stand out in my memory.

My writing definitely improved over my first year in The Sentry, and I loved getting to write new articles and explore different topics. I also loved the people in the class. I was still really shy and quiet, mostly keeping to my desk in the corner of the room. However, two senior editors came over to my desk on my birthday in early October and gave me a hug. They then sat with me in that corner for the rest of the year. We became great friends and their kindness made me feel like a part of The Sentry family. The other editors were also extremely kind to me and I looked up to them so much. 

Throughout sophomore year I was still a little quiet in class, but, as the year went on, I became more comfortable talking with my classmates and the editors. My writing grew even more and I loved being given high profile articles, getting to interview new people and inform our community about people and stories they may not have known about otherwise. Seeing my name appear under headlines on The Sentry website was one of the best and most rewarding feelings. I took being a part of The Sentry and reporting news for the school community seriously, but I also enjoyed writing and being a part of the class. I made new friends that year as well and cherished the community of our class. It was a great place to be every eighth period.

Junior year was definitely a turning point for me in The Sentry because it was when I really started to come out of my shell. I was still writing a lot of articles and enjoying them, making more new friends and getting to know more of my classmates. I really wanted to run to be an editor, which meant I would have to get up in front of the whole class and give a presentation. This is something that freshman me would have never dreamed of doing. Even though I had become more comfortable talking to my classmates, I still held a bit of my shyness, that fear of speaking and complacency in just watching and observing others. However, I knew that I could be a great editor and give a lot to the class that had helped shape me. So I ran for news editor and was elected by my class. Having my classmates trust me with that position meant everything to me. It felt as if everything was coming full circle, and now I held the position that I had looked up to as a freshman. It was a new chapter and I was looking forward to it.

Now I am finishing up my senior year and can say that it has been my absolute favorite year in The Sentry. The shell that I was breaking out of before has finally been broken. I got to know classmates in my grade who I was always too shy to talk to, and they are amazing people who I have learned so much from. I became a mentor and friend for some of the younger members of the class and got to show them the ropes that I climbed to be where I am today. I grew as an editor and as a leader, helping reporters improve their writing and working to make our paper the best it could be. Most importantly, I had so much fun each and every class, laughing with my classmates, sharing stories and encouraging each other along the way. I also loved getting to talk with Ms. Wiedemann, or Wiedz as we call her. She has been one of my greatest role models and inspirations over the past four years, and her encouragement and kindness will stay with me forever. I looked forward to eighth period every day and could not wait until I got to walk through the door to be with some of my favorite people in my favorite place.

While I am extremely saddened that I did not get to finish out my last year with The Sentry in person, I am extraordinarily and forever thankful for every moment I got in this class. It changed me as a writer, a person and a leader. When I look back and reflect, the thing that I am most proud of is that the shy freshman who stayed in her corner and was afraid to speak became a leader who uses her voice to help bring out the best in others. I am no longer afraid to speak in groups, to share my opinions and to voice new ideas. The Sentry helped me reach my full potential as a human being, and the lessons I learned and memories I made will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

As I sit writing my last ever article as a member of The Sentry, I feel so hopeful for the future of this paper. The new editors and returning reporters are talented, bright, kind and confident. During this time of social distancing, they have continued producing great articles and covering the news for our community. They are some of the most hard-working people that I know and I am so proud of everything they have already done and will do. I know this is a goodbye letter, but really it should be called a see you later letter. I will definitely be back to visit the place and people who changed my life forever. So much so that they will never be able to get rid of me. To all my past and current classmates, to my fellow editors and to Wiedz, thank you, and see you later.