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Four Years at the Mount

On the Emmitsburg News-Journal's Commentary Writers

February, 2014

The building blocks of every paper is its writers, and The Emmitsburg News-Journal is proud of its handpicked staff. This month we had the Four Years at the Mount writers interview our Commentary writers to learn more about the paperís diversity and purpose. They set out to discover who their fellow writers are, how they became involved with the paper, and why they write for it. In turn, the students were asked to reflect on why they felt these writers were chosen and how they benefit our readership.

We also suggest you read Alexandra Tyminski's - On the nature of commentary which was done in conjunction with these articles.

On Words from Winterbult

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

While driving up to Winterbilt Farm, the serenity is palpable, the perfect example of a farm tucked away from the chaos of the world. Knocking on the door, I was greeted by Shannon Bohrer author of the Words from Winterbult and immediately introduced to his dog, Lily. There was a gentle air about the place, and his love for animals was instantly obvious by the calm interactions with his dog. In fact, his love for life, his wife, and his farm were evident the minute he greeted me. I started off with a few background questions and ended up thinking more in that hour than I had all week.

Bohrer shared his passions and influence both on and with the paper. His purpose in sharing his words and thoughts is simply Ė or not so simply Ė to be thought provoking. Through talking about his time in law enforcement, his time as a soldier, and his reflections on his life, Bohrer shared lessons with me that he yearns to encourage his readers to think about. One of my favorites came from his mom: "Donít think youíre ever better than anyone, because youíre not. But nobody is better than you."

Through his commentary, Bohrer wants to make people think. He wants to make them think about their lives and choices, about what we miss and what we gain each time we decide something, about lessons that we never truly appreciate until later in life, and to give a different opinion than the popular press. Through everything that Bohrer hopes to, and does, share with his readers, he emphasizes the importance of careful consideration. Why we look at things the way we do, and why we believe what we believe. He wants readers to not only learn lessons and listen to what he has to say, but to also truly think about their waking days.

Before retirement and his time with our newspaper, Shannon was in law enforcement for 42 years. He spent 27 of those years as a state trooper before becoming a trainer with the FBI for 4 years. He then went on to work as a range master for the Maryland Police doing weapon training. Now he works for himself part time as a weapon training consultant, traveling around the country about 8 times a year. All of these jobs, as he says, just kind of came to him, and he considers himself incredibly fortunate. A lot of his lessons and thoughts come from his time in law enforcement, but most come from his family, animals, and the simple act of day to day living.

Through his years writing for the Emmitsburg News-Journal, Bohrer has written each article with the goal of making people think. He doesnít aim to press his opinions or beliefs on anyone, but simply to make them think about their own. He writes monthly about whatever is pressing or thought provoking at the moment. He has written about his dogs and animals, world events, farm policy, local government, and more. He began the column with some writing experience, but never for a newspaper. He got the inspiration for the columnís name: "Words from Winterbilt" from his own farm. He and his wife chose to name the farm "Winterbilt" in 1977 after they experienced 28 straight days of bad weather as they were building. The name beat out its contender "Bentnail," and history was made. Now that he had a name for the column, Bohrer chose his first article to be a parody of the Wall Street workers, and claims that his original piece of writing is still one of his favorites. His wide range of articles are fueled by his opinion that writing is really just like artwork; itís easy to write feelings as long as you have the inspiration, but it always takes polishing. Some of his ideas come out and onto paper freely, and others take days to articulate, but in the end they are all sharpened exactly how he wants, ready to prick readers and remind them that there is always time to contemplate the world.

After getting to know Bohrer and being let into his world for an hour, several things are obvious. He has an intriguing perspective on life that both the newspaper and the readers benefit from, and he loves the life he lives, as he called himself "fortunate" several times. He has an appreciation for life that comes with experience and his time with his family, wife, and animals. He believes in education and likes to take a historical view when he can with his articles. Most importantly, Bohrerís work has a value to the paper that is undeniable. His thoughts are those that cannot be bought on a wall decoration or read on a daily inspirational quotes iPhone app. They are unique to him but also universal in their relatable nature. The last thoughts that Bohrer shared on life and on writing for the paper struck me the hardest. He told me, "Weíre always looking for more time in life, but thatís not something we have. Itís how you use your time thatís important. The clocks never stop. Using my time to write affects me in a positive way." The next time you leaf through the Emmitsburg News Journal, make sure you stop by "Words from Winterbilt" and take some time to appreciate and consider your life.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

On Common Cents

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

Ralph Murphy is the author of the "Common Cents" column in the Emmitsburg News-Journal. Ralphís personal experiences and passion contribute to his knowledge about world events. Not only does he present and elaborate on his topics in a helpful and informative manner, but he also demonstrates the importance of what he says in our daily lives.

Ralph Murphy was born in a Turkish hospital near a naval base in Istanbul. He doesnít remember much about Turkey because he only lived there for a very short time before moving to Norfolk, Virginia with his family. During this time period, Murphy remembers his father going off to war in Vietnam for a year. This was one of his earliest memories. Shortly after moving to Virginia, his family relocated again, moving to Washington, D.C. with five year old Murphy in tow. He recalled having many foreign friends while growing up and living near the capital. A good majority of his friends had parents who were diplomats or employees for international organizations such as The World Bank. With a few exceptions, he lost touch with many of the friends he made at this time, though their different lifestyles sparked an interest in foreign affairs for him.

One of Murphyís favorite memories was winning the 50-yard dash in sixth grade. This made him the fastest kid in the school while also helping him to create a positive self-image. Later on, Ralph had many other athletic related successes, including some in football and track. Despite his strides in the athletic world, his desire to explore foreign politics stayed with him.

Murphyís father had a tremendous impact on him. Growing up, Ralph was always curious about his fatherís highly intriguing and secretive career as a Sovietologist, which took him on many different missions. He shared his thoughts on his father and his fatherís career by stating, "The high-risk, no-nonsense lifestyle rubbed off on me and became almost intoxicating." Since travel was a large part of Murphyís life, he immediately became interested in geopolitics, the study of the effects of geography on international politics and international relations. With a taste for the no-nonsense, intoxicating lifestyle and his love for geopolitics, Murphy went on to study economics at the University of Maryland. He graduated with his degree in 1982 and joined the federal government within a short period of time. In his article titled, "Divide and Rule," which discusses the United Nations, he begins by describing the question on the eight-hour exam he took to obtain his position. Murphy explains that his view of the UN was critical and that he wasnít quite able to see the UNís potential as being a peacemaker. The federal government positively received his essay and he was given a position. Later, he became an economist for the CIA, where he scored in the top two percent in knowledge of world events. He continues to maintain a strong knowledge and love for world events by referring to them as his, "study, hobby, and passion."

Murphy is currently retired from the CIA and is doing contractor work at Andrewís Air Force Base. He lives in Washington D.C. near his brother and two sisters. He began writing for the Emmitsburg News-Journal in 2012. He has been focusing on his writing and sees it as an opportunity to express his worldviews in a constructive and informative manner. Murphyís "Common Cents" enlightens readers about current events. Not only is Murphy well informed on his topic, but he also presents it in a way that allows readers to understand the importance of what is happening while simultaneously encouraging deep contemplation from his audience.

Many of his topics include both foreign and domestic affairs. Murphy usually begins his articles with an opening that describes a personal experience that he has had. This not only gives the readers a better sense of him as a writer, but it also provides the audience with a clear example of how the issue plays a role in oneís daily life. For example, his column published in April 2013 describes his encounter driving and entering work on a day when there was no electricity in the building or the surrounding area. Murphy used this experience as a way to express his concern about the risk of a cyber attack. He explains in his article that there would be little that could be done if the United States was to undergo a cyber attack, and he relates his and his coworkersí inability to work without power as an example of how defenseless the government and other organizations would be if such an attack occurred.

When I asked Murphy what advice he would give to our readers, he explained that it would be to pursue your passions and to not always seek the so-called "easy route" to achieve your goals, "just because itís expedient." He stressed the importance of having "strategic, constructive objectives" but working tactically. Like any good economist, he insisted that people of my generation and those looking for employment should "try to aim for an inflation adjusted pension."

I think itís often challenging to recognize the effect that world events have on our daily lives. Iíve heard people question before that if it does not impact them, then why should they bother thinking about it? However, I personally believe that we live in a world where every action is connected to each of us. The drug wars that Murphy brought to light in his January 2014 article do not simply impact the drug users alone. The impact is much larger than that. Similarly, the illegal immigrants that he discusses in his June 2013 article "Citizens or Guests?" are not merely influencing their own lives; they are affecting ours as well. Each of us is not a single entity whose decisions only affect one person. Rather, we are individuals who live in communities that collectively function as a whole. We are lucky enough to read Murphyís articles about world events that voice to us all the importance of domestic and international occurrences and remind us that we are all impacted by these events. We all depend on and affect each other. World events donít happen in a far away place in some far off land. They happen in this land, this land that is your land, this land that is my land, this land that is our land.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

On Pure Onsense

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

A great comedian once said, "Everything in life is about perspective; the Titanic was a miracle to the lobsters in the shipís kitchen." Itís a funny statement. Amusing enough to be told at dinner parties or out with friends, but just poignant enough to make people think that they really may be missing something in their daily lives. Perhaps in the things that they see, their vision doesnít extend far enough. Itís a lesson that crops up in daily life. Sure, that bag of gooey, doughy, cookies looks phenomenal, but is it worth breaking that diet youíve been planning? Is your self-worth worth sacrificing for a few fleeting moments of sugary bliss? That moment happens every time you walk to the trashcan, bottle in hand, rather than taking those three additional steps to the single-stream recycling bin. Iíve seen people go through that mental process where they look at the plastic bottle in their hands, look back at the recycling bin, shrug, and then toss the bottle in the trash. Those are small examples, I know, but they illustrate a greater point. Very few times in our daily lives do we take a second to meditate on how everything we do could possibly affect another person, and equally important, how something they do could affect us.

This month our assignment for the Four Years at the Mount section was to take a look at another part of this paper and see why it was important not just within the context of the paper, but also within the context of our college, town, and wider community. Iím happy to say that I had a chance to sit down and truly appreciate one part of the commentary section of our newspaper: "Pure Onsense" by Scott Zuke. Itís not uncommon for a newspaper to cover things that happen in and around the local community. However, for a section of a local newspaper to take on world issues and connect them to our little home on the mountain is something that is incredibly special. When was the last time that you linked what happened at the Jubilee to events in the Middle East? Ever wonder why Israelís foreign policy was distantly but inexorably linked to Mount St. Maryís University? Read "Pure Onsense" and youíll find out.

While reading Scottís work I was struck by the simple honesty of his writing. It didnít matter what issue Scott was tackling. He addressed it with the same matter-of-fact tone and genuine attention that a craftsman would use in hand-carving a statue. Whether he was talking about why itís patriotic to question the actions of our president, or the emergence of the Tea Party, or the complexity of the United Statesí relationship with China, Scott talks to the reader as an equal. He doesnít pander or "dumb down" the language. He says what he wants to say and lets the person looking at his article ruminate on it. In a day and age characterized by political game playing, there is something to be said about having an honest conversation.

Scott began writing for our editor, Mike Hillman, in 2005 when he was a student at Catoctin High School. However, "Pure Onesense" as we know it today did not come to be until 2010, when Scott had a chance encounter with Mike that led to the formation of the column. Its peculiar name stems from a quote attributed to William James, an American philosopher and psychologist. James was known for experimenting on himself with laughing gas, believing that it increased his clarity and abilities of perception. While he was on the gas he would write down the phrases that came to mind and occasionally the things he wrote wound up making more sense than coherent thoughts. His nonsense occasionally became "onsense" and the name stuck.

Scott currently works as a Communications Officer at the Middle East Institute in Eastern DC. Although busy analyzing foreign politics, Scott still finds time to write and emphasized its importance. "I learned that the process of writing was the most effective way for me to understand complex ideas and form well-reasoned arguments," he said. "The column helps keep me sharp now that Iím no longer writing academic papers on a regular basis. Itís also an opportunity and incentive to research and develop a better understanding of whatever topic has recently sparked my curiosity."

Scott mentioned that in addition to keeping him sharp, the column is important to the community: "The News-Journal has a diverse lineup of local and, amazingly, even international personalities in its commentary section," Scott told me in our correspondence. "It thereby serves as a bridge between the local community and the rest of world, showing that even in small-town America, residents have an interest in stories and issues that otherwise would seem very remote from their daily lives."

Still, as amazing as reading Scottís work was and how nice it was to gain some insight about why Scott does what he does, I wanted to go straight to the source. I needed to find out why he was hired and what he brings to our staff. Pardon the pun, but I desired to find the proverbial Master Yoda behind Scottís "Zuke Skywalker." I decided to place a call to my editor, Mike, about why he hired Scott and what he thought about the article and its importance to the paper as a whole. Over the course of the conversation I found that Mike had an awful lot to say about why he enjoyed Scottís column and the entire commentary section of the paper.

"I wanted to have people tell the news who didnít have an ideological position," he told me, "and every one of our writers is worthy of being in the London Financial Times."

Mike went on to tell me that he loved the commentary section of the newspaper because he thought it was incredibly important to broaden the horizons of people in our community, and Scottís column did a particularly good job at that.

"He can let people know why whatís happening in Egypt is important to Emmitsburg," Mike said.

Scott contacted Mike when he was a junior at Catoctin High School and asked about writing a column on current political events. Mike was immediately impressed with Scottís writing style and with the connections that he made between current events and great thinkers of the past like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rosseau.

"To find someone so brilliant and so close to home was a gem," Mike told me. "Heís your generationís Henry Kissinger," he gushed.

After speaking with Mike, it was apparent to me that "Pure Onsense" holds a special place in Mikeís heart and in the newspaper. The more I read about Scott, the easier it is to see why and how his work relates to what my fellow Mount writers and I do. Every month I try to bridge the gap between the town of Emmitsburg and the students here at Mount St. Maryís University. I make it my solemn mission to tell the stories of our students and the experiences that we have and how they relate to the people who live and work around us. Scott does a similar thing, relating stories and experiences from the world stage back to our community. He does more than just tell us why something is important and what we should listen to; he provides us with a lens, a method of broadening our perspective. By doing so, he improves our lives. After all, the greater our vision, the more we can take in, and the more we take in, the more we learn. I can honestly say that Iím proud to share this newspaper with someone like Scott. You may not agree with the things heís saying. You may not even like politics! But if you can learn something, if you can walk away being more informed about this amazing world around you, then Scott and this newspaper have done something amazing. Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

On Down Under

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

"At a distance, this fine oak seems to be of ordinary size. But if I place myself under its branches, the impression changes completely: I see it as big, and even terrifying in its bigness."

Artist Eugene Delacroix fully understood how a simple change in perspective can alter a personís impression, thoughts, and opinions. Lindsay Coker, the Lindsay Coker, the Emmitsburg News-Journalís own "Down Under" commentary columnist, offers us this change in perspective.

Coker began with the paper in a rather funny way. He submitted entries to the My Little Sisterís Jokes section of the Emmitsburg website. One of his submissions caught our editor, Mike Hillmanís, eye, and he reached out to Coker, exchanging emails and life views. Their companionship continues to this day, yet the friends have never been able to meet in person. Why? Because Coker lives in Melbourne, Australia.

This is a fine example of how the Internet seems to make this vast world just a little bit smaller, but in this case, it greatly benefits our readership. Cokerís "Down Under" articles initially spoke about Australia but have since morphed into what Coker calls "an outsiderís view on America, the focus of which gradually shifted to American politics, values, and policies."

Coker has a unique opportunity to express his outside-looking-in perspective in this paper. Itís much to our benefit to hear what he has to say, even if we donít agree with his conclusions. "At this distance from you, I am somewhat better able to obtain a broader picture of the results of political policy and outcomes in the U.S." Coker explains that his perspective and insight does not come without a little effort, "I have to read, read, read." All this reading only fuels Cokerís curiosity. "Iíd like to find out more about the people of Emmitsburg: their beliefs, predictions, problems, and joys," he said.

Why does Coker do it? What does an Australian gain from writing in a small-town American newspaper? Well, of course, as a writer, he loves what heís doing. "This has been an amazing experience, one I treasure, for my understanding has grown much better, my writing has improved, and some, at least, of your readers seem to like what I write," Coker said.

Cokerís long history in writing has not including anything quite like the Emmitsburg News-Journal until now. He has written for school magazines and about medical research, business, history of music, and, most recently, development of science education materials. He is even Ė very slowly Ė trying to write a thriller. With all of these writing outlets, it is clearly not writing alone that keeps Coker coming back to the News-Journal, but his need to exercise his basic human rights. "Basically, Iím a humanist," Coker said, "therefore putting civil liberties and freedom of expression and truth at the top of the list."

Like any writer, Coker sometimes struggles with his work: "It is difficult at times to get onto the right topic or the right approach, and many a column has been binned and redone." I was amazed to learn how long a process writing "Down Under" can be; then again, perhaps thatís the secret behind his articles, "Most ideas take a month or so to get the right focus, but once an idea is lodged, that remains the story."

Of course, with all of this writing comes a vast wealth of experience, or as Coker calls it, "the perspective of age," and Coker is not timid in sharing his advice to fellow writers. First, read. "Read the printed word, especially history," Coker said, but avoid the electronic versions as Coker says these historical accounts are often too ephemeral, uncheckable, or plain wrong. "Travel in the spirit of discovery, do a course on logic, and have a need to put things to rights," Coker encouraged. In other words, donít be afraid to hang onto some idealism and encourage the world to live up to your standards.

Once youíre done reading, traveling, and studying? "Re-read and re-read," Coker said, "Proof the output. Ensure that what is written has no double meanings." To Coker, the best writing is simple but not simplistic in that the language is unambiguous but provocative. He enjoys challenging his readers to ruminate on a topic, to take it away and slowly form an opinion, to let it grow in their minds from the small seed he planted to a blossoming tree with more personal research and consideration.

Talking to Coker and absorbing all of this information was a pleasure. It let me know that my own writing ideals werenít as surreal as I perhaps believed, for I too like to hold onto a small pinch of idealism and sprinkle its seeds throughout the world with my written words. I always thought I was perhaps preaching to deaf ears, but I suppose it wouldnít matter if I was. At least Iím doing my part by exercising my freedom of speech.

Itís funny to think how our world has fallen into a false perception of interconnectedness through todayís Internet. On Facebook we are "friends" with hundreds of people with whom we do not keep in touch in reality. Twitter allows us to spread the news faster than ever in the most concise way possible at the expense of connecting in a face-to-face conversation. Yet, this local paper is able to connect to an Australian writer who talks to us more meaningfully in one monthly article than most of my generation does in a weekís worth of texting. Many of todayís "plugged-in" community cannot appreciate the soul-searching clarity that a home full of books, a good education, and fine music Ė the kind of place where Coker grew up Ė can bring because they are too connected to the Internet and disconnected from reality.

If youíve discovered anything today, it is that Lindsay Coker is a real person with real thoughts, someone who you can and should read and pay attention to. He is not a Facebook wall pruned to portray a certain image or a witty Twitter feed. He is his written words and his voiced opinions, he is his personal experiences and his constant research, and he is here to provide a much broader perspective to the very nearsighted American population.

Read other articles by Nicole Jones

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