In February 2019, Casey Quackenbush ’13, a budding journalist stationed in Hong Kong, landed the cover story for TIME
magazine about Australia’s unprecedented drought, titled: “‘A Harbinger of Things to Come’: Farmers in Australia Struggle With Its Hottest Drought Ever
.” When she was developing the story idea, Quackenbush says she was not afraid to pitch it to her editors, even though she knew it was a massive idea and did not know whether it would actually happen. Nevertheless, she immediately went after it, hungry to show the world what was happening through her lens.
“You have to go for it because no one else is going to, and you never know,” she says.
Quackenbush says did not know her true calling was journalism, however, until a specific, catalytic moment hit her during her time at Lawrenceville.
When Quackenbush was a Fifth Form student, she remembers the time as a stressful period for her, especially during the college application process. Like many teenagers who are applying to college, she was not sure what she wanted to select for her major. Eventually, she decided to go with art history, as she was taking a similar course at Lawrenceville and enjoyed the subject.
A resident of Haskell House, Quackenbush struck up a conversation with her then Housemaster, Gus Hedberg H’03 P’96 ’00. Hedberg questioned Quackenbush about her college application and major. When she mentioned her interest in studying art history, Hedberg surprised her by responding that she “got it all wrong.”
“He told me that I should write -- be a journalist,” says Quackenbush, who recalls that she realized what Hedberg had said made a lot of sense. “I always loved writing and English was my favorite subject in school, especially at Lawrenceville. I was an editor and writer for Prize Papers. But it was never something I considered more than just a hobby.”
No one before Hedberg had told her to study writing, as “everyone talks about being bankers or lawyers, so it never really occurred to me that journalism was even a viable option for myself.”
Consequently, Hedberg validated what Quackenbush loved to do and gave her the confidence to pursue it.
“Mr. Hedberg totally changed my mind,” says Quackenbush, who ended up studying journalism in college.
She notes that it was a domino effect from there. She was led down incredible paths, met amazing people, and experienced different events she never expected. She studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where she ramped up her reporting and journalism experience through writing for the school paper and magazines.
“I was starting to get really positive responses to the things I was writing, and people started to notice it,” she says. “It made me feel amazing that I could influence what people thought while doing something I loved.”
Looking back, Quackenbush says she owes much of her confidence in her writing ability to Lawrenceville, as she not only learned to take risks but also how to execute a story meaningfully. This pivotal point in the stairwell of her Fifth Form House taught her to follow her gut.
She notes, “Lawrenceville taught me to believe in my crazy ideas.”
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