Missouri student journalist earns top Quill and Scroll scholarship
Journey from Syria to the U.S. helped Parkway West student understand the importance of culture, language and journalism
Ulaa Kuziez of Parkway West High School in Ballwin, Missouri has earned the $1,500 George and Ophelia Scholarship for 2021 to help her study and practice journalism at Saint Louis University. Four other students won $500 prizes in the annual competition.
Kuziez impressed the Scholarship Committee with her strong reporting skills, which were showcased in a May 2020 story in which Kuziez used data analysis and strong interviews to show how COVID-19 affected persons of color more than other communities in Missouri.
In her application essay, Kuziez wrote about her journey as a fourth-grader from Syria to the United States and how she made sense of both her native and her adopted cultures.
“It was not until high school that I saw other confident students openly embracing their diverse cultures,” she wrote. “It helped me realize that assimilating was misguided because it meant neglecting my heritage. Each time I spoke with my grandma, she described to me exciting snippets of her life in Syria. These conversations helped me to recognize the importance of maintaining my roots and conveying my unique story. I became part of the American collective, while also retaining important cultural markers of my heritage. An unapologetic Syrian-American Muslim woman, I am now proud of my identity.”
Debra Klevens, her journalism adviser at Parkway West, wrote about meeting Kuziez as a fifth-grader, and then seeing her again in Convergence Journalism class.
“Fast forward (six) years and Ulaa progressed to her home school and was no longer part of the district’s ESOL program,” Klevens remembered. “When she started in the Convergence Journalism program her junior year, I was amazed at her advancement. Ulaa was now an independent young woman who wasn’t afraid to confront challenges she saw in society through her story telling on the newspaper staff.”
Kuziez eventually earned six “Best of SNO” awards in one year from School Newspapers Online. She now plans to pursue a career in journalism to help tell other important American success stories.
“With a deeper understanding of myself and a pen in hand, I am now eager to examine the complexity of the human experience by sharing stories through journalism,” Kuziez wrote. “Writing and editing for my school’s newspaper gave me a glimpse into the importance of reporting. It motivated me to start compiling my grandma’s life story, who inspired my personal growth. Through my words, I hope to invite others to her terrace so that they too can learn from her everlasting wisdom. I have found passion in this powerful form of expression, and I hope to expand upon it through uplifting the stories of people everywhere.”