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From editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper to Wharton

Gia Gupta on excelling in leadership while being introverted.

Student journalism changed Gia Gupta’s views of the world, for the better.

Entering high school as an introvert, Gupta took what she called a “leap of faith” by applying to lead Eastside, a student newspaper at Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey, thanks to the push from “strong leaders” before her.

The high school experience not only helped her discover her love for storytelling but also cultivated leadership skills that were pivotal to her growth.

“It was coming to a reckoning with myself and the type of leader I was, the type of person I was,” she said. “It really forces you to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses.”

Gupta is now preparing to embark on her next chapter at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for marketing and communications.

In this Q&A, Gupta reflected on how journalism became a cornerstone of her identity, how she navigated the challenges of balancing authority with friendship and how rewarding journalism can be.

The responses have been edited for grammar, flow and concision.

Why did you join the school newspaper?

My school’s journalism department is really strong. They have a lot of great marketing, so I just joined it for fun.

I took journalism during the pandemic, which was a really unique experience. I found myself disengaged a lot of the time in school. But journalism was the one class where the work I was doing felt like I found a real passion in storytelling.

So this thing I wasn't looking for when I started high school, ended up becoming one of the largest parts of my identity throughout my high school experience.

What was the biggest thing you learned from it?

The leadership aspect of it was an important part of my journey because I was really introverted when I entered high school. I was very shy. I would do a lot of projects independently and individually.

But as I transitioned throughout my journalism experience, I realized how interconnected the whole experience of journalism is. From editing stories to layout to graphic design, it really forces you to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses.

Another important thing was holding gratitude. I think one of the biggest reasons I grew and flourished into the leader I am today is because I had such a strong presence of exemplary leaders throughout the high school journey. 

What was the moment you realized that you wanted to apply to lead Eastside?

It was more like realizing how important journalism was to me that I wanted to take on this position to give back everything journalism has given me. 

I mean, some of the stories I've written — like writing about discrimination or substance use — hearing those stories and how deeply they shape me, it just felt like editor-in-chief was just a way to culminate my experience. 

But speaking to my introverted personality and how I took that leap of faith, it was like I mentioned earlier. Strong leaders before me entrusted their faith in me. They were always pushing me to take on bigger and bigger projects. 

Having those role models and those supporters since I was a freshman was extremely important to eventually being able to believe in myself and know that I could eventually lead the board.

Was it easy to be the editor-in-chief?

What it takes to become a leader was a lot harder than I expected. It was coming to a reckoning with myself and the type of leader I was, the type of person I was. 

I'm also a co-editor-in-chief. So we have two print editors and two online editors. It was a lot of understanding who the best person to take on this responsibility or assignment was.

One example was designing the front page. Originally I thought the front pages for my newspaper were a little bit weak. I realized that maybe I should take on this responsibility because I am like one of the stronger designers in the leadership.

But there were other things that I'm a lot weaker at. Sometimes if there is a conflict within the board and we need to have a conversation, someone else might be a better communicator than me. It was just understanding where my weaknesses were and where my strengths were. That was a huge thing. 

Time management was also difficult, especially in senior year when you had college applications. It's such a hectic time of the year.  

You're a boss but also a friend. How did you balance the roles?

It's hard because how are you supposed to gain respect from a group of people who see you in so many different roles? You'll be hanging out with them the day before, and then the next day, you're supposed to be leading them.

But one of the biggest things that helped me was showing people how much I cared. One thing that's kind of unique about our school newspaper is the application process for the EIC role. We had to do a presentation to our board explaining why we wanted the job, and I tried to show how much I cared about this position and how much it would mean to me.

I think by having that passion resonate so deeply, people, especially my friends, could understand how much it meant to me and they were able to respect that. 

Photo courtesy of Gia Gupta

Did you have any moments where you felt being a journalist was so rewarding?

An eye-opening moment for me was my sophomore year. I was working with two of my co-editors on a feature story on discrimination in my high school from like a macro level — so examining racism, transphobia, antisemitism, basically all of the isms at my school. 

We did quantitative and qualitative data. We did surveys examining it from the lens of what percentage of students feel like the school is an unwelcoming environment and also speaking to students directly about their personal experiences.

I had never really been in a position where I felt like I could make an impact, especially as a high schooler. I felt like with this story, once it was released, everybody was talking about it. A lot of people were disagreeing with it. Administrators were talking about it, trying to figure out how to address it.

I remember I Facetimed my co-editors that night and one of them said “This might be the most rewarding day of my life,” and I will never forget that moment because it was just so much greater than myself. 

You feel like you're able to contribute to something broader, to a broader conversation. Stories that were never told before. Perspectives that were never seen before.

It wasn’t just believing in myself, more like knowing that what I was doing was making a difference and that I could contribute to something meaningful that was so important. It was the general scheme of feeling like this work was actually making a difference. 

What's one thing you wish more people knew about student journalism? 

Their journalism is very prominent in the community where I live. We’re far from being deserted or devoid of newspapers, but in rural communities, student journalism can be so important. 

Sometimes when there’s a food review written by a student from my school newspaper, it gets hundreds of views within a day because sometimes, it’s people’s only source of information.

Student journalism is just another way of arriving at the truth of a situation. Understanding stories that may have not been told. But it's also amplifying and empowering a youth perspective, which is often lost in important conversations, especially in conversations that can have huge impacts on communities. 

Students are also extremely powerful on the school and administrative levels. A lot of times when people are making policy decisions, it's really hard to get the student perspective when everyone says that they're advocating for the student perspective. Many times they say they are, but they aren't. Student journalism could be an extremely effective way of arriving at that. 

But in terms of people participating in student journalism, it is one of the most rewarding experiences. It opens young people to the act of contributing to something meaningful, understanding the importance of doing work that actually makes a greater impact and the idea of transcendence.

I think that one of the best things about journalism for me is that I love writing and storytelling, but it also marries the importance of getting back to my community and writing about stories that are important to my community.

What’s next for you?

I'm attending the University of Pennsylvania, and I'll be going to The Wharton School for its dual concentration in marketing and communications. 

Journalism will always be an integral part of my life. It was so interwoven in every single facet of my identity now. I finally understood that my personality was completely altered. I ask people so many questions now. I have such a curiosity and thoughtful way of looking at the world. I also have a deep, deep passion for storytelling.

I want to get involved in journalism publications at Penn. I could do journalistic voice work and hopefully enter the journalism field. I'm very undecided but I hope to see myself pursuing journalism in any form postgrad. 

Even if it's an untraditional path, it will always be a fundamental part of who I am in my journey of becoming who I am.

Chatwan Mongkol is the founder of The Nutgraf, a weekly newsletter about student journalism, where this piece originally published. You can subscribe to get a new story in your inbox every Monday.

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