Student journalist's work to be entered for Pulitzer consideration
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:03
University of Southern Mississippi student Cassidi Bush could garner top honors in her field before even graduating. Bush was entered for the Pulitzer Prize for her work at the Laurel-Leader Call covering a historic same-sex wedding ceremony.
The story, published Feb. 7 on the front page of the Leader Call, received national attention due to social media and quickly went viral. While the newspaper received backlash from the Jones County area, supporters from around the world backed the newspaper’s decision to run the story.
Bush said she discovered her story was entered while at a staff meeting on Monday. The owner of the Laurel Leader-Call, Jim Cegielski, made the announcement.
“At this Monday’s meeting, he announced that I was February’s Employee of the Month,” Bush said. “I was already excited, but then he threw in, ‘And by the way, your story was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.’”
Bush could not believe the news.
“I just froze. I didn’t know what to think. I asked him about four times if he was serious. I’m honored and incredibly humbled by it,” Bush said. “I never would have dreamed this would ever happen in my life, especially that it would happen before graduating from college. This experience has taught me so much.”
Cegielski and managing editor Mark Thornton were entered as well for their editorials following the publication of Bush’s story.
“It’s phenomenal that Cassidi has had this experience at such a young age. It’s something she will remember for the rest of her life. I’m really proud of her; she did a great job,” Cegielski said.
According to Cegielski, Richard Pilch, an attorney in New Jersey, was involved in submitting the stories. Cegielski said Pilch was impressed with how the Leader Call handled the negative backlash from the original story, and the subsequent follow ups stories and editorials they published.
It is possible that Bush could break a record if she wins the Pulitzer. The youngest recorded winner was 23, a 1986 winner Jeffrey A. Marx. Bush, a 21-year-old, could break the age record. The nomination will be for the competition taking place next January, when she will still be under the age record.
Bush said she has learned how important it is to be unbiased and that every word can have an impact. She said did not set out to be an advocate but instead focused on reporting from a historical and unbiased standpoint.
“It has given me more confirmation of how important unbiased journalism is. If I had put the slightest bit of my opinion in the story, there would have been a completely different outcome. The experience had taught me to treat every single thing I write as if it has the possibility of being seen all over the world. I’ve also learned not to be afraid of controversy,” Bush said.
Bush said the experience has restored her confidence and hopes it will inspire others as well.
“There are plenty of people who never thought I’d amount to anything, and I just really hope they read this story,” Bush said. “I’ve always heard, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to,’ but I’ve never believed it until now."