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Adviser of The Benedict News receives award in NYC

March 2017

It wasn’t a pot of gold but rather a Gold Key that beckoned St. Benedict’s Noreen Connolly H'11 to New York City on St. Patrick’s Day. And it was her parade of accomplishments that earned her the distinction of receiving the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Key Award on March 17.

Accompanied by Dean of Seniors Didier Jean-Baptiste ‘86, her sons Daniel ‘08 and Matthew Sheehan with his girlfriend Kelly Vaughan, and two former students, Matthew Achariam ’08 and Kehinde Togun ’02, Connolly was honored by the CSPA on March 17 at an elegant luncheon set in the Rotunda of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library.

The Gold Key is the highest award of the CSPA, recognizing “outstanding devotion to the cause of the school press, encouragement to the student editors in their several endeavors, service above and beyond the call of delegated duty, leadership in the field of education, and support of the high ideals from which [the CSPA] has drawn its strength and inspiration.”

Connolly learned of the award on February 14, a date apropos to her love of journalism. The email from CSPA’s executive director bore his congratulations for the significant recognition of her excellence as an adviser and as a teacher.

“The email,” said Connolly, “stunned and delighted me.”

Connolly began volunteering in St. Benedict’s Development Department in the 1990’s to become more involved with the school while her son Nick was a student. Putting her talent for writing to work, she helped Jean-Baptiste with alumni newsletters and Paul Thornton with the Headmaster’s report.

In 1998, she came across a copy of The Benedict News, at the time a one-page paper produced by a small group of students. Her experience as editor of her high school newspaper bubbled to the surface, inspiring her to partner with then Dean of Faculty Keith Corpus to teach a summer journalism course. She did her research, met with a Wall Street Journal reporter, found a willing printer, and invited speakers to impart their knowledge to the class.

That first group of summer students produced a newspaper and presented it at the term’s last Convocation.

“It was thrilling to see everyone opening up that newspaper,” said Connolly. “I was hooked.”

It wasn’t long before her signature classes, Intro to Journalism and Advanced Journalism, were born. Under her instruction and direction, The Benedict News — produced by her Advanced students — has been consistently recognized for its quality reporting and presentation; and countless students have benefitted from her passionate tutelage.

Among them were two who accompanied Connolly to Columbia University for the Gold Key presentation. Both penned glowing recommendations in support of her nomination.

Kehinde Togun ’02 wrote, “I am a better human being because of her. In 1999, I joined The Benedict News as a student with curiosity. I left three years later as a young man who knew how to ask the right questions and how to convey information such that others sought answers of their own.”

“Ms. Connolly,” wrote Matthew Achariam ’07, “taught me the importance of being tough under pressure, meeting deadlines, and communicating clearly. She did all of this while treating those around her with the utmost kindness and grace.”

Though not present at the award ceremony, Mahishan Gnanaseharan ’16, now at Princeton University, lent his written support.

“Through careful readings of editorials and op-eds, she showed a classroom full of black and brown students that their voices could matter in written form. Whenever any of us expressed dissatisfaction with anything, her consistent response was: ‘Write about it!’”

Journalistic accolades notwithstanding, Connolly’s contributions to The Hive extend beyond the presses of The Benedict News. Currently a liaison between the Advancement office and Erbach Communications Group to manage production of St. Benedict’s quarterly magazines, she has also helped with the school's literary magazine, The Kayrix, leads the Green Bees recycling efforts, and coordinates the Gardening project during spring and summer phases.

Her environmental and gardening pursuits are both therapeutic — she began her work in the garden the year she was diagnosed with cancer — and poetic. Connolly’s roles at St. Benedict’s personify Ray Bradbury’s observation that “Journalism keeps you planted in the earth.”

With her Gold Key award planted firmly on her resume, Connolly is now ready to turn the page.

She’s not riding off into the sunset — Connolly will continue with the garden, the magazines, and plans to be a writing coach to fulfill St. Benedict’s Middle States initiative — but her work on The Benedict News ends on a high note at the close of this school year. Finding someone to fill her shoes may prove challenging.

As a teacher, Connolly exhibits a humble passion. “I may have taught my students to report and write, but they have taught me the value of connecting to lives very different from your own. And they have proven to me that teaching journalism, especially now, is an essential contribution to the development of thoughtful, engaged citizens.”

To find a more thoughtful and engaged teacher and adviser than Connolly will be news to all.

-- By Susan Kronberg

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