Hunting for new sources. Scheduling interviews for stories. Taking chances in new roles. In room 2409, talent is constantly burgeoning. And every once in a while, a valedictorian emerges.
Sophia Sipe, the former editor-in-chief of the Express News for the fall and spring 2022 semesters and managing editor of Naked 2022, is one of two valedictorians of the 2022-23 school year.
While the title holds much acclaim, it isn’t unusual to the gifted storyteller and leader in the newsroom. Her mother, Elizabeth Sipe, was also the valedictorian at Maric College in 2006. It’s not the first time an editor for the Express has achieved such a title. Back in 2014, Express editor Bekka Weidenmeyer earned the title as well.
“At the end of the day, someone chooses you and you have to take the opportunity that’s handed to you and appreciate it,” Sophia said.
This is no surprise to her former classmate and the current editor-in-chief for the Express Lizzy Rager.
According to Rager, as someone who shadowed Sophia in order to become the incumbent editor-in-chief for the Express, Rager believes her greatness will shine.
Sophia’s accomplishment speaks of the contributions she’s brought to the campus: she has won writing awards for first place in magazine profile writing for Naked 17, first place in a copy-editing contest, multiple awards for her column and many more from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.
More largely, her contributions live on through the people she’s affected. As an editor, she looked to bring out the talents of each and every one of her staff.
“I felt like she was creating a lot of cohesion among the staff there,” Melissa Korber, journalism and media studies professor, said. “It didn’t surprise me as much as it gratified me.”
Sophia’s effect on her staff and her advisers at the Express were not only noticed, but admired by Rager. According to Rager, when it came to getting the work done, Sophia was not afraid to set hard deadlines on stories. She made sure staff members met those dates, but she was compassionate in doing so.
Currently, Sophia is a writer for the Daily 49er at California State University, Long Beach. She transferred halfway through the Las Positas school year to pursue a degree in journalism and public relations. The decision to transfer early was thanks to her work at the Express.
Sophia is a gifted storyteller. The beauty of weaving a story, sharing personal anecdotes and using her platform commonly stigmatized mental health topics, all comseasy to her.
Her column, “Sophia’s school of thought,” began in Fall 2022 and was founded on the idea of making her writing more personal for herself and readers.
“I just wanted an outlet to vent in a way that would help me refine my writing style,” Sophia said. “I knew it couldn’t be as sloppy as a personal diary entry, so I was excited to continually work on something that would grow. It was sort of like a pleasure project for me.”
She was inspired to write columns for the Express based on what the previous editor-in-chief, CJ Flores, had done.
“He talked about various personal problems. Mostly though, I wanted something that was solely my own and a column was perfect because it offered the creative freedom I was looking for,” Sophia said.
Sophia’s childhood friend, Ella King, was also a contender for valedictorian, but did not apply as she thought Sophia deserved it.
“Sophia is super persistent,” King said. ”She’s a positive individual who gets anything done she puts her mind to.”
Growing up, Sophia was determined, decisive and very outspoken.
“She was a Taurus,” Elizabeth said. “Sophia wanted to make her own decisions growing up. Unlike her siblings.
There were often times where Sophia saw writing as an opportunity to tie her stories to childhood memories, and that eventually led her into the bigger story for her columns.
“Almost like a self-help and an advice kind of vibe,” King said.
Mental health is one thing Sophia had to master and overcome throughout her life. According to one of Sophia’s columns, she had to accept her condition of hyperindependence and make mental notes whenever a situation (where she needs to be hyperindependent) arises.
Many other students at LPC are battling mental health inside and outside of the classroom. Before the pandemic, 11% of students struggled with thoughts of suicide, according to a 2018-19 Healthy Minds study. In 2020-21, 60% of students struggled with mental health issues, according to the American Psychological Association.
“I just want to say thank you for publishing stories like this,” an anonymous student said in an email to Express about Sophia’s column about hyper independence. “It’s so rare to find examples of my situation least of all from people who would understand and be compassionate.”
Even before working on the Express, Sophia enjoyed writing down her inner thoughts and took up journaling in her diary every day. According to Sophia, writing became a habitual practice that she continued throughout her academic career.
“I would write every day after school about nothing,” Sophia said. “About childhood drama, my favorite color and my favorite food. Just random things.”
Once Sophia reached high school, she was able to sharpen her writing skills and take her voice to a whole new level.
“In high school, I did well in my writing classes,” Sophia said. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got there.”
Sophia wanted to be a forensics major her freshman year. “I think what I found with forensics is that I liked reading articles about investigative journalism,” Sophia said. “I just didn’t make the connection that I wanted to write about it rather than do forensics. Once I made the switch from forensics to journalism, I was content with it. It was more of a purpose than being in forensics because I wasn’t sure.”
She found joy everytime she completed an article.
“There’s a cathartic feeling of writing. Once you’re done, it feels just good because you just put your pen to paper, your fingers to the keyboard and eventually, the computer. It gets better over time,” Sophia said.
Having a purpose in life was paramount to Sophia’s success not only as a writer but as a student at LPC.
Her first task in getting involved with journalism was taking a class with the esteemed Athletic columnist and LPC journalism instructor, Marcus Thompson II. According to an email interview, Thompson picked up right away on Sophia’s purpose in his class.
“She was a student in my online class during the pandemic,” Thompson said. “She was like many online students during COVID, detached and mildly interested. But her work was really good, which is why I recommended her for the newspaper.”
“When I was in Marcus’s class, he would always talk about ‘Why aren’t you on the newspaper?’ That’s how I found out there was a newspaper on campus, and I just decided to join it to see what it was going to be like. I really liked it and I liked the team of people I was working with,” Sophia said.
Korber also saw her gift in an online intro to media class that same semester. “She was kind of quiet in class and very polite. She would show up on Zoom for class in her pajamas, often from her bed and her dog Chicken became a part of our class,” Korber said.
“Sophia definitely had an immediate knack as a columnist,” Korber said. “It’s hard to write a good column, and hers were very confessional about what had gone on in her life and with her mental health in the past. So I found that not only hard to do but very brave.”
In her roles, Sophia sharpened up her delegation skills. According to Sophia, it was a matter of getting better with time and making sacrifices.
“My experience as Editor-in-Chief was stressful,” Sophia said. But it was something I loved to do. I had to learn how to manage and oversee editors. How to delegate work was difficult for me because I felt guilty for giving people work that I wanted to do.”
Thanks to her hard work, she’s this year’s valedictorian and is off to conquer the journalism world.
Peter Zimmer is a freelance writer for the Express.
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