My WiNK Story
by: Max Porter
In the spring of 8th grade in 2018, I scrolled Wooster's course registration page. High school was already a scary idea for me, seeing classes that looked challenging, completely foreign, and taught by educators that I never conversed with did not make things better. After checking off all the required classes and the sports teams that I wanted to be on for the upcoming school year, I had a few time slots that were left empty. Knowing that a certain number of elective credits was required to graduate and my unrelenting mother telling me that free periods would distract me from school, I decided to check out the electives that were offered. Chamber Ensemble, Makerspace, WiNK. I stopped scrolling. I knew about WiNK, Wooster's journalism course, and it seemed interesting. While I did not know exactly what I would do in the class then, I thought that I may be able to eventually find a place on the team. So, I signed up.
In the first few weeks of WiNK, I could not tell you what I was up to. Those weeks were forgettable because I was doing nothing meaningful, that I enjoyed, that gave me purpose. That changed in November. Two of my best friends, Robert Gabrik and Zach Felton, who were also confused about their role in WiNK, approached me with the idea of creating lip-sync videos. Despite being a little frightened, I thought that I would give it a try. After all, I was with my buddies just fooling around and getting credit for it. The first song we picked to lip-sync was "Party in the USA." For the first clip that I was in, I was nervous. The line that I had to sing was, "Welcome to the land of fame excess, am I going to fit in?" We came up with the idea of having me sit at a table with a few older international students who dressed very nicely and that I did not know. It took a few tries, caused by me stuttering and laughing, but we finally got a good shot of the scene. I felt great. For the rest of the first video's clips that I was in, this feeling kept coming up. On the day of the release, I was uneasy about how people would perceive what I was doing, which could easily be seen as cringeworthy. But I was surprised when people reached out congratulating us for our work and asking for more videos. We decided to continue the project. Over the coming weeks and months of lip-syncing, I soon learned that the videos had a deeper resonance for me than just having fun. I was becoming more confident by the day, the feeling that I got every time I went in front of the camera. I was scared at first to do the lip-sync videos and it ended up being a meaningful experience. With this learning, I began to adopt the attitude of being excited for new, scary things that may turn out to have positive benefits.
After filming nine videos and a few more that did not make the cut into WiNK, the lip-sync group was lacking motivation in October 2019. Robert was tired of editing the videos, Zach thought that he was too old to lip-sync, and I simply was not feeling fulfilled. Despite all that the videos did to help me grow as a person, I felt like I was not being my true self. I was not diving into my passion of actual journalism and current events, not writing, and not expressing my beliefs and using my voice , my actual voice and not lyrics from a song. For these reasons, we decided to end the videos and go on our own paths. Robert and Zach both left and I remained, yearning to finally be the real me in WiNK. I got that start in March 2020 when I wrote "Coronavirus Closes Wooster's Doors" about Wooster's unprecedented decision to go virtual, the reasons behind it, and the plans for virtual schooling. In this article, I practiced skills like researching one of the biggest topics in history and synthesizing it in clear writing, expressing my opinions about the response to the pandemic, and interviewing people way above my paygrade, like Ms. McLeod and former Wooster Humanities teacher Dr. Jeck. It made me happy when Wooster community members reached out to me with positive feedback. I realized that I had discovered my purpose in WiNK and possibly life with a career in journalism. I knew that the article was not perfect in many ways, but it was a start and I was so excited to improve my journalism skills going forward. I did so with follow-up pieces like "Where Are the Medical Supplies?" and articles the following year such as "The Importance of Good Leadership in Times of Crisis," "The (Potential) Fall of America's Democratic Elections," "When Politics Becomes Undebatable - Post Sandy Hook," and "The Situation in Myanmar: A Democratic Upheaval."
Around the middle of 11th grade, I started a WiNK-published news podcast for an independent study sponsored by Wooster's Mr. Sacco called The Drive Home Podcast. In each episode, I would report on a main story, interview someone relevant to it, and talk about five other headlines in the news. This podcast was giving me another type of journalism to explore and more skills to gain. Towards the end of junior year after reflecting on the products I was making, I created new article and podcast goals for myself, recognizing room for improvement. These objectives included to not ramble as much and keep my sentences succinct, to be vulnerable and share more personal experiences, and to not be scared to share my honest opinions about subjects with strong supporting arguments. I took these learnings into action in senior year by producing "An Ignored Pandemic: Male Mental Health," "The LGBTQ+ Fight for Equal Blood Donation Rights," "The Russia-Ukraine Crisis," "The Ethics Behind Vaccine Mandates," "How to Solve the American Obesity Epidemic," countless podcast episodes, and now "My WiNK Story."
Now, after four straight years of taking WiNK on the night before Senior Send-Off, I am sitting at the desk in my room, where I have done so much of my WiNK work over the years, fully realizing how significant of an impact this class has made on me. WiNK has made me realize that taking risks and going outside your comfort zone is necessary for growth and discovering something better, something that may change your life. WiNK has allowed me to understand that having room for growth and recognizing faults is so beneficial. If you act on these realizations, you will become better. WiNK has embedded in me the belief that happiness and doing what you love is the most important thing you can do in life. If you do this, you will live life to the fullest and have no regrets. And finally, WiNK has shown me that your voice does matter. No matter what you are saying, how understandable it is, and how many people know you, people will not only hear you but really listen and consider your perspective.
But while I have said WiNK has made an incredible difference in my life, the driving force behind this impact is WiNK's head, Mrs. Thaler. Mrs. Thaler has encouraged me to take the risks that I have taken and allowed me to be almost completely independent and discover what I love. On a personal level, Mrs. Thaler has been there for me as a role model and someone that I can always rely on and talk to. A common sight in WiNK class that I think represents how wonderful this person is is Mrs. Thaler and I talking for the whole period. It usually starts with me telling her my idea for the week and turns from there into a long conversation about the topic and our experiences regarding it. Others in the class might get annoyed because Mrs. Thaler is not there with them helping with their projects, but she is helping me on a greater level by making me feel like I matter.
Logging off from this experience, I want to thank you, Mrs. Thaler and by extension WiNK, for helping make me who I am today and who I will become. Words cannot describe how much the opportunity to become so close to you and engage in this class to this level has meant to me. I will remember this experience forever.