Grace Marion was hooked on journalism from her first days as a student at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne. She files public records requests for fun, and visibly brightens when discussing media law.
Over her four years at Neshaminy, Marion clashed with the administration, battling what she says was censorship and the mishandling of sexual misconduct claims.
Now, the 2018 graduate of Neshaminy has won national recognition for her high school work. This month, she was named the winner of a Society of Professional Journalists prize for “outstanding service to the First Amendment.”
It was another in a string of high-profile awards for Marion, who had multiple articles cut or changed by administrators during her time as editor-in-chief of the Playwickian, Neshaminy’s student newspaper. Marion also received threats over her work and revealed, after years of investigation, what she described as a school policy of placing sexual misconduct allegations against staffers not in their files, but in students’ records.
“Talk about grace under pressure,” said Michael Koretzky, an SPJ staffer responsible for selecting Marion for the award. “Most high school journalists respond to harassment and intimidation by either lashing out or folding up. Grace did neither. Instead of screaming or crying, she just did … more journalism.”
Earlier this year, Marion, 19, won a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for her Neshaminy work, and has spoken about her experiences at conventions around the country.
Student journalists at the Bucks County school have a history of battling administrators.
In 2013, the student newspaper staff said they would stop using the name of the school’s athletic mascot, Redskins, because they considered it a racial slur.
Neshaminy administrators told the student journalists to print the word, an order the young people disregarded. Gillian McGoldrick, the newspaper’s then-editor-in-chief, was temporarily suspended from her position, and its faculty adviser was also suspended for “willful neglect of duties and insubordination.”
In 2014, the school board passed a policy that forbade editors from removing Redskins from editorials, but allowed them to ban it from news and sports stories.
By the time Marion began high school in 2014, she was already interested in politics, history, and writing. She gravitated toward the newspaper staff and quickly became an editor.
During her years at the paper, Marion said, the administration opposed free speech, minimized or ignored sexual assault and harassment claims, cut the newspaper’s budget, and even outed LGBTQ students. She challenged it every chance she had.
“They would refuse to print things, and they wouldn’t tell us why,” said Marion, who hails from Levittown and is about to enter her sophomore year as a journalism major at the University of Mississippi.
She refused to attend her graduation as a protest. In her farewell piece as editor of the Playwickian, Marion wrote that she would not “honor a school that supports the oppression of free speech, of LGBTQ+ rights, and of the victims of sexual assault and harassment.”
A spokesperson for the Neshaminy School District declined to comment.
Though Marion has moved on to Ole Miss, where she writes for the student newspaper, she still has Neshaminy on her mind. She said she plans to pursue a lawsuit challenging the Neshaminy school board policy that ties student journalists’ hands over banning the school’s mascot name.
“It’s a violation of the First Amendment,” said Marion.
The Neshaminy School District is awaiting the results of a January Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission hearing over its mascot nickname. The commission is legally challenging Neshaminy’s use of the Redskins name and its Native American imagery as offensive.