25th Anniversary of the Lamplighter
We located the founding members to see how things have changed since 1990
Imagine yourself 25 years from now. Will you be using skills you learned in high school? Will you remember what electives you took? What about you teachers? Your classmates? For some of us, the answer will unfortunately be no. The staff of the original Lamplighter, however, will never forget.
Being a part of the original staff, there was no precedent to how the paper should be run. There was little to no budget, and even less organization. The original adviser of the paper, Mrs. Pat Esrael, helped the paper get its start when she brought in Lexington Herald-Leader staff members. These professional writers helped jump start the paper.
Meet Michelle Terwilleger. 25 years ago, she was a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, and she was a member of the original Lamplighter staff. For Terwilliger, the school newspaper was not only a fun elective, but it also laid the foundation for her future career.
“The Lamplighter solidified for me the idea that I wanted to pursue journalism as a career. Working late nights in the newspaper room, getting the dummy sheets ready to be photographed… [it] was a thrill,” said Terwilleger. “It truly made me fall in love with newspapers.”
Working beside Terwilleger on the original paper was Michelle Briscoe, the co-editor.
“[Terwilleger] and I would write dueling columns about important issues. The most memorable was regarding the death penalty,” said Briscoe. “It was really the first time I was able to challenge a belief system I had largely inherited.”
Besides Terwilleger and Briscoe, many of the other members of the original staff still keep in touch. Matt Felice, Erik Girdler and Juanell Spotts were all vital members of the first edition of the Lamplighter.
Despite the 25 year separation, the staff still retain positive opinions of each other.
“Erik [Girdler] and I were close. We did a tongue in cheek horoscope,” said Spotts. “It was the most fun we had; we changed our names to “Guru” Girlder and “Swami” Spots. You knew it was going to be silly.”
When asked about his fellow staff members, Girdler mentioned Felice, calling him “the life of that paper those first few years.” In addition to Girdler, Spotts recognized Felice as a vital member of the paper. “Matt [Felice] was our most talented staff member,” said Spotts. “He was a major force.”
Over two decades later, many of the original Lamplighter staff members keep in contact, especially through social media. While Girdler admits he hasn’t spoken in person to Spotts since 1991, they remain Facebook friends. In addition to Girdler, Terwilleger and Spotts also mentioned their online relationships with former classmates.
The original adviser of the paper, Mrs. Pat Esrael, can also be credited with keeping the group close. Today, Terwilleger still remembers the impact Mrs. Esrael had in her life. “[Mrs. Esrael] was our philosophical adviser,” said Terwilleger in her 1992 yearbook quote. “[She] kept us on track and made sure the newspaper class was an educational experience.”
“Although Mrs. Esrael was definitely in charge, she gave [Briscoe] and me a lot of leeway and responsibility in terms of the editing and layout of the paper,” said Terwilliger. “Mrs. Esrael’s willingness to hand over a good deal of responsibility to us was probably what made the experience of being co-editors so rewarding.”
Spotts also has fond memories. He said of Mrs. Esrael, “She had a certain way about her. She was always full of humor.”
Mrs. Esrael was fully committed to the staff – from bringing in advisers from the Lexington Herald-Leader and Eastern Kentucky University, to learning how to operate a computer, to setting the precedence for high school journalism at the new Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.
We caught up with Mrs. Esrael, who is enjoying her retirement in Florida. She fondly remembers her days adivising the Lamplighter. When asked for advice she’d give high school students interested in journalism as a career, Mrs. Esrael said, “take advantage of every opportunity as a journalist to expand your personal life.”
Mrs. Esrael also told me that she remembers Terwilleger and Briscoe. “They were fabulous. They were talented and intelligent and committed,” said Mrs. Esrael. “The first year, we were sometimes there until midnight, and they were there.”
Even today, 25 years later, the co-editors, Terwilleger and Briscoe, still keep in contact. “Spending that many late evenings debating in that room tends to bond you to a person,” said Briscoe.
Currently, Briscoe is the Conservation Director for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. She credits her time on the Lamplighter staff for her skills in communication, writing, and editing, as these skills are crucial to her career. “The Lamplighter was always a part of my Dunbar experience,” said Briscoe. “It was the highlight of my school experience for sure.”
This feeling of pride for the Lamplighter was spread throughout the entire staff.
Terwilleger said, “My best memories are with the other students on the staff as well as with Mrs. Esrael – working after school, listening to music, having a fun and outrageous time putting the paper together.”
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My name is Maggie. I'm Editor-In-Chief. I like smoothies and chocolate, but not chocolate smoothies.