Following in the footsteps of free spirits

BHS junior Rebecca Riepl has been selected to act as the North Dakota representative at this year’s Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.


Each year, the Freedom Forum Institute selects one rising senior from each state who demonstrates qualities of a free spirit and excellence in journalism to participate in a prestigious program named after the founder of USA Today and the institute itself. This year’s North Dakota representative is none other than BHS’s own Rebecca Riepl.

With her selection, Riepl adds her name to a list of past Free Spirit Scholars who have had the pleasure of calling themselves BHS students. The award merits a $1,000 scholarship as well as participation in a five-day conference in which representatives will learn about journalism and free speech. For the second consecutive year, the five-day conference will be held virtually rather than in Washington DC due to COVID concerns, but Riepl is excited for the experience nonetheless. 

“I’m mostly looking forward to meeting all of the other people from other states and sharing knowledge – discussing different ideas and stuff like that,” Riepl said.

Riepl signed up for Journalism I, the prerequisite for BHS’s publication classes, as a freshman with the goal of expanding her horizons. After deciding to join HiHerald her sophomore year, she has demonstrated leadership through her former role as Photography Editor and current role as Opinion Editor. Furthermore, Riepl is lined up to become HiHerald’s Editor-In-Chief for the 2021-22 school year, during which she hopes to lead the HiHerald to increased readership.

“I’m going to get a lot of good things going and get our staff back up,” Riepl said. “I really want to get [the HiHerald] out there more. I feel like a lot of people in the school don’t really know or read or care about the HiHerald.”

After her year of editorship, Riepl hopes to keep journalism in her life, potentially by pursuing it as a minor in college. Riepl plans to pursue a major in anthropology, the study of human behavior.

“[Journalism and anthropology] both study human experience and behaviors through slightly different approaches. I think it will be cool to combine them and share my findings, dish them up [and] serve them on a platter of ‘Here’s a greater understanding of the world,’” Riepl said.

As part of the application for the Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, Riepl was required to submit information regarding her volunteer service, grades, extracurriculars and awards. In addition, she obtained letters of recommendation from BHS social studies teacher Natalie Popelka, whom Riepl has had for three separate classes, and HiHerald advisor Annie McKenzie. In her letter, McKenzie described Riepl’s work ethic, dependability and willingness to speak her mind.

“Becky has worked diligently to surpass assignment expectations and work on projects both individually and collaboratively as assigned,” McKenzie said. “She is truly a respected editor among staff members, and students feel comfort and support in her role as a leader.”

Besides these more general requirements, candidates submitted articles demonstrating their journalism abilities. The HiHerald opinion section is no stranger to Riepl’s spirit, and for this reason, Riepl decided to submit one of her more passionate columns, as well as two news stories that she believes demonstrate the scope of her passion and ability.

Riepl was also required to craft two essays relating to the principal topics of the conference – journalism and being a free spirit. In her essay describing her interests in journalism, Riepl wrote that she desires not only to pursue knowledge for herself but to also share that knowledge with others. For the essay on her free-spirited qualities, Riepl cited her ability to see different perspectives.

“When some people hear the word free spirit, they think wild [and] rebellious, but I took a different approach and I was like ‘Where some people say I’m stubborn, I might say that I’m determined. When another says that decisions should always be made with a foundation of logic, I say that intuition should make its presence known to the decision-maker,’” Riepl said. “Basically, where some people see certain qualities in people, I take a different approach to those, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m a free spirit.”