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The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Accolade up for its second national Pacemaker award on Saturday, Nov. 4

Source: Accolade image file
The Accolade will find out next month whether issues from the 2022-2023 school year will earn the program’s second national Pacemaker award, considered to be as valuable as a Pulitzer Prize offered to professional publications. This front cover of the Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, issue was used in the National Scholastic Press Association’s September news release listing the 39 finalists in the newspaper/newsmagazine category.

The Accolade will find out next month whether it wins its second National Scholastic Press Association [NSPA] Pacemaker award in recognition of six of the publication’s issues from the 2022-2023 school year.

“This award is like the Pulitzer Prize of professional journalism,” Accolade adviser Tommy Li said. “It’s always been my goal to develop a staff each year that works toward producing work worthy of Pacemaker recognition, and it’s great to know that last year’s group could earn that honor.”

Another goal that Li had heading into the 2022-2023 school year was to revamp certain aspects of The Accolade’s design, and that was accomplished through sending then-editor-in-chief Kate Yang to a virtual summer design workshop sponsored by another journalism program called the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

“There were stylistic details in professional papers that I had never noticed before attending the workshop,” said Yang, a freshman majoring in public health at the University of California, Berkeley. “We integrated these details, spot color being an example, into The Accolade’s print issues and personally, I feel as though they worked in our favor.”

Since 1927, the NSPA has recognized award-winning high school newspapers/news magazines that demonstrate excellence in writing, editing, design and photography, according to the NSPA website. 

This year, the awards ceremony will take place Saturday, Nov. 4, in Boston during the NSPA’s national convention of middle school and high school journalists and their advisers.

“Unfortunately, none of my students on staff want to go or can raise the funds to afford the flight to the East Coast and the hotel stay,” Li said. “I can’t even go because the school doesn’t provide financial support for me to attend an awards ceremony in which we’re being recognized as a finalist for. 

“School officials have explained to me that I would have to pay my own way there. So that means we won’t know whether we won a Pacemaker plaque until after the ceremony is over when the NSPA posts its winners on its website.”

Web editor-in-chief senior Susie Kim added: “We have college applications [to complete], and I don’t think that the [plane] tickets are being covered by the school.”

To be eligible for a Pacemaker award, those judging entries – nationwide and international – produce a list of finalists, which the NSPA posted on its website on Sept. 5. 

“The Pacemaker is the association’s preeminent award,” NSPA executive director Laura Widmer said in the news release that revealed the Pacemaker finalists. “NSPA is honored to recognize the best of the best.”

Of the 39 finalists nominated under the newspaper/newsmagazine category, 10 came from high school publications in California with The Accolade as the only journalism program nominated from Orange County. The NSPA did not release any information on how many total Orange County publications were submitted for Pacemaker judging.

The other Southern California newspapers/newsmagazines in the running for a Pacemaker award are The Mirror from Van Nuys High School and The Hoofprint from Walnut High School.

“I normally keep track of when the NSPA posts its list of finalists, but for some reason this semester, I didn’t receive any emails about it, and my editor-in-chief ended up being the one to mention that we were named a finalist during class the day after Labor Day,” said Li, who submitted six of seven issues from the 2022-2023 school year for judging at the end of the spring semester last June.

To recognize the finalists, the NSPA chose to include an image of one issue from each recognized publication in its released list; for The Accolade, it was the Friday, Nov. 18, issue that featured a cover of a futuristic robotic face and hand with the headline: “Ready for the AI Revolution?”

“The NSPA doesn’t explain why they choose the issues to highlight, but my sense is that they usually will pick a cover that will attract the most attention – the one that stands out the most, and so I wasn’t surprised that they picked this third issue,” Li said.

Becoming a finalist also means the program will receive a 10 ¾-inch-high-by-8 ½-inch wide wooden plaque, The Accolade’s fifth and third under Li’s tenure as adviser. The last time the Sunny Hills journalism program won the larger, 13-inch-high-by-10 ¾-inch wide wooden plaque was when Li advised The Accolade in the 2004-2005 school year.


Chun said she first found out about other schools receiving the recognition through Instagram, and saw The Accolade listed among the other finalists when she checked on the NSPA website.

I know that we all worked hard on every single issue. I’m really grateful that we were recognized.”

— editor-in-chief senior Jaimie Chun

“I know that we all worked hard on every single issue,” she said. “I’m really grateful that we were recognized.”

Along with the members of The Accolade staff, some reporters from the 2022-2023 Journalism 1 class also contributed to two of the judged issues.

“When Mr. Li was talking about the award, I felt lucky to be part of a program where we have such high standards and big awards,” said reporter sophomore Natasha Niazi, who wrote a column about thrifting in The Accolade’s Friday, April 28, issue as a Journalism 1 student.

To celebrate being a finalist, Li bought Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider in a mini-glass bottle for each person on staff and handed each one out during the fourth period Advanced Journalism class on Friday, Sept. 8.

“I wanted all of us to make a toast for change, especially since we were getting ready to unveil our magazine to our campus a few weeks later, and we’re making a push to update our online news website with more content more frequently,” Li said. 

Many Accolade staff members said the treat surprised them.

“It was very unexpected,” first-year reporter sophomore Kevin Lee said. “It was a really nice token from him.”

Getting a finalist nod caps off a season of other previous awards the staff has earned.

“Not only did we become Pacemaker finalists, but we have won other awards that recognize us as one of the top high school newspapers in the region,” said Kim, who won a clear, acrylic trophy this past summer from the Los Angeles Press Club for her feature story on one of the artists behind the breezeway mural. 

The L.A. Press Club’s SoCal Journalism Awards also gave a similar trophy to the journalism program under the Best High School Newspaper category for its February 2022 issue, the third such award since Li returned as adviser in the 2016-2017 school year.

The National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker plaque (center) is surrounded by The Accolade’s four finalist ones earned in the following years: 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2021. The Pacemaker was for issues produced during the 2004-2005 school year when English and journalism teacher Tommy Li was the adviser.

The last time the staff received a Pacemaker finalist nod was in the 2020-2021 school year when the journalism program produced only PDF issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chun said she hopes this school year’s shift to a full-color, specialty magazine will keep The Accolade’s award-winning tradition going.

“Working toward producing a magazine that is Pacemaker finalist worthy is something that I would say I try to do for every magazine that gets published,” the editor-in-chief said. “I just hope that we can grow from this experience, knowing that if we work hard and do what we do, we’ll be proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

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About the Contributor
Aashna Dialani, Assistant Business Manager
Sophomore Aashna Dialani spent her freshman year in the Journalism 1 class and looks forward to starting the new school year as the assistant business manager of The Accolade. Aside from being a part of the award-winning staff, Dialani is also a part of the swim team. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and watching Bollywood movies with her parents.
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