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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, Helios earn Crown finalist nominations for second straight year from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association

Chloe Kang
To celebrate the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Crown finalist nomination, The Accolade adviser Tommy Li presents a plastic container of Ferrero Rocher chocolates as a treat for staff members during the fourth period Advanced Journalism class on Wednesday, Dec. 20. Li wanted those on staff to know that regardless of any national award The Accolade will receive on Friday, March 15, he sees them as Gold Crown winners.

While the Columbia Scholastic Press Association [CSPA] marks its 100th spring convention anniversary in New York next month, The Accolade staff hopes the award ceremony held there will lead to its first Gold Crown award.

And for yearbook, Helios will see whether it will be awarded a third Gold Crown after earning the same nod for its annuals published in the 2002-2003 and 2018-2019 school years.

“To even be on the list of Crown finalists is an honor,” said Accolade adviser Tommy Li, who’s nearing a decade of guiding the journalism program since his return in the 2016-2017 school year. “It would be great if we had the finances to go to the awards ceremony next month and perhaps accept our first Gold Crown award for the journalism program, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait until we find out after the fact by reviewing the list of Gold Crown winners online.”

Though the CSPA named The Accolade a finalist in 2006, 2020, 2022 and 2023, the program has only been awarded a Silver Crown plaque for each of those years. As in the past two years, its Crown finalist nod falls under the hybrid news category, which means judges looked at six of the publication’s print newspaper issues in the 2022-2023 school year along with content posted on the online news website,

The only time that the top Accolade editors and Li were scheduled to go to the awards ceremony held at Columbia University in the East Coast was in March 2020 when former principal Allen Whitten offered to fund the trip and hotel stay for Li and two of his student editors.

Hopefully we’ll be able to someday raise the money or find a benefactor who’s willing to financially support us in this endeavor.”

— adviser Tommy Li

However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused CSPA officials to cancel the event, and when The Accolade was nominated as a Crown finalist in the past two years, Whitten was no longer the principal.

Li and the top editors were told by Whitten’s successor, Craig Weinreich, that they would have to raise the money to pay for the trip and hotel costs because the school budget could not afford to fund such an expense.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to someday raise the money or find a benefactor who’s willing to financially support us in this endeavor,” the adviser said. “Even though it’s true that it would only take a few minutes for us to go up to the stage and receive our plaque, the fact that it’s in New York and the rich journalism history behind it will be a lost opportunity for the top editors who worked so hard to produce such high quality content in print and online.”


Li said he learned of the nomination during final exam week on Tuesday, Dec. 19, nearly a week after the CSPA posted its list of finalists on its website on Thursday, Dec. 14.

And since the next day was the final exam period for the fourth period Accolade class, the journalism adviser said he wanted to give his staff another celebration experience different from the previous ones the staff had experienced after the program had earlier been nominated a Pacemaker finalist from another national journalism organization and then subsequently won a Pacemaker award.

“I bought a bunch of small gummy pizzas and passed them out to each staff member because some had expressed to me that our next awards celebration should be a pizza party,” Li said. “I told them that we would have a real pizza party if we did win a Gold Crown plaque for the first time.

“I then showed them a container of Ferrero Rocher chocolates wrapped in gold foil because I wanted them to know that in my heart, I consider them Gold Crown winners no matter what the results are.”


The Accolade and 45 other schools in the nation received this honor for the High School Hybrid News category, including 10 California schools, through an announcement on Thursday, Dec. 14, on Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter. The Sunny Hills publication stands as the only Orange County [OC] high school with this achievement though no information was available as to how many journalism programs in the OC submitted their publications/online news websites for Crown judging.

“Crown Awards are the highest recognition given by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association to a student print or digital medium for overall excellence,” according to a CSPA description about the list of finalists. 

Last year’s editor-in-chief [EIC] Kate Yang said she feels relieved knowing that the modern design elements she incorporated into the issues produced last school year warranted such national attention.

“It felt extremely gratifying, and I couldn’t help but think back on how we felt when producing those print issues,” said Yang, who heard of The Accolade’s nomination from an email Li personally sent to her on Wednesday, Dec. 20. “I definitely forgot about the overwhelming amount of stress that came with putting the papers together, but looking back, it truly paid off.”

The EIC recalled the difficulties of catching minimal errors under the strict time constraints with each print issue while keeping staff members motivated.

“We couldn’t have achieved what we did without any of the members we had on our staff last year,” said Yang, a freshman majoring in public health at the University of California, Berkeley. “It was a challenge to have them input the same effort for every issue, but we managed to do it.”

Then-web EIC Henry Lee reflected the same sentiment as Yang, sharing difficulties with maintaining a constant posting schedule on the website.

“I was working to receive the Best of SNO’s SNO Distinguished Site Badge with our layout, multimedia elements and posting schedule, which I believe all contributed a big part in our Crown nomination,” said Lee, who is a freshman majoring in business information management at the University of California, Irvine. “I hope we do win a Gold Crown but regardless of the results, I won’t be disappointed because the nomination in itself means our hard work was recognized.”


Meanwhile, Helios awaits the possibility of receiving its third Gold Crown after earning the same achievement for its yearbooks created in the 2002-2003 and 2018-2019 school years.

“I was just shocked,” Helios adviser Lindsay Safe said of the annual titled, “Honestly Who Says We Can’t.” “These kids obviously make great yearbooks, but I didn’t know this one was going to perform so well.”

Safe said the editors’ choice to design a unique, atypical outer appearance featuring a bright blue cover with bold pink letters without a dominant image brought more attention, earning the book its Crown recognition.

The cover of the 2022-2023 Helios yearbook features an unconventional cover, using a combination of bright bold and pink colors to spell out the title, “Honestly Who Says We Can’t.” The book was nominated as a Columbia Scholastic Press Association Crown finalist on Thursday, Dec. 15. (Image used with permission from Tiffany Elnitiarta)

“When you have someone who’s neutral, they see it and go, ‘Wow, this pops so much, and it has so much design,’” she said. “It was different, and it was in your face.”

Safe said she first heard of the announcement when she received during break on Friday, Dec. 15, a text message from a Colorado yearbook adviser, Smoky Hills High School’s Carrie Faust, who congratulated Safe and her staff.

“All the editors were thrilled, while you have the newcomers who don’t really understand that this is a big deal,” said the adviser, who said she couldn’t hold a separate party with the fourth period class. “I explain to the kids who weren’t in our staff last year, ‘Imagine winning a CIF championship; this is our CIF.’”

The yearbook follows an umbrella coverage, focusing on a specific theme for each spread in the book, after positive results from the same format in its 2020-2021 chronicle.

The publication will compete against 35 other books and represents the only school in Orange County to earn such an honor, though like with The Accolade, no information is provided from the CSPA as to how many OC yearbook programs submitted their work for Crown consideration. The staff was previously named Silver Crown winners in 2006, 2013, 2021 and 2023.

Safe said like Li and his editors, she and her editor don’t plan to attend the awards ceremony on Friday, March 15, at Columbia University because of a schedule conflict that day. 

“I won’t be going to New York for the convention, but I’ll be speaking in Kansas [at another journalism convention] with a group of yearbook adviser friends,” said Safe, who’s in her 17th year in this role.

Then-EIC Joyce Choi found out about the award when current EIC senior Tiffany Elnitiarta sent a text message to a group chat with the 2022-2023 Helios editors. 

“I felt rewarded for the hard efforts our staff put into the yearbook last year,” said Choi, a freshman at the University of California, Riverside, majoring in pre-business. “I felt that it was a great reflection of the results we wanted and hoped for.”

Elnitiarta said she hopes to keep up the legacy of her predecessors as she works on coordinating the new yearbook coming out in May.

“I have been on staff since my freshman year, and each book I have worked on has received at least a Crown or National Scholastic Press Association [Pacemaker] finalist nomination, so I hope to keep the streak going,” she said. “Also, being a senior, I have felt really sentimental to everything going on this year, so I am excited to make a book that will capture all of the memories of my last year of high school.”

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Susie Kim
Susie Kim, Web Editor-in-Chief
Entering her final year on staff, senior Susie Kim looks forward to continuing The Accolade's online legacy as the web editor-in-chief. Kim plans on focusing on the frequency of online posting and incorporating more multimedia into stories across each section. After concluding her junior year as the news editor, Kim feels confident in reporting timely news both on and off campus. She is excited to work with this year's staff to continue producing The Accolade's print products. Outside of spending time in the journalism room, Kim likes competing with her Science Olympiad teammates and listening to music.
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