Lawrence High’s Maya Smith earns Kansas Student Journalist of the Year award

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Lawrence High School senior Maya Smith was named the state’s top student journalist Wednesday by the Kansas Scholastic Press Association.

Friends, peers, family members and school district staff applauded a surprised Smith as she slowly descended the red stairs of the school’s atrium. Eric Thomas, executive director of KSPA, met Smith near the bottom of the steps to announce the award.

“We’re here to celebrate Maya today,” Thomas said. “Not only did her portfolio win the 5A/6A Student Journalist of the Year, but she was named the top student journalist in the entire state.”

The prize comes with a $1,250 scholarship check. The contest is open to high school seniors. Three judges reviewed the submissions, Thomas told the crowd.

Each applicant was required to submit a digital portfolio, a photo of themself working in the field, a high school transcript showing an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher, three letters of recommendation, a resume and a personal essay.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

Smith serves as co-editor in chief of the Red and Black yearbook and has been on staff for three years. She takes photos, writes, designs and covers live events, according to her staff bio.

Thomas said the judges labeled Smith’s work “as an exceptional portfolio of material from start to finish” and “really strong images from such a balanced journalist.” Thomas described Smith as “a truly committed journalist who’s providing outstanding work to her school and the community in a tangible, physical way.”

Maebelle Hamlin, a senior and yearbook co-editor, said Smith works hard and never takes a day off.

“Whether it’s a story or a design or a photo assignment, she cares so deeply about these publications,” Hamlin said. “She’s worked with so many great people from LHS and so many past editors. And I think she really soaked up everything she could from them to get some success for herself and for our publications.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

Smith — who plans on majoring in journalism after high school, possibly at KU — said after the announcement the reality hadn’t quite soaked in.

“I spent so much time on that portfolio, and I thought I would, we would find out results like a month from now, and I was not expecting that today of all days,” Smith said. “It’s just an honor. I don’t even have any other words.”

Her portfolio will compete at a national level at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association Spring National High School Journalism Convention in April in Kansas City.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Maya Smith, center, celebrates with her family. At left are her parents, Mike and Jerilyn Smith. Maya’s grandparents, Linda and Gary Gilbert, stand at right.

Smith’s parents, Jerilyn and Mike Smith, watched the festivities alongside Maya’s grandparents, Linda and Gary Gilbert. Jerilyn said Maya has always been creative, artistic and an impressive writer.

“I think she’ll probably continue to amaze us,” Jerilyn said.

Mike said he felt incredibly proud of their daughter.

“The first article I read that she did for The Budget, I was blown away,” Mike said of the school’s newspaper. “She was professional. I was very impressed.”

Smith’s journalism adviser, Barbara Tholen, said the challenge of winning the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year award was the vast experience applicants must demonstrate.

Being a stellar reporter isn’t enough, Tholen said. Applicants have to be good at everything, and Smith is one of those rare students. Tholen called her “an immensely hard worker and talented” leader.

“I know she’s gonna go on to do great things,” Tholen said. “And this was just, you know, one of those fun days of what I’m sure will be many good days for her as a journalist.”


Smith is the second Chesty Lion to receive the honor in recent years. Cuyler Dunn, an LHS graduate and now a contributor for The Lawrence Times, earned the award in 2022.

“To have them recognized for that hard work is so much fun,” Tholen said.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times 2022 Student Journalist of the Year Cuyler Dunn attends the announcement on Feb. 21, 2024.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Maya Smith’s friends and colleagues pose for a photo on Feb. 21, 2024.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Maya Smith
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Maya Smith and Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Lewis
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times
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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

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