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Grace Marion wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award

by Edwin B. Smith

A University of Mississippi student has been selected for a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in the journalism category.

Grace Marion, a freshman journalism major from Levittown, was chosen for fighting against years of school censorship and for publishing her final investigative article about sexual misconduct records.

She wrote and published the story while a senior in high school.

Grace and other winners were honored at a press reception at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., presented with a $5,000 cash prize and a commemorative plaque.

“I called, like, 10 journalists that I keep in touch with to tell them about it because I was so excited,” Grace said. “Then I called my family and texted some people. I’ve been a finalist/runner up in a few other competitions over the years, but I had never actually won anything. “This was super exciting without even considering the importance of the award.”

Grace, who had to raise thousands of dollars because her school board cut the high school newspaper budget every time students printed something they didn’t like, has been working on a lawsuit with the Southern Policy Leadership Conference for three years.

She has spoken at conventions across the country about censorship issues in scholastic journalism, attended dozens of local government meetings, wrote state representatives, called local papers to print the dozens of stories that were censored and faced punishment for that resistance.

The series of articles the award recognizes were printed in Grace’s high school newspaper, The Playwickian, on the day of her graduation.

“I decided to write about these issues chiefly because the issues discussed were important to my community and people were getting hurt,” she said. “It was really getting under my skin to be reminded of what was happening so often, knowing that it was going to continue and no one would even know it.”

Because her competition wasn’t only student journalists, Grace said being recognized among professionals of all levels is exciting.

“I had already kind of idolized some of the winners in other categories this year from the work some of them had been involved in, so I’m excited to get to meet some of these amazing journalists, lawyers and activists that I’ll be sharing the stage with,” Grace said.

Grace is president of the Ole Miss chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

She is also a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Mississippian and a member of the Common Ground Committee, a faculty-led reconciliation group at the School of Journalism and New Media.

“Among our students receiving national awards, Grace is a free spirit who is trying to improve and polish her skills,” said Will Norton, the school’s dean. “The best journalists are those who know their weaknesses and work to eliminate them. We hope national awards provide confidence and accelerated drive to improve.”

A Stamps Scholar and member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Marion said her goals include studying abroad, volunteering in the LOU community and continuing to attend national professional journalism conferences.

Following graduation, she plans to become a journalist.

“I feel like this award is going to be something I use as reassurance when I feel like I’m lagging in my career in the future,” she said. “I’ll look back on it to remind myself that I’ve already made achievements in the field at times when I feel like I’m not very useful and use it as motivation to push myself forward.”

The awards are chaired by Christie Hefner, former chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises Inc., and board director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

She launched the First Amendment Awards in 1979.

Past award winners have been artists, authors, journalists, librarians, whistleblowers, lawyers and community organizers.

For more information on the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation and the First Amendment Awards, visit https://www.hmhfoundation.org/.

PHOTO CAP: Grace Marion