Royal Oak graduate honored by C-SPAN for documentary

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 12, 2018

 Zoe Kernohan, 17, of Royal Oak, poses in front of the selfie station in the C-SPAN bus at Royal Oak High School June 5. Kernohan’s winning documentary was among nearly 3,000 student submissions to StudentCam, C-SPAN’s annual student video competition.

Zoe Kernohan, 17, of Royal Oak, poses in front of the selfie station in the C-SPAN bus at Royal Oak High School June 5. Kernohan’s winning documentary was among nearly 3,000 student submissions to StudentCam, C-SPAN’s annual student video competition.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Nicolas Crane, a 2017 graduate of Royal Oak High School and friend of  award winner Zoe Kernohan, checks out the  interactive C-SPAN bus at Royal Oak High School.

Nicolas Crane, a 2017 graduate of Royal Oak High School and friend of award winner Zoe Kernohan, checks out the interactive C-SPAN bus at Royal Oak High School.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ROYAL OAK — On June 5, the C-SPAN bus stationed itself outside of Royal Oak High School to present a recently graduated senior with an honorable mention award for her video submission in its national StudentCam contest.

Zoe Kernohan, 17, of Royal Oak, won for her documentary “Keep It Separate,” which replied to a prompt asking students to choose a provision of the U.S. Constitution and create a video illustrating its personal importance to them.

Kernohan said she chose to explore the topic of the separation of religion and public education because she could relate to it, as she said she grew up in a religious family. She spent 2 1/2 months researching, interviewing, laying out and editing.

Some nights, she said, she stayed at school until 9:30 p.m. working on the project.

“The storyline was definitely the hardest part,” she said. “I did learn a lot from researching the topic and hearing the different views.”

Kernohan said she plans to pursue a career in video production, with a goal of working on documentaries, and she credited her classes at Royal Oak High School for opening that door for her. She plans to attend Michigan State University with a major in communications in the fall.

Mike Conrad, the Royal Oak High School video production teacher, said this was the fourth year that C-SPAN came to the school to honor winning students in the StudentCam contest.

“It’s great to see the kids get recognition for their work,” he said. “There are a lot of struggles that go along with a project of that length, and for (Kernohan) to find out that she was one of the winners out of thousands of entries, that really justifies her hard work, and, to me, that makes me the happiest of all.”

He said he was proud of his students for choosing hard-hitting topics.

Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick was among dozens who gathered in the high school auditorium for a viewing of “Keep It Separate” during students’ sixth hour. She was also one of the subjects whom Kernohan interviewed for her project.

“I’m always encouraged to talk to kids when they have projects going on, so I did a little research into our board policies and our practice and told her a little bit about my background,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was able to point her in the right direction about what our goal is in public schools and, whether a person believes or not, we have an obligation to the Constitution and to public schools and education.”

She said she was impressed with Kernohan’s creativity and ability to do research, and that it reflected well on the district.

“She was very hardworking, very diligent and she did a lot of homework to get ready for this, so I was very proud of her,” she said.

Kernohan also interviewed former Royal Oak mayor and current state Rep. Jim Ellison; former superintendent and First United Methodist Church of Birmingham senior associate pastor Shawn Lewis-Lakin; and Kennedy Robinson, president and founder of Royal Oak High School’s Sandbox Club, a Christ-based religious club.

Shannon Augustus, a C-SPAN marketing representative, said C-SPAN received a record of 2,985 video submissions from more than 5,700 students in 46 states and Washington, D.C. C-SPAN’s education team selected 150 student winners and 53 teacher winners and gave out a total of $100,000 in prize money.

Besides the honorable mention award and the $250 prize, Augustus also presented Kernohan with accolades from Congressman Sandy Levin, Gov. Rick Snyder, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Sen. Gary Peters and Mayor Michael Fournier.

Augustus said Kernohan’s submission fit the five- to seven-minute parameters and stayed on topic, which automatically disqualified many other submissions.

“Most important, we want to show a balance, because that’s what C-SPAN is about. We’re a non-biased network, so we want these videos to show both sides or multiple sides of whatever argument it is,” Augustus said. “We want students to think critically and give them a voice.”

After the ceremony, students toured the new C-SPAN bus, equipped with a live studio, a selfie station and interactive learning stations.

To watch all of the StudentCam winning videos for 2018, visit www.studentcam.org.