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October 4, 2012

Milford senior plans for leadership project


— The Bezos Scholar Program is about cultivating big ideas. It is a leadership development program that offers pathways for students and educators to put their education into action.

Milford Central School senior Spencer O’Bryan plans on doing just that. His goal is to start broadcasting local news and happenings online. He said he also wants to feature local people and businesses in short video clips.

“We want to have a place where people from local schools and other towns can post what is going on in little video clips,” he said.

The intention, he said, is to have one centralized place for people to learn about what the area has to offer.

“People really seem to associate New York with New York City, and there is so much more going on. So I thought if I could bring light to all that is going on around here, it would be really beneficial to the area. We have a lot to offer and it would be really great to get that out there,” O’Bryan said.

The teen was one of 12 high school juniors from the U.S. selected as a 2012 Bezos Scholar. O’Bryan and MCS librarian Philip Durkin were able to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival during the summer where they met and shared meals with politicians, journalists, artists, scientists, inventors, environmentalists, national security experts and other change-makers from around the world.

Student and Education Scholars attend six days of seminars, tutorials, lectures and debates. The program is a journey that begins in Aspen, Colo., and continues throughout the following school year as scholars return home to launch their own big ideas. Their task is to create a sustainable local ideas festival that is intended to transform their schools and communities.

Durkin said he had never been to Aspen before and the seminars blew his mind. He said he and O’Bryan had breakfast with New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.

O’Bryan said some of the highlights of the trip for him were meeting Brooks, Lauren Bush (CEO, creative director, and co-founder of FEED projects) and Walter Isaacson (president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. Isaacson was chairman and CEO of CNN and editor of TIME magazine).

“We got to meet with a team of five from CNN and they made a short video about the Bezos Scholars of 2012 program. And another camera crew also made a short video about us too, and it is online,” he said.

According to O’Bryan the experience allowed him to meet a lot of great people.

“It was a really good time,” he said. “It was very motivational and inspiring.”

O’Bryan applied for a $1,000 grant through the Bezos Scholar Program to start planning his own local ideas festival, which will be held during the annual Earth Festival held at MCS in the spring. Videos will be premiered there, he added.

“We will have a lot of clips such as the town’s statement, a fire report, probably something from the Milford Education Foundation and just a bunch of other local stories,” he explained.

“I think it is going to be a really great way to connect local people and also businesses. We are going to highlight Chobani yogurt because next month there is an initiative before Chobani for schools and it is kind of like a Box Tops for Education type deal. It is a food drive, and whoever raises the most gets a special award from Chobani, so that is going to replace the food drive that we do every year for Thanksgiving so that is pretty exciting. We will advertise that in our video,” he continued.

Although many of the other scholars might be planning a one-day event for their local ideas festivals, O”Bryan said he intends this project to be continuous.

“We are probably going to have a weekly segment, so that way we can keep interest going,” he said.

A major factor in making sure the broadcasts carry on will be through the help of the MCS technology class by having the broadcast journalism students work on filming, according to O’Bryan. He said the students already produce footage for the Wildcat Wire, a bi-weekly news show that is played in the Milford school.

Durkin, who will help O’Bryan develop and launch his local ideas festival, said the school already has the equipment and students interested in reporting.

“We are just going to take the skills and magnify what we already are doing,” he said.

O’Bryan said he was aware of the Bezo program because his sister had participated in the past. In fact, he said, “It was the first time in the program’s history that there has ever been another sibling that applied and got accepted to the program, so that was pretty cool.”

O’Bryan said it was a pretty extensive application process. He said he had to write three lengthy essays and was selected as one of the 25 finalist. Finalists, he said, had to go through a 15- to 20-minute telephone interview. Winners were announced a couple months later, he added.

“It was really exciting when I found out,” O’Bryan said. “I was in Massachusetts on a college visit.”

The 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival will take place June 26 - July 2. Deadlines for next year's Bezos Scholars Program entries have not been posted. For more information about the program, visit