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Dancing Between Two Worlds
It was less than a year ago when Serenity Grace Sears first submitted an article to Radford University’s newspaper, The Tartan. Today, she is the editor.
This might be surprising, especially for people who know Sears primarily as a dancer. However, the senior with double majors in Dance and Media Studies (with a Journalism concentration) has stepped onto this new stage well prepared by both backgrounds.
Granted, dance plus journalism seems like a bit of leap, but Sears points out that both are forms of communication and share more than one might think at first glance.
“In both, you can choreograph and express difficult topics,” she said. “Dance can also be about society.”
Thoughtful, sincere and optimistic, Sears has entered the new role at a time when those qualities are needed.
In general, Sears says, the campus has lost its sense of connection to The Tartan, which has had what she calls a “messy” history in recent years including periods without an Editor in Chief, contributing to instability.
Covid also made things very difficult and spun the paper into some disarray. Simultaneously, people continue to disengage from traditional print media, turning to their phones dozens of times a day for information.
To reclaim the student connection to The Tartan, Sears says they need a meaningful, trustworthy paper with an effective website.
To begin that transformation, The Tartan has switched to a new, magazine-style publication with a more portable size and cleaner look. They’ve also reset the volume and issue numbers, which were completely inconsistent.
Sears has also been tackling various problems from inaccurate passwords to untended (or dead) email accounts to sorting out conflicting logos.
She will only have a couple semesters at the helm, but in that time, Sears wants to see the paper effectively organized and running smoothly and professionally for the next staff that steps in.
The most important element in that journey, says Sears, is enabling free expression for the population the paper serves, Radford’s student body.
As editor, Sears wants to give students a voice and make them aware of the power of their newspaper for free speech. She stresses that open, respectful communication—including simply talking to people—matters in taking The Tartan into its next incarnation successfully.
“I want as much diversity as possible,” she said. “We can help people tell their stories and help them get their voices out there.”
Therefore, she’s working to expand contributions from students and encourages them to contact her and submit stories.
“I’ve seen a lot of students who want to help, and they have fabulous ideas. I hope people with a passion for communication will see this as a great opportunity.”
And when you do talk to her, you may notice that “passion” is a word Sears uses frequently when discussing dance as well as journalism. She’s clearly fueled by a passion for both, giving her the drive and focus to handle the variety of tasks in these two worlds.
While she’s embracing the work ahead, Sears points out that accepting the responsibility of Editor in Chief still required some soul-searching.
In fact, this wasn’t her first opportunity to edit the student paper. Based on the strength of her class work, she’d been offered the position more than a year ago, but Sears turned it down because she “had too much on her plate” at the time to ensure success.
For one thing, her first love, dance, is a demanding lifestyle.
Dance students typically have a tightly scheduled life. From the outside, it might look easy, but dancers must manage the physical stress (including injuries) and intellectual strains of long classes, and still bring energy to after-hours rehearsals and public performances.
So, before she was going to accept the challenges of managing academics, a dancer’s schedule, and the editor’s role, she wanted to be sure she could meet her commitments.
But this year, things shifted a little. At the urging of her advisor, Professor Bill Kavorik, and her friend, Interim Managing Editor, Stephanie Perez, Sears took the reins.
Sears says that while her dancer’s life meant holding back on the editor’s job last year, it has been instrumental in preparing her for the moment in the long run.
And it has been a long run.
Before coming to Radford, Sears trained at the Mid-Ohio Valley Ballet in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and she danced with her sister, Cassie Williams, who graduated from Radford’s dance program the semester before Sears arrived on campus.
Since childhood, she’s had to cultivate discipline and focus to meet goals and develop time management and organizational skills. College has only intensified those skills.
At this point, she feels prepared for the challenges of reinventing and revitalizing The Tartan while maintaining her performance life. And to meet them, she’s working late nights and weekends and began working the job before the semester had even begun.
Sears understands there may be rocky patches along the way, but she’s prepared for that too.
“As a dancer, you learn from a very young age, accepting criticism is key to life,” she explained. “You don’t hate your critics. You love them.”
She says she takes that experience and puts it into her writing and editing as well.
“Everyone, every place has something it needs to work on. So, if I ever publish a story that’s critical of Radford, it’s because I see the potential in Radford to be better.”
So, which road does she plan to take when graduation rolls around?
Sears wants to dance as long as she can, which she hopes will be at least five years. She also wants to work on her freelance writing to help wedge her way into a competitive career as a journalist.
She knows that a news writing job straight out of college is unlikely, so developing her portfolio of publications is critical.
“I’m just going to submit everywhere, from the Roanoke Times to the New York Times, and keep working on my writing.”