Person of the Week
New York Times Takes Note of Student Editorialist Camilo Carmona
The New York Times (NYT) has bestowed an honorable mention on Camilo Carmona’s convincing editorial, “COVID-19 Unmasks Our Broken Healthcare System,” in seventh annual NYT Student Editorial Contest, which had more than 7,300 student entries. Carmona is a rising senior at Guilford High School. (Photo courtesy of Camilo Carmona )
Recently, The New York Times (NYT) sat up and took notice of Camilo Carmona’s convincing editorial, “COVID-19 Unmasks Our Broken Healthcare System,” selecting it from more than 7,300 nationwide entries and kicking it upstairs to be considered as a finalist in the seventh annual NYT Student Editorial Contest.
In a national contest that drew 7,318 entries and made room for just 12 winners, 16 runners up, and 24 honorable mentions in each of its high school and middle school categories, it’s safe to say Camilo made quite an impression on the 30 NYT judges poring over finalists’ entries. In June, Camilo was notified his piece had been selected among the top editorials, receiving an honorable mention in the 2020 contest.
In his editorial, written in April, Camilo calls out the weak link in the current for-profit health care system, underscores the drastic impact COVID-19 creates for those on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, and points to the certain fallout that will be created as a national ripple effect.
“In my first paragraph, I say, ‘...we are only as safe as our weakest people during a pandemic and if sick people cannot afford to go to the hospital, it makes us all more vulnerable,’” he says, “I knew that it was going to be hitting people with lower socioeconomic situations much harder.”
The Guilford High School (GHS) rising senior entered the contest thanks to a prompt from his AP Language and Composition class teacher, GHS English Department Head George Cooksey.
“Mr. Cooksey loves the NYT and he saw the writing contest and decided to make it a class assignment in the beginning of February,” says Camilo.
As an interesting side note, back in February, Camilo’s original idea for his editorial topic would have predicted the resurgence of Black Lives Matter movement and calls for social justice that rocked the nation with protests and rioting following the unjust death of George Floyd caused by four Minneapolis police officers on May 25.
“We had a month and a half to think of our idea and write and submit it, so we had a lot of time. I think I’m pretty politically savvy—I keep up with the news and stuff,” says Camilo. “And I was first going to talk about how I believe America is due for a second social and economic revolution, kind of like what we saw in the ‘60s.”
But Camilo changed his mind because he felt the contest judges would want to see writers who could “talk about what was going on in the country at the very moment it was happening.”
“So when the COVID situation got drastically worse, I wanted to talk about that,” he says. “And so I decided to talk about COVID and our health care system. It’s kind of like an argument for Medicare for all.”
Following the guidelines of the contest, Camilo completed a concise, convincing editorial within the 450-word limit, with sources cited (including at least one from the NYT).
“I knew a lot about it before I actually wrote the piece, and I kind of work better under pressure, and so I basically wrote it in five hours on the day before it was due,” he notes.
In the true spirit of newspaper editorial writing, Camilo also incorporated a bit of the collaborative process, pulling his mom and dad, Lina and Juan Carmona, into the headline think-tank.
“At dinner we were thinking of a title,” he says. “I knew the title had to be really good, because that’s the first thing someone sees. My mom came up with the idea of using the word ‘unmasked’ because we’re in a pandemic. So that’s kind of how the title happened.”
Camilo’s editorial is based in facts and provides a convincing argument with statements such as one that takes into consideration that, while there was “the government’s efforts to minimize the economic impact on those who contract the virus,” a new study predicting patients requiring COVID-19 hospital showed those with stays of 12 days will face bills totaling $72,000, while health insurance premiums could rise by more than 40 percent.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the economic issues with our system as 500,000 Americans already go bankrupt over medical bills every year,” Camilo wrote, in part. “Medicare for All would solve these economic problems as 22 studies on the projected cost impact of a single-payer healthcare system agree that it would save money due to the decrease in administrative costs.”
Guilford Public Schools has recognized Camilo’s achievement at its website www.guilfordpbs.org, where a link to the full editorial also can be found. The NYT contest essay website also includes all selected student editorials and more information on the contest (www.nytimes.com).
With the 2019-’20 academic year closing schools in March due to the pandemic, distance learning didn’t include the likes of daily announcements and other ways GHS could have shared Camilo’s recognition with his peers. Even now, he says not too many people are likely aware of prestigious national notice his work has received.
“I’m not sure how many people saw it. I don’t think that many,” says Camilo. “Some of my closest friends know about it, and I know my teacher sent out an announcement in Google classroom. I’m pretty proud of myself—I actually was feeling really confident when I submitted it.”
While Camilo has shown he has the chops to be a formidable editorial writer in the future, he says math and science are more his thing. He’s considering studying engineering in college, although political science also interests him greatly, he says.
“Sometime in my sophomore year is really when I started questing my political beliefs, and I started watching right wing stuff and left wing stuff and seeing what I agree with,” Camilo says, adding he’s now “pretty much left wing.”
Camilo suggests that more people should do the same—research both sides and determine for themselves what resonates. He’s also proud to note that he feels his peers are actively showing their interest in causes of social justice and the country’s current political climate.
At 17, Camilo won’t be eligible to vote in the November 2020 national election, but, he says, “I do know of a lot of kids that are able to vote, and they’re very excited to vote because this is such a critical election with issues like Black Lives Matter, the economic crisis, and the pandemic. I also do know a lot of kids that are social activists, just going on social media you see a lot. So I think there’s going to be a large turnout [of young voters], especially in Guilford.”
As a member of the GHS soccer team, Camilo says he’s proud that the school will soon have a new mascot to replace the former Indians mascot. The ongoing issue was finally laid to rest with a Board of Education (BOE) vote on June 29, at the height of the ongoing national conversation regarding race and institutional racism.
“We changed the mascot, and the students were kind of the ones that made that happen, with support from parents, too,” says Camilo.
And, while the BOE and GPS will certainly need to put in place COVID-19 pandemic protocols that are bound to affect his senior year at GHS, Camilo says he’s hopeful some of the school year’s anticipated highlights will still come to pass.
“I’m pretty excited for the year. I’m just a little disappointed we’re going to have to wear masks in school [and] I really hope that they don’t cancel the soccer season,” he says, adding, “I’m pretty hopeful that they won’t, because Connecticut’s done a pretty good overall job with COVID cases.”
Coming from someone who seems to have a knack for spotting trends, the chances of a 2020 GHS soccer season is looking very hopeful, indeed.