Michael Olsen, shown at Geneva High School commencement in June, is the 2017 recipient of the Dale Duchesne Memorial Award scholarship.
By STEVE BUCHIERE | The Finger Lakes Times
GENEVA — Michael Olsen is, like just about every other young person, a big consumer of social media.
The incoming Keuka College freshman knows the good it can do — like keeping people connected and providing a large audience for good causes.
But he deplores the use of social media as a vehicle for lies and distortion.
The issue of “fake news,” of course, took center stage during the last presidential election, with many of the false stories focusing on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. One story suggested that a Washington pizzeria was the locale of a child sex-abuse ring run by Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta. That resulted in a gun-wielding man storming the establishment.
And there have been more over the years, said Olsen, the 2017 recipient of the Dale Duchesne Memorial Award scholarship. He cited a number of false allegations — all debunked — against former President Barack Obama, including one from the sitting president, who claimed his predecessor was not born in America.
Then-candidate Donald Trump grudgingly admitted that was not true late in the presidential election campaign.
“I’m very concerned about news articles that say things that are not true,” said Olsen, who is heading to the College this fall to major in Communication Studies, with a minor in digital technology.
Fixing the media
All applicants for the Finger Lakes Times-sponsored scholarship were asked to write an essay on the following question: “Media today: One thing that is wrong with it and how I would fix it.”
Olsen said in his essay that one of the platform’s most important uses is raising awareness — and funds — for worthy causes. But when people get their news via sites such as Facebook, it’s buyer beware, he wrote.
“I have been on social media websites and have seen many articles that contain not much evidence and almost no sources at all,” he wrote. “The problem is that people don’t read the entire article and don’t bother to read or check the sources; they read what they want to read.”
Social media sites, Olsen wrote, should spend more time clearly stating sources.
“I would like to raise awareness to my friends, family and community members that not everything you read on social media can be trusted,” he wrote.
Olsen said he’s unsure of the career path he’ll take after getting his degree from Keuka College, but he wants to do something for the common good.
“I just want to work with people, and I want to help people,” he said. “I want to make people happy.”
Field Period® made the difference
Olsen said he chose the College because of its emphasis on real-world studies, in particular its Field Period® program. Each year, students embark on a self-designed, off-campus experience where they can learn about careers they may consider pursuing following graduation.
At Geneva High School, Olsen, whose overall grade point average was 92.59, was involved in a number of school activities, including three years on the varsity cheerleading team, where he said he made “many friends.”
Olsen plans to continue cheerleading at Keuka, where he has already been training with the coach.
At Geneva, he was also a member of the National Honor Society, among many other activities. Outside of school, he took part in Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Geneva Heroes — a program that pairs HWS students with local middle and high school students for team-building, leadership and service activities — and Summer Academy, where 17 rising juniors and seniors from Geneva enjoy two weeks of interdisciplinary learning and college-readiness instruction.
Olsen has also taught religious education and works at the Geneva Tops.
He said he was surprised but thrilled to get the scholarship.
“I just want to say thank you for picking me,” he said. “It was an honor. I just can’t believe it happened.”
He also wanted to say thanks to his mother, Mary Olsen, “for pushing me for everything.”
About the Dale Duchesne Memorial Award
The Dale Duchesne Memorial Award goes to a Geneva High School senior who has been accepted at a two- or four-year college to pursue a degree in journalism or photography. Majors that qualify include communications, journalism, photography, and mass communications. The $500 scholarship is awarded at graduation.
Duchesne was a photographer for nearly 20 years with the Finger Lakes Times, eventually working his way up to chief photographer. He passed away unexpectedly in 1999.
"I was fortunate enough to work with Dale for 15 years, but was even more fortunate to be able to call him one of my great friends,” said Finger Lakes Times Executive Editor Mike Cutillo. “He was a terrific photographer and a real workhorse who wouldn't leave an assignment until he had just the right shot. But better than all of that, he was a great person who loved his family and his friends more than anything. He was probably as well known in the community for being a volunteer fireman as he was for being a newspaper photographer."