Author's note: Daisy's pronouns are she/they and have been used interchangeably throughout this article. Learn more.
Staring at her phone, Daisy Innis ’23 almost couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
It was a June morning, and Daisy was busy at her summer job as a camp counselor. Just moments before, while preparing to wrangle a group of children and their gear onto a bus for that day’s field trip, Daisy had seen a notification from The New York Times Learning Network in their inbox. The winners of the 2023 Student Editorial Contest, to which Daisy had entered an original essay (shared at the end of this story), had been announced.
This year, students from around the world submitted 12,592 essays to the New York Times Learning Network’s annual competition, and only 151 were chosen for recognition.
Part of Daisy’s mind remained on their inbox as she got campers seated and ready for the drive. When that task was accomplished, Daisy settled into a seat, clicked the announcement, and began scrolling. Suddenly, their heart gave a leap of recognition: her own name was among the contest’s 33 honorable mentions. She almost couldn’t believe it. “I was a little bit in shock,” she remembered.
That emotion was understandable. This year, students from around the world submitted 12,592 essays to the New York Times Learning Network’s annual competition, and only 151 were chosen for recognition: 11 top winners, 12 runners-up, 33 honorable mentions, and 95 round-four finalists. Daisy was also the only student from Utah to be recognized in this year’s contest.
For Daisy, the recognition was huge, not only because so few entries could be honored, but because the moment marked an important milestone in a months-long process of reflection and healing.
Daisy’s journey to New York Times recognition kicked off in a somewhat unexpected way: with a trip to Utah’s Capitol Hill.
On January 24, 2023, Daisy attended a House Health and Human Services Standing Committee meeting for House Bill 132 (later Senate Bill 16) during the Utah State Legislature’s 2023 General Session. As an experienced peer educator for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, a lobbyist during this year’s session, and a devoted community advocate, Daisy had a clear understanding of the impact that this bill, designed to prevent all gender-affirming care for minors, would have on young Utahns.
“This sort of legislature affects so many people in the state of Utah, in a way that is overall life-changing,” she explained.
As she sat in the meeting, Daisy watched, frustrated, as the bill’s sponsor introduced witnesses who argued against gender-affirming care but were unable to provide evidence of their claims. This was a high-stakes legislative session, Daisy thought, and would affect people’s lives. How could it be that students like her were held to far higher standards in the classroom than legislative witnesses were in committee meetings? “I have been taught that you need to have sources, evidence—you need to back it up, you need to list your sources,” said Daisy.
This lack of sources made the passage of the bill three days later especially upsetting for Daisy. “I was so angry,” they remembered, and that anger, as well as the fear Daisy felt for those affected by the bill, stayed with them. Come spring, said Daisy, they still found themself reflecting on the experience. The anger hadn’t dimmed.
It was at this time that Daisy’s AP Literature teacher, Dr. Carolyn Hickman, introduced a unit titled What Makes Us Human?, an opportunity for students to read works such as Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” and Megan Garber’s “We’re Already Living in the Metaverse” while collectively trying to process broader hot-topic conversations around generative AI and ChatGPT, which had been picking up in earnest since OpenAI launched their chatbot in November 2022. Dr. Hickman asked students to reflect on these in-class conversations, then find ways to share their own commentary with real-world audiences. As she reflected, Daisy kept thinking back to the misinformation leading states, including Utah, to pass bills limiting or blocking transgender youth health care—and realized she wasn't as worried about AI and ChatGPT as others. What she was actually afraid of were politicians who share propaganda and misinformation that impact human lives.
“What I was afraid of was the legislation being passed. To me, it feels more tangible,” Daisy explained. “At least if you use ChatGPT you can ask it to give you sources.”
Daisy decided to tackle this topic, choosing for their real-world audience The New York Times Learning Network, which had recently opened its 2023 Student Editorial Contest, an annual opportunity for middle and high school students between the ages of 13 and 19 to share original opinion pieces on the issues that matter to them. Student writers are asked to use at least one source published in the Times and at least one source from outside the Times, and to limit arguments to 450 words, with winners chosen from those who “not only ground their claims in strong evidence, but also engage [the judges] with voice and style.”
Once she had picked her topic, Daisy remembers sitting down in English class, putting on her headphones, and letting the words flow onto the page. It was as though all she had been ruminating on had been ready to come out, and she remembers the writing process as cathartic and healing. “It was an honest expression of what I’d been reflecting on for months, and probably a good exercise in writing for me,” Daisy remembered. The process also helped Daisy feel renewed passion for the often exhausting work of community advocacy, as well as helped her better understand, learn from, and harness the anger she’d been feeling.
Daisy's opinion piece asked readers to focus not on how the writing is produced, but instead on all the ways we fail to hold others accountable for the information they disseminate.—Dr. Carolyn Hickman, AP English teacher and Upper School English Department chair
“This was a reminder of the passion piece of advocacy—I was so angry, and being able to channel that anger into this piece helped me to think through it and reflect on it, and also to sort of share that anger, because it can be hard to be angry by yourself,” said Daisy.
Importantly, sharing that anger also helped Daisy realize she wasn’t alone. The New York Times recognition showed her that her perspective had struck a chord, providing a necessary perspective in ongoing conversations about not only AI but human-generated misinformation.
“Daisy's opinion piece asked readers to focus not on how the writing is produced, but instead on all the ways we fail to hold others accountable for the information they disseminate,” said Dr. Hickman. “It doesn't matter if it's generated by AI or simply fabricated out of thin air, she challenged, if we don't insist on careful sourcing of facts, data, and opinions as others wield information in ways that affect us all.”
Daisy said their New York Times recognition has given them more confidence in their writing—and that being recognized by a national paper of record isn’t too shabby, either. “It’s pretty cool to be picked out of 12,000 entries, and it’s also really cool that my name is in the New York Times, especially as an avid New York Times reader and crossword-doer,” she said.
Daisy is currently attending the University of Puget Sound, where she’s planning to pursue a degree in the school’s Science, Technology, Health & Society program, with a minor in bioethics, and is contemplating later earning a master of public health. As a Matelich Scholar, Daisy is also working to build community on the Puget Sound campus and said they’ll continue to draw on this experience to stay passionate about this important work.
“I intend to continue working in the same vein that I have been doing,” said Daisy, “and it’s really important to me to remember my values, and my anger, because that is really going to fuel me, that passion and anger and desire, but also the joy that I feel doing work in the community. Finding that balance, but also remembering the fact that I feel emotions about it, whether good or bad, is the best motivator.”
We invite the Rowland Hall community to enjoy Daisy’s essay, shared below.
When It Comes to Secondary Education, Are We Fearing the Right Things?
By Daisy Innis, Class of 2023
In the wake of ChatGPT’s release, I cannot quite find it in myself to care as much as my parents and teachers. My mother says I’m a fatalist, and my teachers want to know why. But my question is: is generative AI and ChatGPT the right thing to fear?
Much like Mr. Aumann, a professor interviewed for the New York Times’ reflection on ChatGPT and education, my teachers are considering methods to discourage use of this technology. They’ve considered hand-written assessments and detection programs. They have, like many, spent a significant amount of time trying to outwit AI. For them, the possibility of AI-generated student writing is one of their biggest educational concerns.
But it isn’t mine. It is difficult for me to be concerned about the possibility of academic dishonesty in classrooms when I see much more pressing issues within the (mis)use of information. As a student in Utah, I have watched state legislators—in my state and others—be held to a lower academic standard and pass legislation with disastrous consequences.
As a high school student, had I submitted a paper without sources, or even used an AI tool, I would have been failed, and further disciplined in the case of the latter. That disciplinary action would likely follow me for the rest of my education.
During this year’s legislative session, S.B. 16, a bill preventing all gender-affirming care for minors, became law. I attended the committee meeting of a prior iteration of the bill, H.B. 132. I watched Representative Shipp introduce witnesses who spoke without regard for the desires of trans kids and without clear evidence for their claims. Most memorably, when asked for his sources, Dr. David Boettger replied that he didn’t remember, and that he didn’t have them with him.
As a high school student, had I submitted a paper without sources, or even used an AI tool, I would have been failed, and further disciplined in the case of the latter. That disciplinary action would likely follow me for the rest of my education. Dr. Boettger’s testimony was accepted without consideration of his sources, and used to later pass S.B. 16. His choices won’t follow him. This bill, backed by unnamed sources, endangers the lives of trans kids across the entire state of Utah—a state which already boasts a consistently higher suicide rate among the LGBTQ+ community than the national rate. This bill, which has been held to a lower standard of research than a high school English paper, deprives people I love of care crucial to their livelihood and survival.
So no, I am not terrified about the use of generative AI in classrooms. I am no more afraid of plagiarism than before. I am terrified of the world we live in, where I have been held to a higher standard of academic honesty than my legislators. I am terrified for those who are going to die because of the choices they have made.
Huang, Kalley. “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach.” New York Times. January 16, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/16/technology/chatgpt-artificial-intelligence-universities.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
“LDS Church and Suicide Prevention.” PFLAG. https://pflag.org/resource/lds-church-and-suicide-prevention/.
“Minutes of the House Health and Human Services Committee.” Utah Legislature. January 24, 2023. https://le.utah.gov/interim/2023/html/00000887.htm.
Schott, Brian. “Blocking Gender-Affirming Care in Utah Could Be Found Unconstitutional, a Legal Review Found.” Salt Lake Tribune. January 26, 2023. https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2023/01/26/breaking-bill-blocking-gender/.
Wen, Anne. “ChatGPT and Plagiarism: Student Cheating Concerns May Be Overblown.” Teen Vogue. February 13, 2023. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/chatgpt-plagiarism-cheating-students.