Spotlight on WPHS Graduate Mara Gay
By Eva Mandelbaum
The notion of working for the world-renowned New York Times is a far-fetched dream for many high school students with a passion for journalism. Mara Gay, a White Plains High School alumna who is a distinguished journalist and member of The New York Time’s Editorial Board, proves that taking advantage of White Plains High School’s enriching opportunities makes dreams more palpable, and possibly even reality.
Mara Gay is a member of The New York Times Editorial Board, where she relies on research, debate, and individual expertise to write opinion articles about New York State and local affairs. She is additionally an MSNBC political analyst, where she frequently speaks about national politics. Mara has also worked for The Wall Street Journal, the Daily News, AOL News, Atlantic Magazine, and was on the staff of The Michigan Daily in college.
Mara’s journalism career started when she was a member of The Orange at White Plains High School, where she also served as Editor-in-Chief. In a recent Webinar interview with the White Plains Public Library, Mara explained with a bounciness to her voice, “When I got to White Plains High School I kind of got hooked on The Orange, the newspaper. I love storytelling and I just really found that I was pretty good at it and that I could make some change by telling the stories, especially of people who have not really had the voice that others have, so that became a passion of mine.” In an exclusive follow-up interview with Mara, she also shared that she felt like The Orange was not only a lot of fun but also allowed for her to experiment in a safe environment and get a taste of journalism. Mara also feels that being the Editor-in-Chief of The Orange helped her meet people who weren't in her circle, and allowed her to learn about different parts of the school.
Some of Mara’s most distinguished works for The Orange were from her column entitled “Muckraking with Mara,” which she alluded to at the Webinar as a column devoted to the muckrakers of the early 20th century, and also a piece she wrote about segregation. “For The Orange, I did a piece on social segregation in the High School that I would obviously write differently as an adult, but I’m proud that I was taking on big issues,” Mara revealed in an interview.
Being a journalist allows Mara to shine a light on important issues, including the pay gap between EMTs and other city workers such as police and firefighters. “EMTs and paramedics are a majority female force and are a majority minority and they are super important and were obviously on the very front line during the pandemic,” Mara explained. EMTs’ need for proper equipment and protection has been amplified amid the COVID pandemic, and Mara has served as an advocate for these health care workers, lobbying for them to get the protection and pay they deserve.
Unfortunately, EMTs are not the only ones struggling with a pay gap. According to americanprogress.org, “Collectively, more than 55 million full-time working women earned an estimated $545.7 billion less than their male counterparts in 2019.” Mara acknowledged that as a woman of color, she is constantly struggling with the global issues of the gender pay gap along with other issues of discrimination in the workplace. Mara’s advice to women in the workforce is to focus on the work and to "keep a strong sense of self-worth and determination and also surround yourself with people who believe in you, who push you, who are kind to you and to others.” She also declared, “We really need to lift up other women and be honest about what we’re making.”
Mara also gushed about the power being a journalist can give you, stating, “Something that I like most about it is that I have a job where I get to use a platform for good and once in a while you can actually help people and make a change in their lives and lift up people who haven't had voices before.” Not only does journalism raise people’s voices, but according to Mara, it’s also a genuinely fun job. Mara commented that being a journalist is never dull because she is constantly doing something different. She marveled that as a journalist, “You’re always getting to ask really interesting people hard questions and getting to help shape the world, really.”
As evidenced by Mara’s journalistic accomplishments that began at White Plains High School, not only is it possible for young people to make a difference, but it is also incredibly important. With sparks of passion evident in her voice, she shared, “I really hope that young people know the power that they have in being knowledgeable. It doesn’t mean they have to become journalists, but I hope that they learn the power in newspapers and in the craft as part of a democracy, and that they become fully pledged, proud citizens in that way.”