Ten years ago, I had the most exciting day of my 9-year-old life: I got to visit The News & Observer newsroom in downtown Raleigh. I was one of three winners in a kids’ essay contest in the newspaper.
The prompt? To express what we had learned about money from playing with Webkinz, stuffed animals that were popular at the time because each toy came with a code for a virtual pet. Kids have to be good stewards of their “Kinzcash,” or Webkinz currency, to keep their pets happy and healthy.
Now I’m a 19-year-old summer intern at The N&O. I’m happy to say I no longer play with Webkinz, although the toys did grant a great opportunity to see a newsroom to this girl who’s wanted to be a reporter since elementary school.
The coincidence seemed too big not to do something, so I decided to get in touch with the two other essay winners, Daniel Nance, 20, and Alex Johnson, 18, to chat.
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In May 2007, we winners had our picture taken together, each holding our prize: I won a brown horse; Daniel, 10, won a pink pegasus (which he gave to his sister, he said); and Alex, 8, won a bullfrog. Staff photographer Juli Leonard snapped the photo, we toured the newsroom and went our separate ways.
Ten years later, Juli took our reunion picture after I found Daniel and Alex on Facebook. They were willing to meet back at The News & Observer to talk about how their economic savvy has developed since their Webkinz days. (I wrote in my essay about buying things at the Webkinz consignment store; I now shop at real consignment stores to save cash).
“I can’t say I ever expected to hear about this again!” was Daniel’s initial response when I emailed him.
He’ll graduate from East Carolina University in 2019 with a degree in biology and chemistry. Right now, the Leesville Road High School grad is living in Greenville working as a biochemistry research assistant. His goal is medical school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill or ECU to become a doctor who works with infectious diseases.
At age 10, Daniel wrote about saving up 2,000 KinzCash to buy his Webkinz a pool. Now a college student, he tries to eat as cheaply as possible.
“I save money by limiting the number of nights I eat out since food is my No. 1 expense,” Daniel said. “When I do eat out, I try to avoid getting a drink other than water to keep the price low.”
I was living in Cary when I won the essay contest, but it turns out Daniel and Alex lived in the same Raleigh neighborhood and knew each other. Alex just graduated from Enloe High School, and she’s working with second-graders as a camp counselor at Raleigh’s Finley YMCA this summer.
Alex will be at Duke University this fall. She plans on majoring in public policy with hopes of becoming a human rights lawyer.
At age 8, Alex recommended using coupons to save money in her Webkinz essay. Today, she’s still a saver, but it’s smartphone apps, not paper coupons, she gets the most mileage out of.
“I'm a big proponent of (Raleigh-based app) Stealz,” Alex said.
As for me, I’m the only one who left the state for school after graduating from Wake Christian Academy in Raleigh. I’m at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. (near the District of Columbia), studying political journalism. This is my first internship in a newsroom, and I’m learning a lot – especially about not being afraid to ask weird questions, like the ones that got Daniel and Alex back at The News & Observer for a photo.
They must not have thought my questions were too weird, because as they left, Alex said, “See you again in 10 years!”
Evie Fordham: @eviefordham 919-829-4654