For most people the Memorial Day weekend means cemetery visits, cookouts, and/or baseball, perhaps a parade, and maybe some extra gardening. For Natalie Rosseau and her parents, Gail and Rick Rosseau, this past Memorial Day also represented an extended opportunity to explore ideas and possibilities for learning and connecting with others in the wider world.

The stated reason for the Saturday-through-Monday get-together at the Rosseaus’ River Forest home was a “reunion”?#34;actually, a first-time get-together?#34;of this year’s participants in the Time Magazine Junior Reporters program. Natalie, a sixth-grader at Roosevelt School, was one of 16 elementary or middle school students selected from among 700 applicants last fall to be a junior reporter for Time. The Rosseau’s long, wrought-iron, front fence along Augusta Boulevard was festooned with banners, balloons and bunting welcoming their guests to their backyard, set up with a large tent, chairs and tables.

But pride in their daughter’s journalistic accomplishment aside, what the Rosseaus were really looking to do was recreate an experience for Natalie and her new friends that they’ve enjoyed at several “Rennaissance Weekends.” Founded in 1981, Rennaisance Weekends are non-partisan affairs that encourage a full and non-partisan sharing of divergent views by leaders in a wide array of professions. Over last New Year’s weekend, more than 1,200 committed individuals from across America partook of hundreds of lectures, seminars, panel discussions and workshops from 8 a.m. until midnight each day. Both successful surgeons, Gail and Rick Rosseau say they place a high value on engaging and non-confrontational dialogue encompassing a wide range of views.

Twelve-year-olds can’t routinely go out into the world, so the Rosseaus brought parts of the world to their daughter. On Saturday Natalie, brother Brendan and her young reporter colleagues engaged in half a dozen question-and-answer sessions with, among others, five Chicago journalists, State Senator Don Harmon (39th District), and Leon Lederman, the recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physics.

Tribune writers Barbara Brotman and Emily LeBeau, photographer Nancy Stone, retired foreign correspondent Howard Tyner, and Chicago Police media affairs official Sgt. Robert Cargie shared their journalistic experiences and answered their young colleague’s questions.

Tyner told the group that one of the key things he learned as a reporter was the importance of reading, and of maintaining a sense of curiosity and a willingness to ask questions. He urged his young audience to do the same, both in their professional and private lives.

“Don’t restrict it to work,” he said.

Speaking with an undiminished sense of wonder, Brotman, an Oak Park resident, said that being a reporter gives one entry to people and places they would likely never otherwise experience.

“It’s a wonderful thing to know that you have the freedom to have a curiosity about something, and can say, ‘Hey, that can be a story,'” said Brotman, noting that people are often more open with reporters.

“You can ask them [questions], and they will actually talk with you.”

Brotman also noted that practicing journalism can be a source of endless surprise and satisfaction.

“When you go out on a story, you never know what someone is going to say,” she said.

Cargie, a media relations specialist for both the Chicago Police Department and the U.S. Army, stressed that people skills were a crucial part of success.

“Journalists may not have friends [in the field they’re covering],” he noted. “But they do have relationships.”

Brotman said after her presentation that she was impressed with both her questioners’ poise and articulation.

“These kids are way ahead of me,” said Brotman, who noted she had posed her first reporter’s question as a 17-year-old college student. “It’s really remarkable how sophisticated these kids are.”

Beyond intellectual curiosity and educational experience, Rick Rosseau said the development of relationships was a key value he and his wife are seeking to teach their children.

“The fun part is watching my child develop friendships with people around the country,” he said.

Such experiences, he said, help engender a respect for other perspectives.

“No matter what your perspectives or values are, sharing and exploring with others [helps you] gain a respect for other ideas.”

Natalie said Saturday that she enjoyed hearing from the guest speakers, but what she most enjoyed was interacting with her new friends.

“Everyone in general is so smart,” she said as she ticked off some of their accomplishments.

“Trisha speaks fluent Chinese,” she noted. “And Avery composed her own piece of music on the piano.”

“Today is a day to learn about each other,” she said. “I’ve been having a good time. I feel like I’ve known them all my life.”

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