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NEXT is a forum for young people to voice their opinions and to communicate with each other. With its own team of freelancers (below) and advisory board, NEXT takes a smart, fresh look at issues important to young readers. Every Sunday in The Seattle Times' editorial section and every day online, NEXT features commentary, polls and letters.

Freelance team
Twenty-two high-school and college students and young professionals from around the Puget Sound comment on issues that affect them every day. They were selected from a large pool of applicants and are diverse in their interests, backgrounds and political leaning. You can e-mail them at

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Christina Asavareungchai
Sophomore at the University of Washington

You're probably wondering how to pronounce my enormous, impossible-looking last name. It's easier than it looks — "Aah-sah-vah-wren-chai." Anyway, I graduated from Issaquah High School as Valedictorian, newsmagazine Editor-in-Chief and cross-country captain. Now I'm a UW sophomore planning to major in journalism and English.

My interests are fairly random, as is my personality. I love shopping and the color pink, but I'm a die-hard runner. There's nothing like the classic 7-mile run, and hills ominously named "Heartbreak" and "Suicide" to make you tough! I challenge myself intellectually, but enjoy Harry Potter books and action movies. I'm into health issues, but can't live without decadent desserts and complex carbohydrates.

In the future, I'd like to compete in "The Amazing Race," watch the sun rise on all seven continents, have adventures and live my dreams.

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Sharon Altaras
'03 graduate of the University of Washington

I graduated from UW in June Ď03 with a BA in journalism and sociology, and am currently assistant editor of the Federal Way News. I'm interested in music, fashion and culture. I also have a passion for social justice and for understanding the way things work, so I can strategize change.

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Drew Avery
Ď03 graduate of University of Missouri

I'm originally from Grand Rapids, Mich. I arrived in Seattle last fall, on the rainiest day in the city's history. I plan to stay here until I stop audibly exclaiming "whoa" every time I see the mountains. Or I might return home to see the Tigers win a pennant, whichever comes first.

I have written for magazines and newspapers, but this is the first time I've written about my opinions. I was starting to forget I had any.

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Althea Cawley-Murphree
í03 graduate of the UWís Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs
í01 graduate of Central Washington University

I spent most of my formative years in Ellensburg where I learned to accept defeat graciously as one of historyís worst high school golfers. I found more success with writing and became editor of the newspaper and a national History Day champion. My three brothers and I also kept out of trouble training Guide Dogs for the Blind and raising livestock in 4-H.

Shocked by the cost of higher education, I decided to stick around Ellensburg to attend Central Washington University. Sadly, I discovered that Central doesnít offer a major in ballroom dancing. Instead, I earned a BS in geology, a BA in political science, and a bright, shiny completion certificate from the Douglas Honors College.

While in college I got the opportunity to intern in both Olympia and Washington, DC. I moved to Seattle to get my Masters in Public Administration at the UWís Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

Iím a passionate moderate democrat (no, not an oxymoron) and currently serve as the Executive Director for the Institute for a Democratic Future, a policy and politics training program for young democrats. When Iím not volunteering on Christine Gregoireís campaign for governor, I can usually be found at University Temple United Methodist Church, sailing, hoofing it around Greenlake or watching West Wing. Iím trying to learn Spanish but it doesnít come easily to the Irish. My paying gig is lead policy analyst for the Housing Authority of Snohomish County.

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Camille Coldeen
Senior at Vashon High School

I live and go to school on Vashon Island. This community is composed mostly of yuppies and ex-hippies and everything in between. The island itself, a geographic oddity, leans to the left due to the copious amounts of liberalism when it comes to politics.

My family is made up of my starving but very talented artist mother, my car-obsessed he-can-fix-anything father, my 18-year-old sister, her Warhammer and genetics enthusiast of a boyfriend, dog, cats, fish, chickens, and my record player.

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Chris Collins
Senior at Whitworth College, Spokane

After graduating from Shoreline Community College and Shorewood High School in 2002, I decided to check out the other side of the state and simultaneously earn an education. So far, Spokane's treated me well, much like my hometown, Shoreline, has.

Though a skeptic of minimum wage laws, I'm grateful for the raise I get every time Washington ups the base hourly rate. To earn this income, I work as the news editor for the student newspaper and will be the editor-in-chief next school year. I also freelance for The Baltimore Sun's opinion section and am pursuing my second East coast internship this summer.

NEXT is a standout feature among a growing trend of outlets for young opinion writers. I hope readers take this forum as seriously as I do.

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Mario De La Rosa
Sophomore at University of Washington

I've been in the United States for nine years now, since my family and I left our home in Acapulco, Mexico, and moved to the Evergreen State. Mario is my name, and yes, Iíve heard it all -- greetings starting with "Mario Brothers" or "Hey Mario, whereís Luigy?" The most recent one is, "Sup Mario VanPebles?" which Iím still having a hard time figuring out. I just do not see any similarity between me and the B-list actor, not to mention the Italian plumber.

I'm a sophomore at the University of Washington and hope to soon figure out my major of choice. Some of my interests include swimming, reading, writing, playing my guitar, video productions and traveling. To NEXT, I hope to bring unique columns and issues, and a Hispanic perspective into view.

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Dana Dibble
'04 graduate of the University of Washington

I've lived in Seattle for four years now, enriching my education and actively participating in the semi-real world afforded to college students. As a transplant, relocated via the good graces of intercollegiate athletics and the UW's women's soccer team, I have shamelessly fallen in love with the city and the ambiance that defines it.

Having recently completed my eligibility as a student-athlete, I am frantically attempting to experience all the things I never had time to pursue before. At the moment that includes exploring the world of journalism, which is an entirely new venture for me -- a history major who just completed her senior thesis and would prefer not to think about academic audiences and scholarly journals any time soon.

I am intensely interested in people and their interaction with the world, which in my opinion is largely dependent on their education and upbringing. As an aspiring educator myself, I have plenty of opinions regarding the development of human interaction and the possibility of shaping that interaction to better our society.

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Karan Gill
'03 graduate of University of Washington

First off, my name is pronounced "Curren"--I always have to get that out of the way first. The name is East-Indian, one of the least represented ethnicities in American politics. I will change that someday.

I graduated from THE University of Washington with a Law, Society and Justice Degree plus a minor in Political Science to give me my political fix. Currently, I am working as a campaign manager for the next state House representative in the 24th Legislative District, Kevin Van De Wege (my plug), and then I plan to pursue a joint degree with a JD/MPA.

In my free time, I write what I call "Political Freestyles" to get my ideas out in a poetic format--well, the words rhyme. I also love to snowboard and criticize Seattle's sports teams and their poor management skills (but Mr. Shultz, I love Starbucks).

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Randy Henderson
Senior at Washington State University

I'm studying psychology and sociology, and also enjoy philosophy, history, political science, the hard sciences and art -- anything that helps us understand who we are, how we got here, and where we are going. Actually, it all has something to do with banana milkshakes and monkeys, but that's all I'm revealing.

My future is to buy a cool old house by the sea, work on the local paper, churn out novels, and do volunteer work. I currently work in Information Technology. I enjoy live music, rollerblading, hiking, road trips, video games, photography, lively debate and stimulating conversations.

I lean to the left, but not so much that I see liberals and conservatives as always right and wrong. I try to be fair, if not always balanced. And my goal with NEXT is to take control of the minds of a youth army, shape the world into my image, and rule it with an iron fist.

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Gavin Hesse
'03 graduate of Seattle Pacific University

I grew up in the rockin' town of Leavenworth, WA, otherwise known as, "If it Yodels, it must be Bavarian." While attending high school, I attempted to become a Renaissance man, while joining drama, debate, basketball, the student newspaper, and a great trivia squad. College quickly stripped me of those dreams, and I tried my hand at student government instead. This wasn't exactly my cup o'tea either, so the journey continues. I plan to enjoy my new marriage, my new job, and brilliantly craft writing masterpieces.

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John Hieger
'01 graduate of Central Washington University

Hi, I'm John Hieger. I'm a single, white male. I don't own any guns and have never followed NASCAR. I hate TV, but watch it religiously.

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Hana Kawai
Junior at Nathan Hale High School

I've never had a real job. I play Ultimate Frisbee year round. I buy cheap clothing and don't bring a lunch to school. I follow current events, but am not outspoken enough to do anything but write my opinions.

But by night, I step into that telephone booth...and BAM! SHEZWAPP! A mysterious mask-wearer steps out with a really cool cape. This stranger flies around the city of Seattle fighting for justice by registering young voters, bringing money to the Seattle Public Schools, pushing Bush out of office, advocating for education reform and eating organic.

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Anne Kim
Senior at the University of Washington

I grew up in a bilingual home constantly mixing languages, customs and ideologies. Largely influenced by this experience of being raised by immigrant Korean-American parents, I see the world through many lenses layered upon each other. I hope to sharpen these lenses through graduate school, foreign study and more traveling in the future.

Born and raised in the Seattle area, I have spent the past 20 years calling Puget Sound home. You can quickly see my Seattle roots - I love coffee, rain and gazing at lakes and oceans.

I'm a senior honors student majoring in English literature and international studies. Issues involving race and gender are fascinating and important to me. Journalism is another passion. When I'm not obsessively studying, you can find me writing news and features stories for the UW's Daily newspaper and freelance writing for the International Examiner newspaper.

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Kailani Koenig-Muenster
Junior at Bainbridge High School

I'm an aspiring investigative journalist with a fascination for our political process. I hope to offer a valuable teen perspective on political and social issues that Puget Sound young people are passionate about.

Our generation must get involved in the future of this country in whatever ways they can. I am volunteering for John Kerry's presidential campaign and I work its TV broadcast and as the Editor-In-Chief of my school's newspaper.

I enjoy getting off this little island to be in the city, and am eager to learn everything about this crazy world we call our home. When I'm not obsessing about the news, I like to watch and create funky movies, sleep, travel and cheer on the Mariners.

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Brent Ludeman
Sophomore at University of Washington

I'm a conservative. Thanks for the hate mail in advance. Originally born in the sprawling metropolis of Fargo, North Dakota, I now find myself in the abyss of conservatism known as Seattle, as an honors student majoring in Business Finance at the University of Washington.

I serve as Western Vice Chairman of the Washington College Republican Federation and as ASUW Senator for the UW College Republicans. I am also currently working as an intern on Rob McKenna's campaign for Attorney General, and volunteer on a number of other campaigns.

When I'm not smashing the hopes and dreams of Howard Dean groupies, I obsess over sports, am at the gym or am eating. I admire the writing of George Will and Jonah Goldberg, and amazingly have not used an SNL quote in introducing myself.

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Nate Robinson
Senior at University of Washington

As an editorial cartoonist, I owe everything to the worst teachers I've ever had. Those whose ramblings induced this weary student into doodling, in turn, became the catalysts of a passion for poking fun at those in charge.

Growing up an army brat, I've attended nearly as many different schools as grades, resulting in a fairly worldly perspective (a claim oft-argued). I've finally found a true home in Seattle, however, and am currently studying journalism and political science at the UW.

As a cartoonist for the UW Daily, I've won a number of national collegiate awards. In my spare time, I enjoy biking, tennis, film, and collecting the other UW Nate Robinson's hate mail.

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April Seipp
Sophomore at American University, Washington, D.C.

I was born and raised in Bellevue and I'm going to school in Washington, D.C. I love the District, but the Seattle area will always be home for me and I think it shows. I can usually be found at Starbucks or staring out the window when it rains. I obsessively organize, but tend to leave dirty dishes sitting around for far too long. Journalism and politics are two of my passions, although sometimes they make me want to throw things. Chocolate is not optional. I'm a redhead, so take whatever you want from that.

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W. John Schroder
Law student at University of Washington

Kicked out of one too many Las Vegas private schools thanks to my abiding appreciation for irreverence, I packed up my parents and left the city of my upbringing for Seattle.

I then perfected the art of moving my stuff back and forth to college in Arkansas and the UK, a practice which got old really fast and made me want to stay in one place for longer than six months. So I signed up to study at UW Law, which is a very nice school.

I spend my spare time trying to find proper Mexican food and a proper pizza, and trying to rationalize getting a dog, which is totally impractical for me because I live in an apartment and travel too much, but will probably happen anyway.

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Daniel Thies
'99 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, Vermont

I am the ninth-born of 13 brothers and sisters. I'm 25 and have lived in Seattle for over three years. My hometown is Brattleboro, VT, the seventh-largest municipality in a state whose entire population is roughly the same as Seattle's. I've had a deep interest in U.S. history and politics ever since I was 11 and memorized the names of every U.S. president.

Though my Catholic upbringing was fairly conservative, my views definitely tend toward the left. As a self-taught pianist, I'm also passionate about music. In late 2000, I opted out of my acceptance to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston to pursue my loftier dreams of working at Starbucks and freelancing for The Seattle Times. I do intend eventually to attend school, where I will continue to study political science, history and music.

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