November 28, 2017
I’m sitting at gate D11 in Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., waiting for my flight back to Albuquerque, thinking about where I would be without this past week’s experience. I am now so certain in my passion, my future career, and myself as a person.
In January of my junior year, my teacher sent me an email about a trip to D.C. for a journalism conference. The sponsors would choose one student to represent each state, complete with a $1,000 scholarship to the college of my choice. The email got buried under months of schoolwork and it slipped my mind. My teacher reminded me with a week left before the deadline. I was hesitant about applying because I never imagined I’d get selected, but I figured, why not?
It turns out I was chosen as the 2017 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference New Mexico Representative.
After all the “Free Spirits” arrived in D.C., the staff sat us down for introductions. We were sitting in a conference room learning what to expect for the week, and everyone who spoke kept reiterating how this was going to be the “best week of our lives” and that it would be “life-changing.” We all rolled our eyes.
Little did we know, they were right. Shortly after, we went to dinner and everyone instantly started bonding. Our personalities just clicked and we were soon immersed in super-personal and meaningful conversations, oblivious of the fact that we all had just met a few hours earlier.
Throughout that week, I was surrounded by Free Spirits, who were aptly named. I learned that my roommate had written her entire program-application essay about her collection of interesting socks, while another free spirit had already started her own photography business. It was interesting to see in our conversations that something that one of us thought was so common didn’t even exist in another state, like the stores Scheels or Wawa. And, even though each of us had come from different states and backgrounds, we all had at least one thing in common — our love of journalism.
The Free Spirits were given time to immerse ourselves in the Newseum, and we were all mesmerized. We took pictures of every quote etched on the walls and stared in awe at the possessions of famous journalists who truly changed the world, knowing that we could be those journalists one day.
What impacted me the most was a wall of the front pages of newspapers from every state printed Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks. There was a video that told the series of events that day from a journalist’s’ point of view — how they were heartbroken and shocked, but still had to manage to do their job and report what was happening. Especially with the circulation in the current political climate of “fake news,” it was fascinating to see that journalists do make a difference.
Martin Baron, editor of The Washington Post, was a speaker at the conference. He had been the editor of The Boston Globe when its Spotlight team uncovered the vast extent of the priest sex-abuse scandal. Referring to Spotlight, he said, “[We] gave a voice to people whose voices weren’t being heard.” This, to me, is the entirety of what journalism is about.
As the week came to a close, we sat in the lobby of the Holiday Inn talking about the effect the trip had had on us. Every person spoke about how the experience had humbled them and opened their eyes to the amazing change that journalists are capable of creating. It was unbelievably inspiring to be surrounded by people who had the same passion for writing and telling others’ stories that I did. We left that lobby with tears in our eyes, but I now have a friend in every state of the country, and Washington, D.C, and people whom I talk to nearly every day.
Going into this, I was really unsure about pursuing journalism as a career because everyone says it’s a “dying profession” and that there’s no money in it, but after listening to Pulitzer Prize winning journalists speak about the feeling they get when they’re really onto something, or that their job feels nothing like work, I realized it’s never about the paycheck, no matter what field one goes into — it’s about being happy, and loving the work.
This trip reassured me that I was making the right choices. That as someone who’s always been terrified of taking risks, as someone who’s always played it safe, as someone who always wants to know every detail of every situation before getting involved—taking risks pays off.
The one thing in life we know…is that we never know. So why not take the chance and say, “Why not?” Something truly amazing could come from it.