For the last real summer before college changes my life forever, I decided to finally live in the moment and seek new experiences. In mid-July, I attended the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC) at George Mason University to learn about a field I am interested in pursuing. But what I didn’t know was that the experience would spin my perception of myself and the world on its head. It would shape who I am today and who I hope to become.
The conference welcomes high school students from all over the country to participate as National Youth Correspondents and to engage in an innovative learning environment in the fields of communications, media research, and journalism. WJMC gives upcoming journalists a chance to learn “on-the-ground” information not usually available in a high school classroom. It also promised to deliver personal growth for each participant, which I originally dismissed as exaggeration; however, after the first two days I began to feel the change within myself.
I met Youth Correspondents my age from all across the country, from California to New Jersey and everywhere in between. Making personal connections with people from different social and physical environments widened my concept of the world; I came to realize that life is bigger than Virginia and that there is opportunity in every corner of the country.
I attended speeches by Hoda Kotb, the host of the Today Show, and Tina Rosenberg, one of the founders of the Solutions Journalism Network, who spoke about the importance of determination in the workplace. Both of these powerful women struggled to get to their current positions. Rosenberg was been determined to find effective ways of reporting the news, when she realized that, instead of reporting problems, the world needed to hear solutions. After her solutions journalism concept was rejected by The New York Times, Rosenberg broke off on her own and began the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) with two other founders. Three years after its birth in 2013, SJN now produces solutions journalism and trains journalists in 33 newsrooms.
Kotb also aspired to be a key influence in the world of journalism. However, it took her many years to advance from a position at a small-time news station to hosting a show on national television. She had the door shut in her face more times than she could count, but she never gave up. Together, these two women are influential role models who taught me to embrace who I am and what I aspire to become—a woman who will excel.
Before the conference I was terrified of failing if I branched out in an attempt to reach a goal; I was scared of how vulnerable one needs to be to become a cultured adult. You have to be willing to get hurt if you want to succeed; nothing comes easy. You need to be humbled by nonbelievers before you can prove to yourself that your ambition is justified. As Kotb said, “It’s not about the fall; it’s about what happens afterwards.”
With a new-found confidence in who I can become, I realize that the world is truly ours. We are the generation being groomed to take control. The world is open to us, to our dreams and goals, and it is up to us to claim it. During a seminar on politics, Brian Lamb, the founder and former CEO of C-SPAN, said that we are the generation that is going to control the world and we are being molded into adults who will soon mold the country.
What I learned was that along with the gift of inheriting America comes the responsibility of nurturing it. As young adults, it is our duty to engage our minds and energies in service to the community and to understand politics and how the world works. Instead of depending on Twitter for daily news, or some other form of social media, people should explore formal news sites. These sources offer in depth and reliable information that an instant media source cannot provide. No single news source will have the full story; to get an understanding of a shooting, a trend, or a political scandal, the reader needs to read multiple news sources and compare the information. We have to be devoted to learning the truth of the world around us in order to understand it.
WJMC has taught me that as young adults we are stronger than we think we are. At 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient ever of a Nobel Prize. At 18 years old, Mary Shelley wrote the acclaimed novel, Frankenstein. At 19, Mark Zuckerberg commercialized Facebook. This is our prime age; don’t waste the opportunity.
Step out of your comfort zone and sign up for that internship or that challenging AP class. You can’t learn and grow if you do not push yourself and try new things. This world is bigger than high school; it is bigger than Fauquier County. Our youth shouldn’t be wasted; instead, this generation of students should be engaging in the world around us. Don’t forget what the real objective of high school is: to help us see beyond trivial concerns and to engage effectively with the world around us.