We journalists often brand ourselves as a crew of under-paid, under-valued “story tellers.” Medill Twitter bios everywhere verify this. I learned about journalism in many, varied (often institutional) ways. In dozens of notebooks, I recorded the fundamentals of journalism—the inverted pyramid story structure, Branzburg v. Hayes, the pursuit of “objectivity.”
But what I know of storytelling, I learned from the women in my life. They taught me that the stories that matter are about passion, and humanity.
My first experience at NBN was on the digital photo team. My editor posted our photos on Facebook each week, with captions like “I’m so proud of this team.” She encouraged me to apply for photo editor when I was only a freshman and wracked with intense imposter syndrome. She was the first of many who encouraged me to take the leap into new roles.
As a magazine editor, I worked on a story about an author’s experience with sexual assault. I don’t believe I was qualified to direct this woman, who was older and more skilled than I. But we pulled and prodded at it until she knew what she wanted to say. The final story was tender and brave and I’m inspired by her work to share it with the world.
By the next year, I was a features editor in charge of a particularly tricky story. The print managing editor, a dear friend of mine, stepped in when I hit a wall. Sitting in a cubby in Norris, I watched in awe as she picked through sentences, prodding the author to tease out the minute details of the scene. “How did the building feel? Smell? How did it feel to be there?” She saw through the disjointed sentences on the page to the soul of the story. The author’s eyes lit up when he read back the paragraph, newly bursting with life.
Later that week, we walked home from a long and taxing editorial meeting. Standing on a street corner for well over an hour, we discussed our excitement and frustrations, talking with our hands to sustain us against the late-February chill.
When it was my time to captain a magazine team, there was yet another passionate woman by my side. She reminded me in her ideas and her work how much meaning is held in the art that accompanies our words. We plotted a magazine that pushed convention, and her team of woman designers made the words dance on the page. No first magazine could ever accomplish all that we envisioned, but we created with intention and zeal.
Audre Lorde wrote, “Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me, where I love some invaluable piece of myself apart from me—so different that I had to stretch and grow in order to recognize her.”
The woman storytellers in my life stretch me in ways I never thought possible. We remind each other to breath, to dig deep, to have a glass of wine. We send articles, podcasts and poetry that inspire and enrage us. I can’t count all the ways we plan to change the world.
There are lessons that are challenging to learn in the classroom. They are taught in late-night conversations and group chats. They are about elevating the voices of our friends who often go unheard, and working with empathy.
This graduation will never grant us the kind of closure we want. But of everything we have accomplished at this University, and with all the opportunities and privileges granted to us, I am most proud of lessons I learned from my friends and mentors. Northwestern brought these women to me, and they brought me to a better version of myself. I am so grateful for it all.