The Spectrum Logo

My evolution through journalism

The Spectrum has made me the person I am today, and I couldn't be more thankful

image54e4bfc4f14c1

I remember sitting in my first college journalism class. My palms were sweaty and legs were twitching. My heart thumped like a drum; it felt like it was about to explode. I was the person Eminem was describing in Lose Yourself.

We had just completed an exercise in which we crafted ledes and nut graphs in a writing exercise for The Spectrum. That was the easy part. But now we had to get up and read them to the class. It was my worst fear.

We went around the room so I knew when it would be my turn. I tried to stay relaxed, but I couldn’t.

I stood up and tried my best to read what I had written. I even began mentally changing words to make it easier.

Nothing worked. No words came out.

I just said, “I’m sorry,” and sat back down. The class proceeded to the next student.

My stutter had gotten the best of me yet again.

I wanted to run out of the room and never look back. When we broke up for desk meetings, I took my assignment for the week, tried not to say a word to anybody and left the room, unsure if I would ever come back.

Thankfully, I did. And two years later, I became one of the students standing in front of the class. I was the one helping to read examples and lead discussions each Spectrum class as a managing editor.

Journalism taught me that nothing comes easy. I learned the best things in life are the ones you work the hardest for. The Spectrum became therapeutic. When I wrote a story, it was my opportunity to say exactly what I wanted to.

I wrote a column based on my stutter, “Finding my own voice.” I love talking about this piece. I love talking about the support I received from family, friends, Facebook and strangers both on and off campus. If you have a minute to read it, I hope you can find a way to relate.

I’ve always loved writing. But now this is the column I hoped I’d never have to write, but I knew eventually would: My goodbye column.

After being promoted to sports editor last year, I lightened up my course schedule to come back this year. I changed majors after my freshman year and when I decided I wanted to graduate as a communication major with an English minor and the Journalism Certificate, I wouldn’t have been able to work at The Spectrum and get decent enough grades for my parents to not disown me.

But that was fine with me. It meant I had more time doing what I love – telling stories.

I tell my stories via keyboard. It’s where I feel most comfortable. I love having the face-to-face interactions with the people and then the opportunities to share these stories through my entire vocabulary – not only the words I feel easy saying. And sometimes, even include a video package with my voice and on-camera presence.

And I can’t possibly name all the people who have gotten me to this point. From the terrific sports editors I’ve been able to work with, like Joe Konze, Ben Tarhan, Jon Gagnon, I thank you. To my managing editors who have made my work look much better than it really is, like Sara DiNatale (who later became one of the best editor in chiefs I could work for) and Lisa Khoury, I thank you. To my professional teachers, like Jody Kleinberg Biehl (The Spectrum’s faculty adviser), Bruce Andriatch and Keith McShea, I thank you.

I couldn’t believe when I received a tweet from Keith McShea, one of most well-respected sports journalists in Buffalo, asking me if I wanted to cover a high school championship for The Buffalo News (I think we both knew there was no chance I was turning that down). I’ve been able to produce more than five printed stories for The Buffalo News. Thanks, dog.

And to Matt Parrino, who took a stammering kid and convinced him not to give up on his dream and gave me my first internship at The Tonawanda News, I thank you. I’ve never told him this, but when he sat me down on my first day and we had an open conversation about my stutter, it was a life-changing moment for me.

He told me he’d do whatever he needed to make me feel comfortable. I asked him not to treat me differently than any other intern. And he listened to my request. When he gave me the same responsibilities as the rest of his staff, that’s when I knew I could succeed.

And none of this would have been possible if former Editor in Chief Aaron Mansfield hadn’t given me that initial opportunity at The Spectrum. Honestly, one I was surprised he gave me. We took a journalism ethics class together and when it was my turn to present in front of the class – it didn’t go well.

I had no idea The Spectrum editor in chief was in that class. But once I found out he was, I didn’t know what my chances would be to be put in The Spectrum’s class.

I’ve never asked him why he put me in the class, and honestly, I don’t want to know. I’m just thankful he did.

Without him, there would be no goodbye column.

And to everyone else I’ve ever worked with, you don’t know how much I thank you for every little interaction along the way. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the most talented people on this campus over my last two-and-a-half years. I can’t name you all because I don’t think this newspaper is big enough.

There are many things I regret during my time at UB. The Spectrum saved me from making more mistakes.

I can’t begin to describe what this newspaper has done for me. Whether you respect college journalism and The Spectrum or not, I don’t think you’ll find a harder working organization on campus.

No matter what I do for the rest of my life, I will have The Spectrum to thank for it. This paper took a terrified, undecided (if we are being honest, unmotivated) junior in college and turned him into a 22-year-old with actual life skills.

I also want to thank all the people who have questioned me. All the people who when I say I write for The Spectrum snicker back at me. All the hurdles I’ve had to jump chasing stories have only made me a stronger person.

For the first time in my life, I have a dream. I have direction. I have supporters and I have doubters. You need both to truly succeed.

And lastly, I thank my parents. My parents and whole family who have shockingly only pushed me to follow my dreams of journalism – one of the most competitive and rapidly changing (some would say fading, I’d argue that) fields in the world.

To everyone my age reading this, I hope you have either found or will find what you want to do in college. Before The Spectrum, I didn’t know if I would.

When I wrote “Finding my own voice,” I knew I wanted to be involved with journalism, but I was still hesitant. Now, I know this is what I want to do. I know this is what I’m capable of doing.

It may be kind of cliché, but it’s true: The biggest person getting in the way of you and your dreams is yourself. I didn’t originally write for The Spectrum because I thought my stutter would be too much to overcome as a reporter. Thankfully, everyone around me felt differently.

That’s the legacy I want to leave behind. Don’t restrain yourself. And if something scares you half to death, you should probably give it a shot. I’m proof of that.

I am still the same person who stood up in class and couldn’t get a word out. My stutter may always be a part of me. But it will no longer define me.

Thank you everyone who has supported me over the years. Thank you for following and please, continue to read. I have to say goodbye to The Spectrum but not to journalism. Keep dreaming. Keep living. Keep reading. This chapter’s over but the story’s not.

email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com


Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Spectrum.