I didn’t think I would make it. I wasn’t supposed to make it.
I’m the Puerto Rican-black girl from the inner city of Rochester, NY – a city with one of the highest murder rates in the state. A city where funerals come before high school graduations and baby showers come before weddings.
Kids killing kids. Babies raising babies.
There’s rarely any good news that comes out of the part where I’m from. So it’s no wonder my heart drops every time I get a call from my mom at 7 a.m.
Didn’t you go to high school with the girl who was stabbed last night? Do you remember the boy who was shot this morning?
I did. I knew both of them. And it’s an eerie feeling to reminisce about someone whose life was taken way too soon.
That’s why I sometimes hate answering my phone.
But the hardest call was from my aunt. It was Nov. 23, 2015 at 12:14 p.m. My mom had been in the hospital for almost a week after having a stroke.
At that moment, nothing else mattered. I wasn’t thinking about my grades or the $4,000 outstanding tuition bill or the fact that I hadn’t eaten in two days.
I just couldn’t lose her.
My mother was a single parent for most of my life. She worked a nine-to-five job and spent nights and weekends in her art studio. She struggled, but always appreciated the beauty of art because she has such a pure, God-given talent. So when I told her I wanted to be a journalist at 15, she gave me everlasting support. She understood how therapeutic it is to practice your craft. To wake up every morning with a new idea and to push yourself to make your next piece better than your last.
I’ve always wanted to repay her, to show her that those long nights did make a difference. My whole life we’ve been desperate for something good to happen and on March 6, it happened.
That was the day I found out I received a full scholarship to attend graduate school at Newhouse at Syracuse University.
A full ride. My dream school. Finally, a call I wasn’t afraid to answer.
We both sat on the phone in tears – joyful tears. The hungry, sleepless nights spent stressing about unpaid bills were irrelevant. We both had something to look forward to. There was purpose and it all started to make sense.
I now understand these past four years were a test. Could I make a career out of journalism at a school with no journalism major? Could I survive as editor in chief for a newspaper that gets no funding from the university? Could I run a staff of people who were practically strangers?
Yes, yes and yes. These strangers have become the most influential people in my life.
I’m so grateful for the past editors who trusted me and instilled confidence in me. Sara, Tom, Marlee, Alyssa, Brian – you all have taught me something I will hold onto forever.
And to my current staff – Ashley the glamour girl, Max the cool kid, Sarah the sweetheart, Maddy the brave one, Pierce the artist, Angela the socialite, Hannah the bookworm, K the guy with the biggest heart, Lindsay, Tom, Dan, Ben, David and Troy, the future of The Spectrum – I know at times you probably hate me, (cough, cough, Mike) but I don’t want any of you to leave here without knowing how much I truly care about you.
And Tori, oh Tori, where do I even begin? I’m actually at a loss for words because I love you dearly. You have kept me sane and kept me laughing. We struggled together and I feel so extremely blessed that you’ve stayed by my side throughout this stressful year.
Jody, you have changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. Every day you have taught me something that has made me a better journalist, a better leader and a better woman. I aspire to be you one day. Headstrong, confident and extremely intelligent. Thank you for your patience and thank you for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
Helene, my second mother, thank you for constantly reminding that it’s possible to come from nothing and make something of it. Thank you for showing me how good it feels to love people unconditionally and always be kind.
Saying goodbye to The Spectrum and this university has been the hardest goodbye. The good stories, the writing lessons, the awards have all been amazing. But I’m walking away with so much more.
I thought about focusing this column on the little support The Spectrum gets from the university and the struggle of student journalists. I’ll admit, it’s been hard. But as a journalist, I’ve learned to look at the bigger picture. I have a purpose and I’ve learned to push through and give it my all for my peers who never saw 22 years.
These past four years have taught me that things get bad before they get good. I somehow paid off that tuition bill and my mom has made almost a 100 percent recovery from her stroke.
I’ve learned that dreams do come true – not always when you first make that wish, but always on time.
To my little brothers, you are the most important people in my life and there will be times when you feel like you don’t belong, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you. And to my parents and grandparents, I will always appreciate every sacrifice you’ve made for me. Right now, my only wish is to someday, somehow reward you.
Because of you all, I’ve found my way out.
Gabriela Julia is the editor in chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org