Four years of discovery

By Samara Abramson

(Courtesy of Samara Abramson)
(Courtesy of Samara Abramson)

I wrote horrible columns for the Collegian. I mean, truly, horrible.

In September 2011, I saw a flyer that read, “We Want YOU To Write for Op-Ed.” OK, I thought, if they’re desperate, they’ll probably publish me. And my professors had instilled us with the knowledge that, in order to succeed in journalism, you need to get published. You need bylines and you need internships. During my first three semesters at the University of Massachusetts, those were two of the only words I could think of. Bylines and internships. Bylines and internships.

So I sent the editorial desk an email and said I wanted to write a fashion column.

And they published me. My first few bylines were horrible, Carrie Bradshaw-esque columns criticizing people’s fashion choices. I didn’t really know anything about fashion – I guess it just seemed like an easy topic to cover. And, “easy” was good, because the 18-year-old version of me wanted to celebrate every UMass “Thirsty Thursday” like it was her last. And my mom always shared my columns on Facebook, receiving dozens of comments from her friends complimenting my writing. I reveled in the glory and thought I was awesome. But I still didn’t really get it.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, the editor of the Op-Ed section sat me down and told me she wasn’t going to publish my diary entries anymore. It was harsh, but something clicked. I quickly made a beeline to the news editor’s desk and began reporting on my first story that night. I was starting to discover my true passion.

During my second semester of sophomore year, I was in Steve Fox’s multimedia journalism class. We were required to produce video stories and I had the idea of finding Pakistani students studying at UMass and taking them to a drone exhibition in the Hampden Gallery to talk to them about recent U.S. drone strikes. Professor Fox encouraged me to pursue this idea, but I wasn’t able to fully convey the story. When it came to video, I was essentially self-taught. I was attached to long sound bites and could talk to my sources for hours on end.

Final Cut may as well have been written in Mandarin and my blog writing still wasn’t great. I made my deadlines, but I thought of my stories as class projects rather than as actual pieces of journalism. In 2013, I didn’t believe that journalism students could actually make a difference or reach an audience past our mothers’ Facebook pages. (And in 2014, Eric Bosco proved me wrong …)

But I think I speak for a lot of my peers when I say that everything changed on April 15, 2013. It wasn’t just because I grew up south of Boston. It wasn’t only because, as luck would have it, my plans to stand at the finish line were canceled because my boyfriend came down with a virus that morning and needed me to take him to the doctor.            It was when a woman sitting next to me in the waiting room slowly read from her phone, “There was an explosion at the marathon…” And then, suddenly, every phone around me was buzzing.

Sitting in that waiting room, something clicked again. It was a rush of adrenaline that I’m not sure everyone experiences, but it’s something that happens to me during any breaking news event. Instead of panicking, as many people rightfully were, I felt the need to find out what happened, where, when, why and how. And this was after making sure my family and friends were OK, of course.

In the days after the attack, the television in my dorm room was tuned into national and local news stations for five days straight. As I watched mistake after mistake reported on TV and in newspapers, my passion for better journalism grew. In tragic events, such as the Boston Marathon attack, journalism is in its purest form and represents the true power of democracy. A few weeks after the bombings, I accepted an internship at WCVB-TV Channel 5 in Boston and spent the summer falling even more in love with journalism.

My undergraduate years have been incredible and I owe all of it to my parents, of course, but I also know I will look back on my years here and feel proud of the choices I made. Campus media instilled a confidence in me and provided me with clips that helped me land summer internships. And all of these experiences, horrible columns included, helped me to grow from an amateur student journalist to a soon-to-be master’s candidate at Columbia University (arguably the best damn journalism school in the country.)

When I look back on my years at UMass, I can’t believe how much has happened. I made lifelong friends and moved into an apartment with them. I made ridiculous memories, most of which make too little sense to try and explain. I ate too many slices of Antonio’s Pizza … is that even a thing? I spent a semester “studying” abroad in Valencia, Spain and traveling all over Europe. And I got to attend my dad’s alma mater. Through all of this, however, I found my passion, and not many college graduates can say that. I feel lucky that my years here have been so successful and such a learning process for me.

And, hey, whenever I miss UMass, I can come here to visit my little sister. And hopefully my little brother decides to come here too, because UMass is just the best. And you can’t beat the in-state tuition.

(That last line is for my parents.)

Samara Abramson was a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]