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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crossing Generations

Last Wednesday afternoon I sat nervously chatting with four other journalism majors, each of us squirming in our blazers and jumping with every creak of the door. We were over an hour early. When Pulitzer Prize- winning authors Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein finally walked in, a hush fell across the lecture hall. My heart raced uncontrollably. In only a few minutes, I would directly address the legendary reporters. But I didn’t have to wait until my question. After climbing down the stairs both reporters stopped at our table of student panelists and shook our hands after asking our names. Bernstein even asked the girl next to me to repeat hers, and later he interrupted a student already sentence in to a question, saying “Wait, tell us who you are!” To my surprise, they were curious about us, too.

A week earlier, the five of us student panelists freaked out, for lack of a better word, the closer their arrival came. We created an email conference on Learnlink called “Deepthroat” to organize our nervous energies, and used the space to agonize. What should we buy as a token of gratitude? How should we word the card? Who was going to check that the waters were both cold and Coke products? But when the afternoon program actually started, all the fussing over details completely faded. And true to their profession, the only thing that mattered was the words these two amazing men imparted to us for nearly an hour.

After applause and second handshakes, Woodward and Bernstein left the building the way they came. When a reporter from the Wheel tapped my shoulder for comment a second later, I managed only to stammer, “Did that really just happen? I can’t believe it. Woodward and Bernstein just shook my hand, twice. It’s still shaking.” My adrenaline level was right back at square one. Except this time, the shaking was from pure joy.

The two outlined an adventure of stumbling across first journalism, and then later as one lead on Watergate preceded another. Their instinct and drive complemented their willingness to take unconventional and creative routes in search of the truth (such as conducting a majority of their reporting at night). This combination of strengths created a burning passion to which they credit their successes.
What I love about Emory is that it brings the intangible names of figureheads and their unimaginable accomplishments to us, but in a way that makes these heroes accessible and extremely relatable.

After my first two months of college, Margaret Atwood looked me straight in the eye and told me to go home, put my pen to paper, and just start writing anything and everything as every story must begin somewhere. Jimmy Carter assured me that no question was irrelevant when he answered someone’s inquiry of “boxers or briefs?”, with a straight face. Alice Walker and Richard Gere sat 200 feet in front of me next to the Dalai Lama and taught me the importance of laughing and dreaming. And Wolf Blitzer prodded me to cross boundaries in assumptions about humankind as a whole.

Last week Woodward and Bernstein illustrated to us the strength and importance of sincere passion. When they described what they loved about their craft, the immediacy of the newsroom, the thrill of truth, and the spontaneity of challenge, I realized they had perfectly articulated the passion I had already found.

That afternoon I heard from two reporters who accomplished unprecedented and amazing results when they were just two young people with an opportunity and a dream. They commended us dreaming, and told us if we thrive on opportunity, we will be next. I will never forget that moment, because I believed them.

--Liz Speyer 14C, EAA communications assistant

--Photos courtesy of Ann Borden, Emory Photo/Video executive director

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