I Found My People While Working on the Rim

I was still standing in the Oklahoma City airport security line at 6:50 a.m. with a flight scheduled to leave at 7. I ran from Gate 23 to Gate 4 and made it with four minutes to spare.

Not a great start to my trip to the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I took three deep breaths and sat back in my seat. I hoped it would all be smooth sailing — well, flying — from there.

When I arrived at the Marriott at 10:30 that same morning, the receptionist at the front desk told me my room would not be ready until around 3. I was already exhausted from the stress of almost missing my flight, and I was hungry. With no car, no bed and no idea what to do next, I have to admit that I called my dad and complained.

While I was on the phone, two girls walked past, giving me looks that lingered a little too long. The taller of the two walked up to me and asked, “Are you Mia?”

I immediately put my phone down, smiled, and with energy that came from who knows where, I stood up and exclaimed, “Yes!”

I met Blanca Navarro and Keila Vizcarra, and very soon after, I met Sam Schmidt, Jasmine Aguilera and Tahseen Rabbi, fellow students at the Institute. They recognized me from the Facebook group we had created, and they could not have been more welcoming. Blanca and Keila offered to let me drop off my stuff in their room and change out of my airplane clothes. They turned my whole day around.

I’ve come to learn that the people I meet in the journalism world are my people. They are the people I relate to best. They are the people who can help me become the person I want to be.

The staff and students at the Institute have energy and attitudes that are contagious.

From Sandy Harvin’s funny comments like “That’s just stupid” (if you know her, you heard her voice when you read that) to Tiff Fehr’s late-night music choices to Rich Jones’s moonlighting as an opera singer and to Caryn Wilson’s teaching me about false ranges (like this one) in writing, this Institute is unlike any class or newsroom I’ve ever been a part of. Plus, I learn something new Every. Single. Day. You can buy textbooks or self-help guides for journalism, but you cannot buy an experience like the one I have had at this Institute.

Sure, for me as a copy editor, the nights are long, but they sure are fun. I have found that the people who stay up late in the newsroom are some of the most creative and goal-oriented people. I would not give up any late work night with the copy desk for anything. Not even a margarita (and it’ll be a little while before I’m allowed to drink one).

While being a copy editor, I have learned how to sprint, walk, jog and even drag myself to finish lines. I would say that just comes with the job. But I enjoy every minute of it. I love being surrounded by people who love what I love.

Rich said on one of the very first days of the Institute that “There are no imposters.” Although I no longer feel like an imposter — because I will admit I did feel that way leading up to the start of the Institute — I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such talented, smart, witty and wonderful people.