Today, I consider myself a journalist. A fledgling journalist for sure, and perhaps not even a great fledgling journalist, but a journalist all the same. Of course, that wasn’t always the case.
Unlike most students interested in a career in journalism, I chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. From my earliest middle school days, I told myself that I wanted to serve my home community of San Bernardino as a mental health counselor — not because I was passionate about psychology, but rather because I wanted to help those who, like myself, suffered day in and day out from the debilitating effects of mental illness. To me, a degree in psychology felt like an obvious means to that end.
Much to my surprise and horror, after beginning my coursework at UCR, I soon realized that psychology didn’t light a fire in me like I had hoped it would. Don’t get me wrong; every course I took was undeniably interesting, and I was sure that my course work would enable me to someday help others who are like me, but I knew it wasn’t my passion. Quarter after quarter I enrolled in psych courses, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was spinning my wheels in the program and that, if I didn’t change course soon, I would be stuck in a career path that I wasn’t truly passionate about.
I was indecisive and directionless. I was scared for my future.
Then, one day during the winter quarter of my third year at UCR, I had a conversation with a good friend who finally shook some sense into me. “You know, Sam, I think you’d make a great journalist,” whispered Elisa Chang as we sat in the back of our behavioral psychology course. Elisa and I were both leaders of the local Riverside CALPIRG, and we’d often spend late nights talking about our personal lives while planning events for the upcoming school week. She knew that my true passion was in storytelling and deep down, against what I felt was my better judgment at the time, I also knew that I really only wanted to tell and be told stories.
I told her that I couldn’t drop everything and devote myself to writing. I wanted to help people and I couldn’t do that simply by putting words on a page. She laughed at me. “You don’t think journalists are important, helpful members of society? How do activists like ourselves get the news we need to develop our campaigns? When you’re looking for facts and statistics on climate change, where do you go?” Elisa said, and I knew she had a point. Maybe there was a way for me to make a positive change in my community while doing what I loved.
“But how do I even break into journalism this late in my college career?” I asked her.
“Why don’t you try contacting The Highlander?” she said.
On the first day of spring quarter of 2019, I walked into The Highlander’s office in HUB 101 at 5:15 and was greeted by a sea of friendly faces. Many of those faces in that wide sea would eventually become some of my favorite people at UCR. They explained that I’d be a great fit for the opinions section given my desire to opine on political issues and I threw myself into the job. A month or two later I was informed that they would be hiring a new crop of editors for the paper, and the then-editor of the opinions section, Aiden Rutten, encouraged me to apply for his position.
A few weeks later, I opened my school email to find that I got the job.
It was a dream come true. The year that followed was one that I would never forget. Running the opinions section was hard work, but it was hard work that I loved with all my heart. Each week I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of writers. Editing their work taught me a lot about my own writing, and I wouldn’t be the journalist that I am today if it wasn’t for people like Christine Tran, the incredibly talented assistant editor for the opinions section, who has since succeeded me as opinions editor, and Silvia Ferrer, who copy edited not only my own work but the work of everyone else who submitted to our paper, and who now holds the well-earned position of managing editor. I have never enjoyed a job more than this one. If I could voice one complaint I have with our school paper, it’s the fact that I’m going to be hard pressed to find coworkers as wonderful as those I had here at The Highlander.
Any further doubts I had about my career as a journalist were put to rest when I attended the National College Media Convention in Washington D.C. with my good friend and fellow editor Jordan Hom this past November. While we were there, we met countless passionate, young journalists — people whose interests were the same as my own — and we even had the opportunity to rub elbows with industry professionals. I felt like I had finally found my calling. Returning to California after such an eye-opening weekend, there was no longer a doubt in my mind: I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist. I would have never had that opportunity if I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and joined the paper.
In the introduction of this piece, I explained that I consider myself a journalist, but, again, that wasn’t always the case. When Elisa told me to follow my heart and devote myself to the written word I became, in that moment, an aspiring journalist. It was The Highlander news team that molded me into a practicing journalist, and I will always be grateful for that.
Samuel Harrison was the opinions editor from 2019-2020. He was previously a contributing writer during 2019’s spring quarter, writing on climate change, politics and other social justice topics.