I’ve always struggled to articulate why I work at The Pitt News.
In the four years I’ve spent working here, my friends have consistently commented on how much time I spend at the office. When I miss out on a night of drinks or a day in Schenley, they are understanding. They know my passion, and that I probably was running away from police horses at a protest or finishing up some expose.
But what I realized over the past year is that the reason I dragged myself through those days and nights was because reporting for The Pitt News was a passion I never knew I had.
From a young age, the world’s beauty captured me — literally. I was a geography nerd and spent hours running my fingers across globes or looking through atlases, filled with vivid pictures of steamy jungles, dry deserts and frigid mountains.
In each image, I imagined the people there, living a life I would never be able to relate to. How could I, an 8-year-old wrapped in a tiny suburban existence, ever understand what it was like to live in the slums of Mumbai or a hut in the Amazon?
As I got older, I did well in school, but my path forward didn’t involve what enchanted me — it seemed based off of what would make me successful. Despite the insistence of my elders that I could accomplish a lot, I didn’t know what I wanted to accomplish.
I came to Pitt and decided to major in economics because it was similar to history, my true passion, and seemed like it could make more money. Do well, end up at a fancy school for a master’s, join a think tank or the government and push for smart policy. It was boring, but seemed important.
I had, however, edited my high school newspaper. While it was my first time as a “journalist,” looking back I didn’t deserve the title. The paper never reported. It was mostly a vehicle for me to cast opinions out into the world.
Armed with that experience, and confident that everyone wanted to hear the voice of an 18-year-old white guy from Poughkeepsie, New York, I strolled onto the fourth floor of the William Pitt Union for the first time, unsure of what I was getting myself into.
On arriving, the friendly office manager, Marj, inquired what type of writer I wanted to be.
“Opinions,” I answered, but then decided that, while I was there, I might as well get the applications for every section. With a quizzical glance, she handed over the requisite paperwork.
As if I hadn’t asked enough, I also queried if they needed anyone who knew Adobe InDesign, a skill I’d picked up at my high school paper. At that exact moment, the then-Editor-in-Chief Pat McAteer stalked around a corner in a huff.
Upon hearing the words “InDesign,” he whipped his head around and, looking right at me, asked a question that would alter my life’s trajectory: “Do you want to work for The Pitt News?”
While I didn’t know it then — in fact, I wouldn’t realize it for nearly three years — that offer to become layout editor is the only reason I have the future I now have.
That first year at Pitt, I was lost. I did all the dumb college things everyone does — parties on Dithridge, football games at Heinz and skipping 8 a.m. recitations. But the path from my classes into the real world was unclear.
Yet three days a week as an editor at The Pitt News, I had inspiring coworkers, a purpose and a physical product on newsstands. Even after a day of class, I found myself looking forward to another eight hours on desk at the paper, changing fonts and adjusting headlines into the wee hours.
It was with some of the best co-workers I could ask for that I grew from there. I learned to write an organized column and not just vomit ideas onto a page. I learned how to take a photo with composition and form. I learned the art of reporting, covering Pitt football, Trump rallies and coffee shops.
But it was one night after the election — when a thousand people marched through Oakland — that I realized I had found my purpose.
Standing on the Birmingham Bridge, a camera on my shoulder and a notebook in my hand, looking out on a crowd of people, heartbroken by the presidential races’ results but inspired to spend a chilly autumn night outdoors, I was overwhelmed.
Every single one of these people had a story, and I wanted to tell them all.
The Pitt News brought me to that moment. It let me find my voice to help others find theirs. It’s shown me a life I’m happy and proud to live — based around searching for truth, around finding ways to let a kid raised in Poughkeepsie relate to a kid from Mumbai, Dubai or Shanghai.
But even more, this search itself affirms to me that there is some universal human truth. I don’t know what it is yet, but it exists — those chills on the bridge one fall night told me I was close. It’s something that no matter who you are or what you’ve seen, when you touch it you can’t help but shiver in majesty at the world and its beauty.
Some people chose to find truth through religion, some through art. Some people would probably scoff at me for even asserting this and think I’m an overly sentimental slob. But in this sad age of fake news, I choose to find truth in other people — to look them in the eyes, open my notebook and write down their truth.
This is not to say I’m not questioning authority or the powers that be. But offering our trust to a person, on that individual basis, is the root of our humanity, and we have embrace it. When what seems to be true changes every day, and what is actually true is inscrutable, I’m reminded how lucky I am to join a profession dedicated to this pursuit. Now that I’ve cast off my safe future in economics, the world once again looks big and inspiring.
So as I trace my life’s path around the globe as a journalist, I feel like a kid again — eyes wide with wonder for what I’ll see next.
Stephen is finally done at The Pitt News, but he’ll always be a proud alumni. To share your story, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow along with his future adventures, follow him on twitter @StephenJ_Caruso.