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My senior year, I had to step up my journalism game

It was a challenging year, that’s what made it so rewarding

There is no doubt that my senior year at Howard University and my fellowship for The Undefeated didn’t end as I thought they would when I embarked on both journeys last August.

With ideas of walking the stage, family celebrations and parties with friends wiped away by the coronavirus pandemic in an instant, instead of being spiteful at the world, I chose to look back and be thankful for the tools I gained and lessons I learned in the short nine months of my senior year.

The first day of my senior year, I was also given my first assignment as a Rhoden Fellow. I was asked to gather student reactions to the announcement that Stephen Curry was helping fund the new NCAA Division I men’s and women’s golf programs being brought to Howard. The assignment was easy enough, as I walked over to the gymnasium and asked familiar faces what their thoughts were.

This had become a familiar process, as over the course of my four years at Howard, different classes would sometime require a quote from a student, professor or somebody in the Washington area.

Almost immediately, I thought the internship would be a breeze, as I could fold in the work I did for The Undefeated with my schoolwork.

It only took me about 18 hours to realize I was wrong.

The story required another voice, and being that the students and community of Howard had been asked their options, I was asked to find a source who had an extensive golf background and could speak to starting a program from scratch.

While I have had practice finding and cultivating sources before, it was always very streamlined. In Accra, Ghana, when I had to get a source, my editor always had one in mind and all I had to do was set up the meeting. At Howard, I could talk to professors, and if I needed to get sources outside of the university, I could venture to the other schools and professional locations around Washington.

This was different; I had to find a creditable source from my dorm room. Although it took me about three days, I was able to find and interview Leonard Smoot, who had created and was now the head coach of his own golf program in Alabama at historically black Miles College.

While I’m proud of myself to have found and cultivated the source and even more excited when my first story was published about three days later, it was my first taste of how much work being a professional journalist required. However, because of the lessons and skills I learned at Howard, I was well prepared when the time came.

After arriving at Howard, I began to better understand why it is such a respected profession and why protections for journalism are written into the constitution.

Over the course of the nine months, the balance between using what Howard had taught me to navigate the different assignments from The Undefeated and then applying them to the next assignment was tiring at times. However, when you are testing out these lessons and newly learned skills at events such as NFL games, the NFL combine, the NCAA Final Four and the NFL draft, it is easy to find the energy. And although the latter two events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the skills that I learned simply from being in the email string leading up to those events are tools I will absolutely use in the future.

Before I came to Howard, journalism was something I liked to do, like playing basketball or cooking. In high school, I didn’t have to leave the building for interviews and it was cool to be a writer for the paper. After arriving at Howard, I began to better understand why it is such a respected profession and why protections for journalism are written into the constitution.

Howard helped me find and hone the skills I would need to become a successful journalist, while The Undefeated provided the perfect ground to test those skills and sharpen the tools I would need to fend for myself in the real world as a professional.

Nathaniel is a 2019 Rhoden Fellow and a senior journalism major and history minor from Evanston, Illinois. He has written both sports and news for The Hilltop and the Ghanaian Times. Having grown up a die-hard sports fan of everything Chicago, he is a firm believer that the Bears will be in Super Bowl contention this year.