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Coming to Columbia

By Mirta Ojito ’01
Columbia Journalism School Professor

I first came to Columbia in the throes of passion. I was a reporter for The Miami Herald and my date, the man who would later become my husband, brought me to his annual pilgrimage to the Journalism School: the Maria Moors Cabot award ceremony, where he was sure to find old friends who come together every year to celebrate the best among them for their coverage of Latin America. I wore high heels and a long dress – it used to be a very formal, very black tie event – and took his arm to steady my steps on College Walk.

Tiny lights were twinkling from the trees that line up the walk. The Journalism School was to our right and we took a peek. The lobby was bare, and there was really nothing to see, except that bronze plaque with the Pulitzer quote that continues to draw me in when I need inspiration and a sense of purpose: “The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.” For me, as someone who grew up in communist Cuba where journalism was quashed and no one had the power to mold anything, much less the future of the republic, the quote seemed daring and righteous at the same time.  

I remember thinking, “One day, I’m going to be a student here.” I was 29 at the time and had already initiated a courtship with the New York Times that would culminate with my accepting a job offer and moving to New York in 1996. Soon after, Professor Sam Freedman invited me to his class to speak about my work covering the immigration beat for the Metro desk. In the students’ eyes, I saw their ambition. “They would trade places with me in a second,” I thought. And the reverse was true, too. More than anything else, I wanted to be in their place.

Within four years, I was a student here. By then, I was the mother of a newborn. That year was a blur - I do not recommend typing while breastfeeding. There were highlights, though, unforgettable moments. I came to class late one day and Professor Freedman let me in. “She has a baby,” he explained to the class, since others knew not to even knock if they were late. I enjoyed Andie Tucher’s history of journalism class so much that I think I took it twice. Don’t ask. And I discovered the pleasures of reading Ryszard Kapuscinski in Anne Nelson’s international journalism class. I didn’t make any friends. Who wants to socialize with a new mom? But I developed a liking for the rhythms of academic life, and I liked the idea that journalism could be taught.

I liked the idea so much that I came back. I’m still here.

Posted by: AlumniAlumni, FacultyFaculty April 2012

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