Screenshot still on my phone from December 2013
Photo with my future high school swim coach, 2006
Swim photo with the family, 2004.

2:00.10 - I looked up at the scoreboard with amazement. How had I dropped seven seconds in the 200 IM from late-October to mid-December? I couldn’t believe it.

I did a double-take to make sure I was looking at the right time - sure enough, I was. I turned around, pumped my fist, looking for my mom and her huge smile in the stands. As the rest of the competitors finished, I found my mom with a smile wider than I had seen in months.

I got out of the water greeted by my teammates and coach with hugs and congratulations. The 24-hour weeks and 4 a.m. practices finally paid off.

I was so proud, but the pride I felt on that day seeing my mom, coaches, and teammates all happy for me is nothing compared to the pride I have today for leaving swimming eight months later in June 2014.

During swim championships that March, instead of focusing on the most important meets for the recruiting process, my mind was occupied by my new interest with the high school newspaper.

I found a new passion in journalism and wanted to explore other things. While I was swimming intensely, I was exhausted. I was going to bed too late at night working on homework and waking up too early in the morning for practice. I had no opportunity to do much of anything else. I even felt absent in my family.

The decision was anything but easy and took several months to make.

My college counselor, friends, teammates, coach I had since age five, and parents all thought I was making a horrendous mistake.

My decision wasn’t impulsive. I deliberated and considered all factors for months before I arrived at my final judgement.

At the time, it felt like I was throwing away the hundreds of hours I spent over the last thirteen years and all the time my parents invested in me waking up early or driving me hours away for swim meets.

That decision was great for me. Since quitting, I have been able to be a more complete person in all aspects of my life. I have been able to become the brother I should have been before. Even my mom admits, “I got my son back after he quit swimming.”

With the time management skills I developed through swimming, I contribute to many meaningful programs at my school - including journalism, which has become more to me in two years than swimming ever was in 13.

This experience taught me the importance of being thoughtful and making educated choices. The truth is, that I did not throw away anything by quitting swimming. I have taken important lessons of determination, perseverance, and developing personal conviction rather than external motivations and applied them to my new passions.

I am the type of person that will consult all different sides before reaching an opinion. I stick up for myself and have great internal peace. I am someone who knows what he wants to do and will give it my all, day-in and day-out.

I am proud because I have been able to make many positive changes in my community that I would never have been able to make while swimming.

Before, I created ripples in the water, but quitting has allowed me to create ripples every day in my community.

But why journalism?

I think Jon Stewart said it best: “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. If you smell something, say something.”

At its core, journalism is education, and education is the first step for anything. In the factioned, hate-filled world we find ourselves living in today, the underlying necessity is empathy.

Journalism is the vehicle for connecting every person.

It’s easy to say we should build a wall between Mexico in the United States if we have no exposure to someone who has come here illegally. It’s a lot harder to say that if you know someone who has come illegally out of necessity.

It’s easy to say we should unleash a ground-leveling series of bombs on ISIL in the name of national security, until you know someone who lives in ISIL territory against her will.

It’s easy to say we should not increase taxes if you never have worried how you would afford your next meal. It’s a lot harder to be against tax increases when you know someone who depends on government housing to keep their toes from the icy brick of the streets.

Too easily we succumb to a tendency of ignorance.

We judge things off of personal experience, when too often we don’t have sufficient knowledge-base on the subject to reach an opinion - yet we do anyway.

Journalism is the solution.

As a journalist, I have the power with my words, and 21st century technology to fight ignorance and cultivate a culture of empathy and understanding.

The seeds are already there. We all inherently have a desire to help our fellow humans, but it is drowned in a torrent of division.

Whether it be race, sexuality, political affiliation, religious beliefs, or even food preference, when we lack experience with people on the “other” side, we miss how our stories intersect.

We cannot even begin to have insightful discourse or social progression without fundamental understanding.

Unbiased journalism insists that a story has multiple sides. It tells nothing but the facts, and captures how those facts are perceived by the affected parties.

Every time I write something, I want the reader to leave different than when he or she started.

Journalism is also the way to question everything and hold people with power responsible to their duty.

Journalism done right breaks down barriers, and makes complexity transparent. It allows the average person to understand the intentionally-designed sophistication of the Federal Reserve. It can explain the corruption and absurdity of loopholes in campaign finance.

I refuse to accept something merely because I was told so. Journalism requires a show-me attitude, which is paramount in an information-overloaded world.

Before, I was motivated extrinsically - coaches, the promise of Ivy League, trophies, records.

Now, I’m motivated intrinsically from my desire to learn, question, and be a catalyst for change, and journalism is my medium.

We can amalgamate, across segregation, behind the guidance provided by journalism, and use it to combat injustice in our world.

If we learn to fight ignorance, empathize, and unite through a story, the world will be a better place. That’s what journalism is and why I am a journalist.

Winning a social justice award after nomination for work in community, 2015

Running a Monday meeting, 2016

Working with my co-Editor-in-Chief Ben Yankelitis, 2015
Talking with Martin about his experience as a homeless resident of Philadelphia, 2015

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