Cleveland Journal

Letting my spirit fly free

Tina Dang, Editor-in-Chief

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Last summer, senior Tina Dang had the opportunity to represent Washington state at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference through an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. She shares her experience with The Journal.

I woke up extremely excited on the morning of June 16, knowing that by the end of that day, I would be in our nation’s capital. I got to the airport with my publications advisor, Teresa Scribner, and boarded a plane to fly across the country – by myself – for the first time.

After a long flight, a wave of anxiety – and humidity – hit me as I exited the airport and stepped onto to concrete grounds of Washington, D.C. As I looked around at my new surroundings, I realized that D.C. was definitely not the Washington I was accustomed to. The environment was filled with people in suit jackets and business attire walking unusually fast in insanely hot weather. It was a stark contrast to the Seattle south end I grew up in, with overcast skies and laid back vibe.

I was unsure of what to expect or if I would even make friends on this trip. It was only when I saw the entire group in the Holiday Inn lobby that I realized this trip would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was going to spend five days with 50 of the brightest student journalists – one from each state, including D.C. – I would never have ever met in ordinary circumstances.

During our stay at the nation’s capital, my “Free Spirits” and I spent a majority of our time in Newseum, a museum dedicated to the history of journalism. We attended lectures hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and met the Freedom Riders. When we weren’t at Newseum, we sat in the House and Senate chambers during their discussions about the healthcare reform, went behind the scenes for CNN’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd, and visited some of the country’s most influential news networks.

Being the only photojournalist in a group of student reporters, the lecture that left me intrigued was by Doug Mills, a White House photographer for The New York Times. We bonded over things I could relate to: getting lucky capturing the perfect moment at a sporting event, switching our cameras from DSLR to mirrorless, and fangirling about the new Sony A9 mirrorless camera. I could not believe I was meeting and hearing from some of the most prominent figures in journalism.

While meeting these remarkable people was an amazing experience, being able to share these moments with other Free Spirits is what I’ll remember most. Becoming friends with a representative from every state in the U.S. gives me hope in the future that we are creating. From arguing about the correct pronunciation of “aunt,” “syrup” and “route,” to screaming the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’” while dancing on a boat in the middle of the Potomac River, we all found common ground and bonded as a Free Spirit family.

On the last day of the trip, we all cried and hugged because we were not ready to leave. Although we only spent five days together, we created lasting friendships
and still talk to this day.

I am extremely thankful for Al Neuharth and the Freedom Forum for starting this program to inspire the next generation of journalists and free spirits. Because of him and this program, I am excited for the future of journalism – and the world. I plan to dedicate myself to continuing Al Neuharth’s legacy – to “Dream, Dare, and Do.”

I cannot wait to see where my free spirit takes me.

Tina Dang is the Editor-in-Chief and a staff photographer for Cleveland Publications. She is also the co-owner of MXT Visuals.

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