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Saying ‘yes’ to opportunities

| Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The best piece of career advice I’ve received is “Say yes to everything; never turn down an opportunity.”

With that in mind, when given the chance to participate in a reporting trip to Puerto Rico with a Notre Dame journalism course, I obviously said yes. Our trip took place over spring break, roughly a year and a half after Hurricane Maria hit the United States territory.

Early in the morning on Sept. 20, 2017, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southern shore. It tore across the entire island with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, a mere two miles shy of being classified a Category 5 storm.

Maria devastated the island, leaving 100 percent of Puerto Ricans without electricity. In the days and weeks that followed, the territory received an abundance of media coverage as journalists provided a voice to displaced people calling for government aid.

As the weeks and months went on, some regions of Puerto Rico regained power and returned to their previous way of living, but many citizens waited up to 11 months for the lights to turn back on. By that time, the media’s focus had largely shifted to other events in other parts of the world, leaving Puerto Rico in the dark in more than one sense.

A year and a half after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still rebuilding. Our class paired with local journalists in Puerto Rico to spend our spring break reporting on the extended aftermath of Maria. We covered various aspects of the ongoing recovery process, from education and government to tourism and sports.

Our class talked to many people about a range of topics, but we all shared the common experience of listening to the stories of people whose lives changed forever on Sept. 20, 2017.

On a much smaller scale, talking to these people changed my life and my perspective, as well.

I watched 9-year-old Yadier Ortiz choke back tears while he talked about losing his home and everything in it. I saw his 13-year-old brother light up as he talked about how baseball helped his family recover from that trauma. I listened to local journalists talk about losing hair and sleep from PTSD brought on by the emotional toll of covering so much death and destruction. I heard many citizens express their frustration over the lack of government aid due to Puerto Rico’s lack of statehood and independence. Through all of these conversations, I watched how a strong sense of community and identity helped Puerto Ricans brave the storm and its aftermath.  

After spending the day with Yadier and his family, his dad asked me what I thought of Puerto Rico and how my time there measured up to my expectations. Before the trip, I had read extensively on the state of Puerto Rico after the storm, and I thought I knew what to expect. In reality, I was severely unprepared for the strong sense of community, hospitality and strength that I would encounter on the island.

Tucked inside our small nook of northern Indiana, we often hear that we are receiving a world-renowned education from award-winning professors. While that may be true, the problem with the Notre Dame bubble is that we sometimes forget to apply our knowledge on campus to the outside world.

When people told me to say yes to every opportunity, they meant that doing so would help open doors to internships and interesting experiences. My trip to Puerto Rico showed me a different benefit of saying yes to opportunities, and it made me realize that everyone should take advantage of this kind of experience at least once. It is only by being curious and leaving the Notre Dame bubble that we can apply our educations and our degrees to the world beyond the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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