When I was 16, I sat down next to a stranger at a Starbucks. He held up a chocolate chip cookie that had just been warmed up by the barista. It was not his first cookie of the evening. He told me that they were victory cookies — his way of celebrating getting through the day. It was clear that he needed to vent, and I let him.
He told me his whole life story: how his menial job as a line cook was draining his soul, how he didn’t go to college, how he struggled with his aging parents’ health and how playing guitar at open mic nights was the only thing giving his life meaning. Then he turned to me, a girl half his age, and asked me about myself. Who was I? What did I want to do? What gave my life meaning?
I said that I liked to write, and I was thinking about journalism, but I’d never tried it. He told me to go try it. Get a car, drive, find news and write about it. I told him I wasn’t very good at driving, and he said that he wasn’t either. He bragged that he’d gone 120 miles per hour on US 422. The speed limit is 55. He told me to go out and try to accomplish my dreams.
I never ended up taking him up on that advice. Maybe I was too scared to venture out alone as a young teen, or maybe I just did not want to get a speeding ticket. Yet his words stuck with me, and I’ve never forgotten them. Perhaps he is the reason why I signed up for the Ram at my first club fair, the reason I actually went to the general interest meeting and the reason I signed up for my first copy editing shift.
When I first started copy editing for the Ram in the fall of 2018, I leapt into the unknown. My high school did not have a student newspaper, and I’d never been a part of any publication before. I did not know any of the processes, I did not know anyone’s name and I did not know what AP style was. I was, effectively, gunning it down US 422 at 120 miles per hour.
But at least I was going somewhere. The question of “am I interested in journalism?” was no longer circling around in my head. I took that plunge and I found out the answer. I found out that I like writing but that I really like editing others’ writing. I found out that I like nitpicking things like grammar and punctuation, and I found out that I like the atmosphere of a table full of people who like the exact same things.
Fast-forward three semesters. The Fordham Ram is on its 102nd volume, and I am one of its two copy chiefs. The man at that Starbucks told me to find what I was passionate about and follow it. I’d like to think he would be proud of me for finding and following that passion at the Ram, but I’ll never know. I didn’t get his name. He saluted me as I walked out, and I never saw him again.
So I salute to you too, man at Starbucks. Thank you for dispensing life lessons to me. Here’s to open mic nights, copy tables and everything else that gives life meaning.