When the unthinkable happens, learn how to change your thinking.

A year ago, I was a liberal studies major with a solid plan to graduate, finish all my tests and become a teacher as soon as possible. I had wonderful friends and a community that I loved. I was content. I had been planning to be a teacher since I was six and I was finally learning to be one. 

My whole life changed in five minutes. My hometown changed in five days. 

A mass shooting. My brother is missing. A friend of mine is on the news, all shaken up. We know the shooter. A raging fire. The community is burned to the ground. 

My friends and family ended up being okay, but many other dear friends of mine were not so lucky. 

Now I wanted to live a life that mattered, that helped someone. I wanted to give a voice to the victims of tragedies whose lives had been stolen from them. I wanted to make a difference.

I had chosen to become a teacher because I thought I would be good at it; I liked working with kids and I had an excellent role model whose footsteps I could follow. However, this was not a good enough reason for me anymore. 

I spent a semester trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I listened to the suggestions of those close to me and I evaluated my choices from there. I ended up taking some general education classes, some political science classes and some journalism classes. Journalism is where I found my voice.

Fortunately, I have parents who supported my decision and wanted me to find what I wanted to do. I have a community of friends and mentors who were willing to walk alongside me and helped me to find my voice. I found a supportive community in my new major and people willing to help me learn and adapt my skills for the work I wanted to do. 

This support made it easier to keep going when things got hard. I needed to take my casual narrative voice and adapt it to fit a concise news format, but that skill did not come easy. I had difficulty adjusting to a new class style with new classmates and new skills. 

Many people were confused by my decision to change directions. Completing a new major would take an extra semester. I wouldn’t graduate with many of my friends and my scholarship would expire. Why would you do this to yourself? Why would you not simply continue on the path you know works? I didn’t have an answer for a while; I simply knew that this is what I needed to do. 

The answer I have found as I have continued to learn and grow in my field is that this is where I belong. Journalism combines my talent and my passion. Recording a podcast, writing a story, filming an interview — these mediums give a voice to people who may not have one otherwise and that is what I hope to accomplish. 

The tragedy of the shooting and the pain of losing my home as I knew it was difficult. I have not forgotten it or entirely moved on, even now. However, it did force me to analyze where I was and where I wanted to be and, in doing that, I now have a life I love and I am proud of. Tragedy breaks you and then gives you the option of how you will put yourself back together.