My Coldest Winter in Philadelphia | OP-ED
Unemployed, I had to learn how to live off journalism in my adopted city.
How I ended up in Philadelphia is still sort of an enigma to me.
One that I am careful not to unravel, out of respect for a mystique that has been at the center of my life, made up, no different from all of yours, when you think about, of unexpected chains of events that, in hindsight, make all sense at the end.
When I arrived in Philadelphia in 1991, the city was at the time for me a remote location on the East Coast, 2 days away on a Greyhound bus ride from Iowa City, where I graduated with a Master’s degree from the School of Journalism in 1991.
I skipped commencement and I was determined to brave the Midwest winters once again pursuing a Ph.D. Program. At age 31, and a Master’s Degree, the prospect of becoming a "Professor" in some University look for a moment a good alternative, 16 years after I had chosen Journalism as a profession.
A book I bumped into, green and yellow covers, published in Spain, had inspired me to escape the path set up ahead of me by my 2 older brothers, successful engineers with solid jobs in companies remunerating them well.
But Bachelors of Arts in Journalism? What was that for?
“I effectively remained unemployed almost 2 years after officially receiving that undergraduate diploma in journalism”
I effectively remained unemployed almost 2 years after officially receiving that undergraduate diploma in "Mass Communication and Journalism" from the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University of Bogotá, Colombia.
The experience was no different when I got my Master’s Degree here in the United States of America, 10 years later.
I refused to attend the graduation ceremony in the University of Iowa big Auditorium. I couldn't stand the image of me all dressed up in a robe and a cap when, deep inside, I knew I had not learned much.
The signed Diplomas, memorable pieces of very expensive paper I received by mail I quickly rolled over and threw in the trunk of useless but hard-to-let-go things one carries all our lives.
They are now on display in my Philadelphia office, where I have finally found a good use for them.
Whenever an attentive apprentice comes to AL DÍA, I turn to them to teach them the first lesson in our shop:
“Look, none of these 2 pieces of paper (turned yellow inside their elegant frame on the wall) has ever landed me a job in my life.”
“Value your experience here in AL DIA….That is what will count…. Hands-on experience.”
“Value your experience here in AL DIA ”, I tell them.
“That is what will count...”
“Yes, hands-on experience— when your hands are sore after your long-day daily exertion, your mind exhausted after 8 straight hours of concentrated work...”
“That is how you really learn:
"By doing it,” I always emphasize.
After the overestimated academia is done, and often the student debt is hanging over your neck, become a “discepolo della sperientia” (disciple of experience), as Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his famous “Self-Portrait.”
What additional skills, or practical knowledge, can a Master of Arts in Journalism grant you? If you happen to have the time to spare and money to pay it, by all means.
In my case only remember 2 books I read with interest, and enjoyment, out of the 150 or so assigned for hasty reading and review in Seminars, advanced courses, classes of all sorts, needed to complete the “credits” for the Master’s degree graduation requirement.
The first one was written by José Ortega y Gasset (“El Hombre Masa”), the second was written by John Womack (“The Mexican Revolution”), none of the 2 related directly to Journalism. Both were well-written and great reading material— the first one in Spanish, the second in English.
They were still my company during my first Winter of living in Philadelphia, unemployed, with my useless Master of Arts Diploma carefully stored away, with the pressure of rent due at the end of the month.
Must have been bitter cold.
The coldest winter ever.
Colder than those 3 trying winters I had just survived in Iowa City's clean streets and predictable neighbors.
I had no idea what was about to happen to me in "The Streets of Philadelphia."