“You learn the most from the hardest things”: Stephanie Nolen’s speech to King’s graduates

Stephanie Nolen, The Globe and Mail‘s current India, and former Africa, correspondent, was honoured by her alma mater, the University of King’s College, with an honourary doctorate in civil law.

Nolen has a journalism degree from King’s and later pursued a masters in development economics from the London School of Economics. She is also author of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa.

In her speech to students, she begins with a story about her own beginnings as a journalist and the difficulties her class had when graduating in the middle of a recession:

“…I was graduating into the teeth of a bitter recession — and nobody, not one person, in my graduating class had managed to find a full-time job. (Stop me if you’ve heard this.)

I did the obvious thing: I went to graduate school, and took on $40,000 worth of additional debt. I went to the London School of Economics, and never regretted a penny of that debt, because I learned a million things, and because I met people and had adventures that continue to open doors for me today. But that was only good for a year of avoiding reality, and not long enough for the recession to end. After submitting my masters thesis, I came back to Canada, to find that now ONE person from my graduating class had a job: He was editing the monthly newsletter of the Atlantic Fish Canning Association. I’m not making this up.

So I left. I made a totally ill-thought-out decision to move to the Middle East, to Jerusalem — to be a freelance journalist in the city which, I soon discovered, already had the world’s largest full-time press corps. That, in hindsight, was dumb. And it was really hard. I was broke, I was totally out of my league, I was alone. I was also too proud to come home.

Because I was broke, I lived in a Palestinian village and shopped at a local market and took the local bus and soon I had learned pretty good Arabic. Well, of course, in a couple of years world events were going to dramatically improve the market for journalists who spoke Arabic.

Because I was way out of my league, I landed in Beirut on a holiday just as Israel invaded. I was dumb, but I was also fast on my feet, and two weeks later I was working on a cover story for Newsweek.”

The full text of Nolen’s speech is posted on globecampus.com.