Oprah Winfrey inspired me to pursue journalism. Seriously.

I was watching The Oprah Winfrey Show one afternoon during the spring of my high school senior year, and on the screen appeared a correspondent in a Darfuri refugee camp. The man in pressed khaki pants and a white button-down shirt was interviewing a barefoot, and compelling as the dialogue  must have been, what struck me was the conversation itself – it was neither stiff nor scripted, but a real exchange between two people from entirely different walks of life. And this medium was allowing them to share the conversation with millions more people.

Growing up in upper-middle class Walnut Creek, Calif., the materialism and skewed reality I saw in the community frustrated me. So I went to Nebraska, where a scholarship and different pace of life awaited me. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I transferred into journalism so that I could do the same thing as that khaki-clad correspondent: I wanted to use journalism to introduce people from different worlds to each other. My favorite stories have been the features, profiles and even obituaries, because they gave me a chance to showcase an individual life and, I hope, tear people away from their own world long enough to start to understand someone else’s.

Journalism has taken me to Lincoln, Neb.; Vicksburg, Miss.; Washington, D.C.; and Cochabamba, Bolivia. I value my experiences in each place no more or less than any other, and I look forward to the places my work will still take me, whether it’s the Middle East or the Midwest.

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