Five days, 51 journalists, one unforgettable experience


Courtesy of Kaitlyn Hammond

Over the summer, senior Kaitlyn Hammond of Wall attended the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

Kaitlyn Hammond

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of this conference.” I said this several times throughout my five days at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, and I’ve been saying it ever since.

When I received the email announcing I was the conference’s New Jersey representative, I was shocked and excited, but I didn’t know what the conference entailed. I didn’t know that I would meet Pulitzer Prize winners, Freedom Riders and the most inspiring 50 young journalists in the nation.

I was honored to attend the ceremony celebrating sports journalist Lesley Visser, who received the 2018 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. Visser’s determination to fight sexism in sports journalism proved to me that no obstacle is too great to overcome. The awards ceremony was the moment I realized what an honor it was to be a Free Spirit Scholar.

On the last day of the conference, I met photographer Doug Mills of the New York Times, whose work I have always admired.  I’ll never forget the way the entire room went silent when he showed us his photos of President George W. Bush when he received the news about the 9/11 attacks.

I met some of the biggest names in journalism, toured USA Today, stepped inside the House Press Gallery and attended a taping of “Meet the Press.” But to me, the most important part of the conference was not what I saw or did, but rather the 50 other Free Spirits.

To be in a room filled with like-minded journalists was the best opportunity I have ever had. When you’re able to have a debate over the Oxford comma, you know you’re with the right kind of people.

The 2018 Free Spirits come from different backgrounds, but we all share a passion for finding and reporting the truth. They are some of the best writers, broadcasters, bloggers and overall people I have ever known.

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference was a life-changing experience. I will never forget the memories I made or the people I met. I’m now determined to live by the Free Spirit motto: “Dream, Dare, Do.”