Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 4, 1997

An Undergraduate Life
School, Of Sorts,
Is In Throughout

A Gazette series
offering a first-person
account of a
sophomore's experience.

Stacey Patton
Gazette Intern

With my freshman year behind me, my summer vacation has brought me new enlightening experiences. At Hopkins I enjoy a sense of routine, community and familiar faces. But this summer I have been spending all my days living off campus, meeting new people and getting a taste of hardcore reality.

At the beginning of May I had the challenge of deciding where to live for the summer. I had to consider the environment, distance from my summer job and, of course, the cost of rent. Once I found a place in the city I had to take on other responsibilities as well.

As a child and young teen-ager I often depended on someone else to pay the phone bill or do the grocery shopping. The first time I went grocery shopping this summer I found that it was not as easy as it looked.

To my surprise I was very indecisive about which brands of food to buy or what was a good deal. I must have spent close to two hours slowly pushing my cart down the aisles of the Safeway market. At one point I picked up a carton of strawberries and a woman stopped me. She lectured me about the importance of checking the quality of the fruit before I decided to purchase it. Now at the end of each week I find that my shopping is easier and takes less time.

I began my summer internship at The Sun on June 2. I was quite nervous and couldn't decide what to wear. At school no one really pays much attention to what you are wearing. Professors and students only care about the insights coming out of your brain. But in a professional setting I found that appearance often determines other people's views about you even before you are introduced.

I never pictured myself wearing dress pants, a skirt, dress, suit or even shoes that make noises when you walk. I feel like an adult for nine hours each day. But then I rush home and change into a basketball jersey or some ripped shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops.

As an intern in the Metro section of The Sun, I have the responsibility of writing human interest stories, obituaries, briefs, covering press conferences and local events, and following behind the police reporter. I have written stories on foster children, the life of a shoeshine man, a family that lost its home and schoolchildren that reach for the stars in their education.

I must say, however, that the most interesting stories that I have written were about dead people. When my editor first put me on obituary duty for a week I was distressed. I thought it would be depressing to call up saddened family members to talk about a lost loved one. But most of the families are happy to hear from the newspaper, and they feel like someone cares.

There are some special kinds of obituaries called morts. They are mini-stories that retrace a person's life. I wrote about a woman who was a Holocaust survivor, a man who served with Gen. George Patton during World War II, a woman from Virginia who rode a horse each day to teach at a one-room schoolhouse in 1920, and another woman whose daughter recalled her mother's life as a seamstress.

My experience as an intern has not been limited because of my age or experience--which I had assumed it would be from the first day. I have written opinion pieces on the execution of Flint Gregory Hunt and the congressional proposal for an apology for slavery. Both pieces have resulted in numerous letters to the editor. I have been called the "misguided intern," "the inexperienced student" and other names. I have also received positive letters thanking me for my thoughts.

With any experience there is always room for failure. I had to drop one major story on a local housing project because I was not experienced enough to handle the hostile environment. I made a few mistakes on an obituary. There were many times when editors asked questions about my story that I had to go back and fix. I even had to rewrite a story once.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by many experienced and intelligent writers. I feed off of their wisdom, criticism and advice. They constantly remind me that I am young and have plenty to learn.

Aside from my mistakes I think the most disturbing aspect of my job is to witness destruction and loss in other people's lives.

Just last week I watched as a crowd of people stood over the body of a teen-ager who had been shot in the head and neck. No one knew his name or anything about him. As he lay there, and the rain dropped onto his stiff body, I watched the blood that once regulated his life dribble down into a storm drain. I kept wishing that he would get up and walk and say he was OK.

I followed closely behind the police reporter realizing that that young man was alive that morning and had no idea that he would die hours later. But the thing that shocked me the most was how his death, like the Hunt execution, was treated as such a spectacle. But then I had to realize that this was a part of these witnesses' daily life. It's their routine and their community as my life at Hopkins is part of mine.

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