When my 9-year-old niece, Shayla Strickland, asked me to speak at her school's career day, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic.
For starters, I am not a morning person and working nights reporting for the Miami Herald doesn’t help.
And then I struggled with how I would accurately describe what I do to elementary students. I cover breaking news and often wind up at shooting scenes or writing about criminals.
But when my niece — who is a lot like her auntie — sets her mind to something, she figures out how to get it done.
So she asked again. And then again — knowing I very rarely say no to her.
I asked her why she wanted me to come so badly. Her answer: "You have a cool job."
That was enough. I agreed.
Then I worried (which seems a little silly in hindsight).
Would the kids fall asleep listening to me? Would I scare them? Do they even know what a newspaper is?
When I asked Shayla what I should talk about, she said tell the lemur story. The lemur story is definitely an icebreaker, I thought. I was on assignment, covering a visit to a local animal park by veterans, when a lemur decided to get fresh.
As I spoke to some of the vets, the lemur — with its long skinny fingers — reached out, grabbed the bottom of my dress and pulled upwards. What I learned that day from the lemur (and what I realize almost every day as a journalist) is you just never know what is going to happen. And for me, that is the thrill of it — something new every day.
In trying to come up with enough fodder to fill 20 minutes, I thought about why I became a journalist in the first place. Writing has always been an outlet for me. I love telling stories and I love meeting new people.
My job is to give a voice to the voiceless, share stories about places and people others may never get to see or meet and hold people accountable for doing the wrong thing — which is pretty cool.
When I showed up at Treasure Island Elementary School in North Bay Village the morning of May 22, I was a bit nervous. The speakers were ushered to a room where we were given our assignments. Among the jobs represented: a chef, martial artists, police officers and a graphic designer.
"I am on the hunt all year round for people to speak at career day," said the school's counselor, Melanie Negron.
My first class was fourth grade. It took me half a minute to realize I had nothing to worry about. These children were curious, sharp, respectful and most of all interested in what I had to say — a credit to the teachers. They asked questions, they answered questions and followed along when I had them come up with their own story.
The next day, fourth-grader Mia Machado said she never really knew what a journalist did. She said she even looked up one of the stories I talked about.
"I learned a lot on career day," she said.
And yes, I told the lemur story, which generated laughs. (I also talked about a story I wrote about a puppy and a monkey being the best of friends.)
One little girl in my third class of the day — Shayla's class — asked me if I liked to write when I was little. The answer was easy — yes. Another asked me why it was so important to read. That was easy too — because you can always learn something new when you read.
And while I don't expect to see 80 future reporters from those sessions, I hope that if the students learned anything, it's that you can turn your passion into a career. My nephew, Colby, who is only 7, insisted upon listening and genuinely seemed interested in what I had to say.
"I learned there's a lot of choices for a career," said third-grader Angela Chong. Angela's mother, Gina, who works in the cruise ship industry, also spoke at career day and said the program is great for the students and teachers to "get out of the box" of their daily routine.
She even shared that her daughter had taken the notebook and pen I gave them and immediately began filling up the pages by writing about her day. That made my reporter's heart happy.
I know the point of career day is about the children learning their options for when they become an adult, but I think it serves another purpose.
It gives people like me a reminder of why I do what I do and why I love it.
It also lets adults know that children today are capable, kind and considerate and the future is in good hands.
Or simply put by third-grader Diego Naranjo, the reason for career day is "so we can be inspired."