Column: Adversity will come; what matters is how we bounce back

This was my taken on my orientation day at Columbia back in 2018.(Jacqueline Luttrell)

When I had my initial interview at the Chronicle, I was focused and ready to start my career as a photojournalist. Coming from a combat sports photography background, nothing could rattle my cage. That was until nearly 30 days before starting my new career. I got a concussion in a freak accident that changed my last year of college.

Coming to the Chronicle with post-concussion syndrome, I was determined to carry on as usual, but since that interview, everything about me had changed. My mood and memory issues were frustrating—I was in my dream job, and yet my life was going to be like this? I was devastated. My camera was a stranger, my memory was limited and my confidence was shattered, but my determination remained.

My first assignment was the National Football League’s 100th season kickoff game. forgot the right lens, arrived at Soldier Field late and missed the parking lot tailgate shots, but I still got into the stands at the end zone to get fans’ reactions. Yet, I didn’t feel the photos coming to me, but I kept praying and shooting. To my surprise, they were published. Even though I had seen my work published before, this was a triumph for me—I could do this no matter what happens to me.

The first story I reported on independently was about a drag performer. “I wanted to create an homage to all the female singers that inspired me growing up,” said Quentin Reynolds, also known as Aria B. Cassadine.(Jacqueline Luttrell)

However, writing was another minefield. The blank screen was paralyzing as I prayed for the words to flow. I am thankful for the guidance and patience of the editors at the Chronicle. I knew what I wanted to say, but many times, the words did not come out right.

As the semester continued with five classes and two jobs, hustling was still my norm. During the fall semester of this year, I did have to admit I was facing obstacles in my life, and I was met with encouragement and tough love from General Manager Travis Truitt who told me to ask for help. Faculty Adviser Curtis Lawrence was always the gentle voice to remind me I was supposed to be here. Their support was priceless.

When I got rehired for the spring semester, I was overjoyed for a second chance. I had a couple weeks to rest and heal—I was determined to come back fighting.

This was my first photo assignment with the Chronicle. The NFL Kickoff Experience in Grant Park celebrated the 100th NFL season with celebrity appearances and activities for fans.(Jacqueline Luttrell)

February was humming along until a lifelong friend of mine began losing his battle with cancer. My classmates and I went to see him in Covert, Michigan. Then, Valentine’s Day morning my father passed away. I had purchased a train ticket earlier that week to come back to Michigan to surprise him. Life stopped me in my tracks again. I took some time away from everything to pull myself together, and just when I was ready to come back swinging, the coronavirus pandemic started its deadly grip.

The silver lining of this experience is that the Chronicle mirrors newsrooms across America, and news cycles are about the constant flow of life. As a photojournalist, the Chronicle prepped for what my life will be like within any other news organization. There are so many moving parts to make it all come together, and the experience has been priceless.

I am ending my time at the Chronicle in sync with the ebb and flow of life. This job was the beginning of the second act of my life. No matter what the challenges are, my love of what I do will continue to drive me.