Column: I found myself when the Chronicle found me

By Rachel Patel, Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Rachel Patel decorates her cap for graduation with vibrant flowers and construction paper. K’Von Jackson

There’s a common saying that floats around my Tumblr feed and Pinterest boards: “I don’t chase, I attract — what belongs to me, will simply find me.” But back in 2020, when I first applied to be a staff reporter, I felt more lost than I had ever been.

During all my tours and visits to Columbia, I knew writing for the Chronicle was my dream. Wide-eyed, eager to learn and with all the fiery motivation I had within my Leo-sun self, I called the 33 building on Ida B. Wells Drive my second home as all the classes I looked forward to took place there.

But, just as quickly as I had leapt into my new life in Chicago, it was all taken when the college announced it was to go completely virtual, and students had to evacuate the dorms because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was devastated. I had to leave behind a beautiful city, classes that fanned my passion for writing and some of the greatest friends I had ever made to go back to my small hometown of Lake Villa.

I was always told I was a “talented writer,” that I would be a “great journalist” and that I was “good at English,” but after that setback, I wasn’t so sure of anything at all. I felt myself falling out of love with journalism, and with myself. Spring turned into summer and summer into fall, and classes started again — virtually. I would sigh turning on my laptop and booting up Zoom, because the courses that once excited, engaged and challenged me now all felt like a chore.

The pandemic took a lot from me, but one thing I was not going to let it take was the one thing that made me want to come to Columbia in the first place: The Columbia Chronicle. Burnt out and running on empty, I gathered all of the best writing samples I had and all the letters of recommendation I needed and applied for a Chronicle job. Weeks after the interview passed until I got the good news in an email from Travis Truitt, and a whirlwind of emotions hit me.

This had been everything I had dreamt of and more, and yet, I felt the biggest wave of imposter syndrome rush over me. I worked hard for this, why didn’t I feel like I deserved it?

Rachel graduates with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. K’Von Jackson

Working in a “virtual” newsroom was completely foreign to me, and feeling disconnected from Chicago and the community I once called home didn’t help. But after being thrown into my first assignment with former Audience Engagement Editor Paige Barnes, something just clicked.

Finally, I felt like I had a reason. I felt like my writing could make an impact and a difference. Soon after that article got published, I had peers reaching out to me saying they liked the article, how helpful it had been and how they appreciated all these answers being in one place.

The Chronicle rekindled my love for writing, and I felt like I was on fire. I was able to explore more topics I enjoyed covering, mostly staying in the arts and culture realm. I was able to report on fashion and neighborhood events, which helped me feel connected to Chicago while being at home. I had the opportunity to write feature pieces to uplift other creatives in the community and give them a platform, and I discovered my love for writing obituaries and elevating people’s legacies. I was able to grow and learn as a journalist, and, as a person.

So, while I will venture out of the newsroom and off Columbia’s campus with fear and uncertainty, I’ll also walk away with excitement and confidence.

Excitement and confidence that I am prepared and deserving of the great things coming my way.

Excitement and confidence that the next big opportunity will find me.