A Different Kind of WMI Student

By Kristina Orrego

Most days, I’m up by 5 a.m.

6:30 is nothing short of glorious.

Then, I hop in my car and make the 45-minute pilgrimage from Stafford, Virginia (I chose to live with my uncle there to save money on housing) to the Franconia-Springfield metro station, swerving on the EZ pass lanes past all the other cars like I’m in a Fast and Furious movie. It’s a miracle I haven’t gotten pulled over. 

The blue line at Franconia is the first of the two metros I get on before I get to my internship, making my commute total a little less than two hours.

Seriously, there’s nothing I hate more than being late. And being on time is the same as being late in my book. I signed up for this. There are no excuses.

I heard about the Washington Media Institute at UF’s College of Journalism Career Day they hold every semester. I was soon to graduate, and soon after, I proudly walked across that stage in December 2015. I had the textbook-typical freak out moment of realizing I was an unemployed college graduate and scoured Craigslist for anything I could do to at least put gas in my car and buy groceries on my own.

I took up as many freelancing gigs I could at three different publications and became a scribe at a business transcription service. All the while, I never forgot about the WMI I was so enthusiastic about as an undergrad. I got back in contact with the staff.

I’ll be 90 and still remember the first conversation Jon, the Associate Director, and I had about the program. He asked me where I wanted my journalism career to go and about some of my experiences so far. He told me Gainesville and Alachua County Today, the main paper I was writing for at the time, were simply too small. His exact words: I had to get out of Gainesville and in front of the right people.

Someone I respected enormously saw something in me, and my heart could’ve actually exploded. For just a short time, the voice of doubt I’ve wrestled with since I can remember was silenced. I knew if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, I would always wonder what could’ve been or where it could’ve taken me.

That was a long time ago. After working as a receptionist and a road trip to D.C. with my parents so they could meet Amos, WMI’s Director, I’m here.

I would be lying if I said that it hasn’t been hard.

I sleep in longer than I’d like to admit on the weekends to make up for what I lose during the week. I’ve had to spend all night and the wee hours of the morning finishing video projects because my commute cuts severely into my work time.

But so far, it has been absolutely worth the blood, sweat and tears. It’s pushed me to the point that I truly feel like I can handle anything.

And the greatest outcome so far?

I’m starting to believe I can, too.