Opinion column: “dream, dare, do”

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Lushia Anson

“Dream, Dare, Do.”

At first glance, it may sound like some overused, cliché mantra. You know, one of those things that are tacked on a poster in Comic Sans rainbow font on an elementary school bulletin board or a motivational picture on Pinterest, the text overlaying a pixelated picture of a flying bird from Google Images. Who knows, maybe there are some people out there on the internet who “stole” this phrase from the acclaimed journalist Al Neuharth, liked the alliterativeness of the slogan and papered it all over their blogs and social media profiles without thinking about what those three simple commands entailed, or even what they meant.

But now I’m going to tell you about the significance of the words “Dream, Dare, Do”: what it meant for the hardworking Al Neuharth, what it came to mean in my life, and (possibly) what it could come to mean in yours.

I guess it would all start when I applied for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. The Free Spirit program was one of the most enlightening, but also just plain fun experiences of my life. If you aren’t all that interested in journalism, though, don’t click away just yet: some of the valuable and universal lessons I learned through this program are not necessarily lessons that you will exclusively learn through a journalism conference or even by doing anything journalism-related at all.

But I digress. In a nutshell, this conference gave me a $1000 scholarship, a free trip to Washington, D.C., and five days of intense journalistic hands-on education that included meeting some pretty amazing people (Gwen Ifill, Rep. John Lewis (a former freedom rider,) David Gregory, who hosted Meet the Press when I was there, the 50 other students that attended the conference, et cetera.) To win the spot of representing Iowa at this conference, I had to write two essays: one about why I was interested in journalism and the other about the “definition of a free spirit.”

Two essays, an 11 pm application submission and a couple of months later, I was somehow accepted as the Iowa Representative. I guess it didn’t really hit me how big of a deal this was until a couple of nights before my flight left for D.C. That was when, in a sudden overwhelming bout of anxiety, I realized that I, some random girl from Iowa who really liked writing, was going to be thrown in among the top journalism students from each state. Terrified, I imagined myself into uncomfortable situations where I would be surrounded by 17-year-old prodigies who already owned their own newspapers or interned for prestigious national publications. Upon hearing that I was merely a Copy Editor for my high school newspaper, they would immediately shun me. Needless to say, this was absolutely ridiculous, as there wasn’t a single unfriendly person at this conference.

I guess you could learn a couple of lessons from this. First of all, most 17-year-olds, no matter how successful they may seem, are completely human. They’re usually too wrapped up with their own school or their school publications to take on the time to own their own publications (seriously, though; where did I get that idea?) This is not to say they can’t accomplish great things: there were so many people there that were passionate about advocating for journalism-related issues such as the First Amendment, the kind of people that you just know will make a difference in the world one day. However, they are also normal teenagers who have really cool music tastes and will send you ridiculous Snapchats. Sure, we had our deep intellectual conversations about the future of journalism and religion and racial issues, but we also took selfies with the bronze statue of FDR at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and played “Never Have I Ever.”

Another thing to remember: just because someone is good at something, or has won an award, or is doing their best to create change in the world does not mean he or she is a competitive pretentious jerk who looks down on everyone else. (Shame on you for ever thinking that, Lushia.) It is, in fact, possible to have an impressive collection of accomplishments and stay humble. As I’ve mentioned, no one shunned me or put me down in any way at this conference— and there were 50 other award-winning teenage journalists there. I’d say that’s pretty solid evidence for my case.

We also spent a huge portion of time learning about and honoring Al Neuharth, the journalist who created the scholarship/conference program. Even though he became the successful founder of USA Today, he experienced many failures during his college years. Especially in high school, where failures can sometimes be depicted as the end of the world, it was incredibly refreshing to be told that it was okay, or even encouraged, to fail or show weakness.

This brings me back to “Dream, Dare, Do:” the slogan that Neuharth picked out for the Freedom Forum and the Free Spirit program. “Dream, Dare, Do” was not just some empty phrase of encouragement that was thrown around; instead, it was a reminder that it’s okay to have dreams and have the courage to pursue them, even in the face of uncertainty or failure. Attending a journalism conference in the nation’s capital seems like something only a super-successful person would do, but I spent more time learning about failure than I did about success, because in the end, success is only the result of many failures.

Photo Courtesy of the Newseum Institute