I got home this morning from a quick trip to NYC. I was invited by my friend and newspaper adviser, Melissa, to attend the Pulitzer Prizes Award ceremony, which is held at Columbia University. I never thought I’d attend a Pulitzer event. Even though I’m a writer and journalist, I’m also a teacher and don’t do anything worthy of a nomination, let alone the award itself.
Our flight out of Fort Lauderdale left around 11:30a. We flew Spirit, which I’ve never flown on before. It was an interesting flight – the flight crew gave a shout-out to the MSD student journalists on board and we did some seated yoga before landing at LaGuardia.
Once on the ground, we took a shuttle to the hotel. We stayed in the Garment District, at the same hotel I booked for us when we went to NYC in March for CSPA. It’s such a good location. Once we checked in and dropped off our luggage, we took a walk to The Vessel, which was about 5 blocks from the hotel.
We went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner at Carmine’s. One of the students on the trip had never been to NYC, so we decided to walk the 10 blocks to give her a real taste of Midtown. Dinner was delicious, as was the massive dessert we all shared.
After dinner, we walked around Times Square for a while and then headed back to the hotel for the evening. Tomorrow would be a long day.
The next morning, we were up early to head to MSNBC. Melissa and the students would be taping a piece to air later in the morning about their Pulitzer nomination and invite to attend the luncheon.
It was an honor to meet Dana Canedy, the Executive Director of the Pulitzer Prizes. She is a journalist in her own right, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and also spent time working in Florida, not too far from where we live. She was humble, personable, warm, welcoming, and didn’t mind when I asked to take a picture with her. I was in awe of all that she has accomplished, as well as how honored she was to be with us.
After Melissa & the students taped with Stephanie Ruhle, I totally fangirled. I awkwardly went up to her and told her how much I love her. I told her that I’ve been on her show before (I made her cry), and I’ve been on with Ali Velshi several times. I told her who I am, where I teach, and she gave me a huge hug. I asked if we could take a picture, and she happily agreed; she guided me to this spot and then gave me her email to keep in touch. She thanked me for what I do every day. I did the same.
From MSNBC we went to Columbia University. We were guided to the “green room,” where the winners and guests mingled before the award ceremony. It was amazing to be among such greats who had done so much for journalism, activism and human rights.
Among those in the room were journalists from the Capital Gazette. They were honored for their bravery during the tragic events that befell their newsroom. There were also two Reuters reporters honored who had been imprisoned in Myanmar for over 500 days. As a journalist and journalism teacher, I think what I do is so important and profound – which it is – until I see what the professionals are doing in the field every day. It is certainly humbling and can make you feel like a very small piece to the puzzle.
Before the lunch and award presentation began, we were informed that Clive Davis would be at the event. He would be accepting a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Aretha Franklin. He is a legend in the music industry, and has worked with not only Aretha, but also Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Aerosmith, and countless others. I awkwardly went over to him. I felt like I was speaking to royalty. I told him what a fan I was of his work and thanked him for what he’s done over the years. I didn’t feel right asking for a picture.
During the event, I glanced at Davis’ table and noticed that Don Lemon was seated there. I couldn’t believe it, although I didn’t know why. He’s a journalist. He’s on CNN. Why wouldn’t he be at the Pulitzer Prizes ceremony. During a break in the event, I must have looked like a stalker as I watched him and followed him to find the right time to introduce myself.
“Hello, Mr. Lemon?” That’s what I said. I felt like Jennifer Grey’s character in “Dirty Dancing,” when she felt like an idiot for saying “I carried a watermelon.” He smiled, and I introduced myself. I told him my name, that I’m a journalism teacher at MSD, and a huge fan of his. Without skipping a beat, he hugged me. He thanked me so much for going to work there every day, for doing what I do, and for being so strong. I asked if we could take a picture. He said yes. Then I apologized for my short arms and poor selfie skills. He took my phone and took some pictures.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, to end the ceremony, Dana Canedy had a huge surprise. To honor Aretha, Jennifer Hudson came to perform. Jennifer Mother Effing Hudson. She sang “Amazing Grace” for 11 minutes.
After her performance she spoke to the crowd. She explained that she was there to honor Aretha, but also to honor those of us who had experienced gun violence. There were countless reporters who worked on stories related to MSD, Capital Gazette, tragedies elsewhere; Hudson lost her mother and brother to gun violence. She donated her performance fees back to the Pulitzer Prizes, and when her flight was cancelled due to bad weather, got in a car and drove 14 hours to be there. She said she wouldn’t miss it for the world.
After the ceremony ended, we went back to the “green room” for a chance to meet her in person. The whole MSD group had a private moment with her. We spoke about how we’ll always be connected through this horrible club of which we’re all members. She took pictures with us. I asked for one with her alone. This moment was caught between her bending down to meet my height, and my telling her that’s not necessary. She is tall on her own, but let me tell you about the shoes she wore! Yowzers… I don’t know how she walked in them, let alone performed in them. She made it look effortless.
Once the shock of the day wore off, we rushed back to the hotel to catch the shuttle to LaGuardia. We were met with an hour weather delay, that turned into a three hour delay, that turned into our flight being cancelled. Spirit graciously put us up in a hotel for the night, and we were put in the first flight out at 6:30a.
It was the fastest and most jam-packed trip to NYC I’ve taken since moving to Florida in 1995. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.