Me and Kristen Sze
This morning, I was listening to NPR (surprising, right?!), and a Forum panel about kindness was airing. It was a result, at least partially, of the new viral video of George Saunders’ Commencement Speech at Syracuse University, where he highlights his biggest regret in life: not being kind to the new girl in seventh grade.
And then a friend sent me a video about the Palo Alto High School Principal speaking out against the seniors that streaked across campus yesterday (the first day of school). I figured it would be good for a laugh, and it was.
But more than that, it made me think again about that Forum panel. Because I do my best to define my life by kindness and happiness, not anger or disappointment. Luckily, I haven’t had very many huge disappointments, so its not that difficult. But at the same time, there are also only a handful of situations, people, events, whatever that I remember super distinctly. But Kristen Sze is one of them.
Really, what happened between us wasn’t all that exciting. She didn’t change my world, adopt my child, pay for college, or anything life-changing. What she did was so much bigger than that. She taught me that asking questions can only do you good, that pursuing your interests is always worth it, and that making personal connections is never over-rated. All without meaning to.
It all started back in March of 2011, at the end of my senior year of high school, at Career Day. If I’m being honest, I was not excited. Career Day? It seemed to me like just an excuse to not have normal classes. But I was skimming the professionals coming to talk, and there were a number of news personalities. My grandmother had just told me about a possible career – News Producing (basically, Stage Managing a newsroom). So I thought, why not? I’ll see what these news anchors have to say, and we’ll see what happens.
I was a senior in high school. I was not up early enough in the mornings to watch the news before school. I had no idea who Kristen Sze was. But I went to her talk. She was interesting enough, but her talk focused mostly on being an anchor. At the end, everyone got up and left, but I stayed to talk to her. I asked her a few questions about news producing, and she gave me her card. Shoot me an email, and I’ll see if I can’t get you into the newsroom to talk to a Producer yourself.
So I did. I was young, I had no idea what I was doing. But looking back, it wasn’t a bad email, really. Long story short, I set up a visit to the newsroom at 3:30 in the morning. That’s when she got to work, and it meant I had 4-5 hours at the studio before I had to get to school. Though exhausting like nothing else, (Have you ever done homework until past midnight, gotten up at 3 am, and then gone to school, rehearsal, dance, and soccer practice? Oh, you have? Great, let’s commiserate.) it was a fantastic experience.
I got to learn about news writing, news reporting, and news producing. They let me sit in the news room, and I got to see the anchors’ personalities and interactions off camera. They all answered my questions, and the tech people even taught me a bit about their cameras, lights, and sound equipment. I got to sit in the producers’ room during the 7am news cycle, which never happens. By that, I mean Kristen got dirty looks when she brought me in, and she said nice things about me until they grudgingly relented, agreeing to let me stay in the room for five minutes. That was around 6:15. Apparently I impressed them with my ability to ask questions in the calm moments and shut up when things got hectic.
All of that is swell, I guess. I had a great experience, got to do something for free that a lot of people buy at school auctions and I got to learn about news producing, just like Marmee wanted. I got exposure to an entirely new career possibility. There’s a lot about that morning that I really enjoyed, but its honestly not what I really remember about Kristen.
The day I really remember came about five months later.
End of the summer. I was a couple weeks away from the end of my summer job at Steve & Kate’s Camp, where I was teaching kids to sew and knit. Usually, parents showed up and kids got sent to the office to go home. We all had radios so we knew who was being picked up. John’s* name had been called, but he was back out and running around. I asked him if he knew it was time to get picked up, and he said I know! Mom said I should go get all my stuff, because its my last day at camp.
Makes sense. I told him not to forget the pillow he’d made in the sewing studio. He grabbed it from his mom and showed it to me. And that’s when she recognized me.
Here’s a TV personality, walking around camp at 4 in the afternoon, completely unrecognized by anyone. Admittedly, she was wearing giant aviator sunglasses, but still. More incredible (to me, at least) was that she recognized me. Not Hey, don’t I know you? but Hi! How are you? When do you leave for Tufts? She remembered my name, she remembered my school, she remembered me out of all the high school students she met and showed around the studio. (Okay, I was the only one to go at 3:30 in the morning, but still.) We said hi, started chatting, John got impatient, and off they went. Just a few minutes, but that moment is one I remember to this day, two years later.
I never would have actually met her if I hadn’t asked some questions at Career Day. I’ve sent her a few emails since that day, and she has always responded kindly, offering help when she could and apologies when she couldn’t. I never would have a connection in the TV News industry if I hadn’t asked those questions. More than that, though, I wouldn’t have a connection if she hadn’t been kind enough to give me her card and invite me to the studio. I don’t know if she just has an exceptional memory, or is just exceptionally kind. Maybe I actually made an impression on her. Regardless, I am incredibly thankful for the kindness she showed me the spring of 2011, and since then. I appreciate her willingness to take time out of her day to care about my dreams and passions.
*Not his real name, but I’m not about to go offending anyone here…