Power of the pen: Journalists strive to tell truth in face of violence, oppression, intolerance and hatred

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People hold up pens and pencils as they stand at a memorial gathering for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in France at Trafalgar Square, London, on Jan. 11. (Tim Ireland | AP)

People hold up pens and pencils as they stand at a memorial gathering for the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in France at Trafalgar Square, London, on Jan. 11. (Tim Ireland | AP)

As a journalism student at DePaul University, primed to graduate in June and get set loose into this chaotic world, I must say I have never been more proud to be a journalist and a DePaul student.

The field of journalism and the pedagogy at DePaul are in harmony. The students I have forged relationships with in the classroom are some of the strongest, most ethically pure people I have come across. They are going to make an impact on the world — as many of them, I know, have global aspirations.

With the public executions of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and then the brutal massacre at Charlie Hebdo, which splintered off into other murders across France, I’d venture to say nations are divided on the subject of free expression.

It is a difficult subject, because everyone is entitled to their beliefs, even if those beliefs are laced with hate and intolerance.

But journalists have a knack for flying in the face of intolerance and hatred. That’s why they go to epicenters of violence and war to synthesize the stories that need to be told.

It’s a violent time for journalists across the globe. The ones who came before us, they faced dictators, rapists, criminals and terrorists. They risked their lives and their freedom for a chance to expose the hideous people of this earth for what they truly are.

Journalists find stories that need telling: avenues that are secretly closed by blockades of government oppression; private businesses that are not held accountable, exploitations of labor among people who have no voice, immigrants bought and sold like commodities, women beaten by savage men, government funds that are mysteriously sucked up and systemically rooted poverty-to-prison cycles; all of these, and more, are pried open by journalists who stop at nothing.

Journalists have taken down presidents and global corporations, and will continue to, so long as they try to get away with iniquities and lies.

Journalists carry with them the most powerful machine of all: the truth.

But this is also true of my classmates and the values taught at DePaul. We take a deep investigation into the humanities at DePaul, and because of that we have a student body open to all forms of demonstrations, religions, sexualities and behavior.

This image from a video released by Islamic State militants on Aug. 19, shows journalist James Foley before his killing by Islamic State militants. (AP File Photo)

This image from a video released by Islamic State militants on Aug. 19, shows journalist James Foley before his killing by Islamic State militants. (AP File Photo)

Sometimes there are silent demonstrations outside the Schmitt Academic Center. Sometimes banners stream from overhangs and are immediately taken down.

It’s meant to discomfort. If it is discomforting, you had better investigate that discomfort for yourself. What is it in you that is angered?

I have found so many DePaul students, in majors across the spectrum, who seem to strive for the same social justice, and for that, I am proud to be a student here.

The rights granted in the First Amendment of the Constitution are really the blueprints for liberated people. We exercise these rights daily.

Many DePaul students stand for the right to peaceably assemble. I see it around campus all the time.

Whether I agree or disagree with the message, I enjoy the rhetoric, and I need myriad viewpoints shoved in my face so I can understand that I’m not the only one walking this earth.

Freedom of speech is one of the most beautiful and liberating clauses              ever written.

It guarantees more than just basic human rights; it opens the world up to higher consideration, contemplation and challenges old ideas. 

Right now, free speech rights are abolishing the myopia of anti-gay and anti-women’s rights. Free speech led to the discussion and resolution to abolish slavery and to allow women to vote — to consider the real meaning of “all men are created equal.”

We have a long way to go, but without an open market of free thoughts and rhetoric to challenge archaic thoughts and intolerance, there is no freedom, only               blind ignorance.

For all the DePaul students bent on changing the world for the better, it’s an honor sharing a university with you, and I hope to live up to the example you set.

I hope to be able to live up to the integrity and multilateral thinking you all are beholden to.

I hope to challenge people who live in the past with their beliefs.

I hope to make people like that extremely uncomfortable.

To everyone devoting their lives to changing the world, don’t forget the words of Plato, who wrote in the “Symposium” that love is the thing to which all beauty              is directed.

What is that love? It’s truth.

A previous version of this appeared in the Chicago Tribune.