Jonathan Custodio" />

In a sleep-deprived state, I gazed out the window of an Amtrak train back to New York City, and all I could think was how amazing a weekend it was.

On October 27th, I journeyed to Washington, D.C. for a reporting conference, sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, that featured 42 student fellows who won grants to cover underreported and underrepresented stories. As a LaGuardia Community College (LaGCC) student, I earned a Pulitzer Center grant to report on Afro-Mexican Identity and then received the opportunity to present at this conference.

Fellows from all over the country gathered together to share their findings or pre-reporting, as some, such as yours truly, had not gone on their trips yet.

As soon as I arrived at the cozy Adam’s Inn, where the Pulitzer Center housed us for the weekend, a rush of excitement, antici-pation and anxiety rushed through my veins all the way up to the smile that greeted the fellows chatting on a couch.

I spoke with people like Tomas Posada, who had no journalism experience prior to his trip to Puerto Rico to witness the post-Hurricane Maria recovery efforts by non-governmental organizations. Passion drove these fellows’ reporting and inspired their trips, a constant theme throughout the weekend.

A group of us fellows headed toward the location of our first day of presentations, while making sure to grab some Halloween candy on our way out. That Reese’s peanut butter cup didn’t stand a chance.

After a long walk of taking in some D.C. sights, we were met by a towering building that I later found out was home to multiple international embassies.

Networking abounded.

There was rapid-fire speed sharing of everyone’s projects, tapping into what shocked them, what motivated them and the proverbial question: “where do you go to school?” I had my LaGCC pin on deck.

I was making the rounds, one empanada in my hand with another in my mouth, when I came across Jared Olson, a fellow from Florida who spent two months in Chiapas, located in the southern part of Mexico and not too far from the state of Veracruz that will greet me soon. He covered a rebellious indigenous group known as the Zapatistas who are best known for their social justice movements. We connected over our shared interest in underrepresented groups in Mexico and later joked about creating a podcast about social justice in the country. Be on the lookout…

Soon, fellows began their presentations.

Julie de Meulemeester, a medical student at McGill University in Canada, covered the Inuit, a disenfranchised community in the arctic that she found is suffering from food insecurity. She’s the first Canadian I have ever met, and we ended up bonding over a day of sightseeing and travel aspirations.

It’s sad that it took me 24 years to meet a Canadian, but it represents the significance of opportunities like those offered by the Pulitzer Center to expand our cultural knowledge and global understanding.

Focusing on a variety of issues like climate change, human rights, and migrants across the globe, every story stood out in its own way. I wish I could write about all of them.

The first day wrapped up with dinner at the Cosmos Club, an unsettlingly sophisticated social club that boasts three former United States presidents as its members.

Meghan Dhaliwal, a photojournalist and my Pulitzer Center mentor, delivered an honest, genuine speech about the importance journalism plays in our society, citing her struggles reporting around the world that sometimes made it hard to return to the day-to-day normalcy many of us take for granted. She was one of the earliest Pulitzer Center fellows, and her story increased by ambition for my own future.

The next and final day took place at Bloomberg, a software company that also has headquarters in New York City.

Panels of distinguished reporters, editors and industry leaders from well-respected media outlets like National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Post, and Politico shared their wisdom and emotions about pitching stories and covering sensitive issues.

More presentations followed, including my own. Nervous, I thought back to my public speaking class (also my last class – don’t worry, you’ll get there) I took with Professor Jaime Riccio, who said that her anxiety kicks in each time she presents, even though she’s a veteran of the craft. I cracked a joke that tied back to the previous presenter and eventually, I noticed that seven minutes had flown by when I felt like I had just began.

I gave voice to my passion, just like everyone else.