Excerpted from the prepared remarks by Lydia Woolever, former student and
associate editor of Baltimore magazine.
When I was a senior in college, I landed a spring internship at The Philadelphia Inquirer. I had an old newspaperman of a boss who called me by my last name and sent me off on tough investigative assignments. On one warm May day towards the end of the semester, I had finished all of my work and was itching to get let go so I could join my friends who were day drinking on Main Street.
"Woolever," he said. "You busy?" Crap … But no, I responded, to which he asked, "You ever been to South Philly?"
The next thing I knew I was driving south down I-76, bound for the outer edges of Philadelphia. A high school senior - one week from prom, and a few months from his freshman year of college - had just been shot to death outside of school. My job was to go to his neighborhood - a rough part of town, to say the least - and talk to his grieving family, also refugees from Sierra Leone, about the loss of their son.
Needless to say, I was scared shitless, and as I arrived to find literally dozens of family members wailing in the street, I wasn't sure that I could do it. And so I called Ben. His exact words escape me because the fear consumed me, like it does for many a young reporter, to the point of nearly blacking out, but I do remember that he told me, matter-of-factly, that I could. To go, to be kind and polite and compassionate, but most of all, to be myself.
That advice allowed me to step out of my car and write a piece of journalism that would shortly thereafter land me a job at, in full circle, one of Ben's alma maters - Esquire magazine. Seven years later, I still try to write honestly, think about every word, and remember that I can do it. I try to write as if Ben was still grading my papers, because - as I think all of his former students and I can definitely agree - however long ago we graduated, whatever job we might have now, and wherever we may be - we still want to make him proud.