Jessica Valdez attended Hopkins from 2001 to 2005. During her freshman year, she was a writer for The News-Letter. She became a News Editor her sophomore year and was Copy Editor her junior year. After receiving her PhD in English from Hopkins in 2012, she taught in the writing program at New York University Shanghai for one year. She has since been a professor of English literature at the University of Hong Kong for seven years.
The News-Letter: Why did you decide to join The News-Letter?
Jessica Valdez: In high school I was involved in the newspaper, and I started Hopkins as either wanting to be a journalist or professor, so I knew right away that I wanted to be involved with writing for the newspaper.
N-L: How do you remember the culture and community of The News-Letter when you were there? Were there any traditions or group norms that stuck out to you from that time?
JV: I have a lot of fond memories of the Gatehouse, just of hanging out there. I remember staying up really late on Wednesday nights into Thursday mornings. We always planned to get ahead of the deadline, but we were always pretty late, sometimes 3 or 4 a.m., staying there finishing up the paper for that week. Lots of fond memories from those nights. It was a sense of safety, that community that we had. I didn’t stay in touch with everyone, in fact I think I’m only in touch with one person still, but it really was an important place of community for me at Hopkins.
During my height, I was spending 30 hours a week on newspaper work. It was very much a priority for me, at least during my sophomore year, over coursework. I’m not sure that it was the best use of my time, but it did mean a lot to me at the time.
N-L: How did The News-Letter impact your life as a college student and why was it important to you?
JV: Especially during my first two years, it really defined who I was at the time. I very much identified as a News-Letter staff person and as a college journalist. It sort of superseded academics as my focus. That changed with time, and I began to distance more from the newspaper my final year because I recalibrated my goals. But it was the center, at least for two to three years of my life there.
N-L: What were some of the best or funniest personal memories from your time at The News-Letter?
JV: I’m not sure that she’d want me to share this, but I’m still good friends with the person who was Photo Editor during my time there. She wanted to do an exposé of sororities, so she pretended that she was rushing for various sororities. I don’t remember what she wanted to expose, but she ended up liking it so much that she ended up joining one of the sororities. It still makes me smile to think back on it. And a lot of the memories were just regular weekly deadlines and having a good time together.
N-L: How did your time at The News-Letter prepare you for your time after college? Was there anything you specifically learned from your time there that helped you later on?
JV: I think it was good practice and experience writing on a regular deadline. As a News Editor, [it was] learning to manage staff and learning to deal with writers who did not follow through on deadline. Also, it was a good experience meeting and speaking to different groups of people who I would not have otherwise. I also interned for the Baltimore Sun, and it was really formative for me because it got me out of that Hopkins bubble. I still hold that memory very close to myself.
I’m not sure how much it prepared me for the career that I did end up taking because I did think that I was going to be a journalist, and I decided not to do that. I guess if I were to do things over again, I would actually focus more on my classes, but I wouldn’t want to do things differently. I think in a way what you do in college doesn’t and shouldn’t be totally geared toward a career. I think that your choices and the direction your life takes are super unexpected. I never ever thought that I would be in Hong Kong. It never even occurred to me. I think it’s not possible to calibrate everything toward your future career, and so I wouldn’t change that. I’m glad I spent all that time at The News-Letter; it meant a lot to me at the time.
N-L: Is there anything else you want to share about your experience working for The News-Letter?
JV: I remember there was a disgusting couch or futon in the main room. It was just filthy. Hopefully it’s not there anymore. We also had the photo room downstairs, and I remember the stairs were really rickety things that we would climb down to get to the bottom of the building. Just a few random things, I remember we used to have fun parties there, and sometimes the parties would spill out into the sculpture garden.
I also remember as a freshman really looking up to the senior editors and the News Editors, the Managing Editors and the Editors-in-Chief. I think that they really served as role models for me, where I wanted to be like them. One of them was Mike Spector, who I think worked for The Wall Street Journal, so he did pursue journalism as a career. I really did look up to him as a role model because he was two years older than me. There was that nice mentorship relationship between older students and younger students.
My fondest memories are when I was News Editor and he was Editor-in-Chief. That’s how I remember The News-Letter, in my second year. Just very fond memories of hanging out and having a good time, teasing each other and putting the newspaper together on Wednesday nights. I was co-News Editor with another person, which was nice as well because we were able to distribute the responsibility a bit, and we got along really well.