In the labyrinth of global media uncertainty in which all of us find ourselves, where truth often lies buried beneath the rubble of misinformation, the role of a journalist is to uncover the obscured and to bear witness to the tales that are often left untold. For student journalists, the journey of discovery begins with a single step: Committing to listening when people share their stories.
Peyton Brehm, who will attend the University of Illinois in the fall to study a combination of sociology and journalism, will become one such chronicler of lives lived. “I’ve always liked reading stories – biographies, that sort of thing,” he says. “You just don’t realize how unique the student body is until you actually go out and try to interview people and hear about their stories because it’s way more interesting than you would think.” He’s not concerned with the loudest, most sensational narratives. The commitment to listen is his compass. “So much goes untold because you never know what people are going through or what they’ve been through,” Peyton tells us in a chillingly compelling truth bomb. “You have new respect for people once you realize how much of a struggle they’ve gone through in their life.”
He believes commitment separates an outstanding journalist from the ordinary. “You have to be able to put yourself out there,” he muses. “A lot of people, they get nervous about making sure that people know who they are when reaching out to people. At the end of the day, you’re just doing your job. What matters is the people you’re talking to, not what you are really feeling.” Peyton knows, as a journalist, his words carry power, the power to shape public discourse, sway opinions, and challenge the status quo. It’s a power he takes seriously and intends to use responsibly, but he fully intends to become a conduit for truth. “I would love to be an investigative journalist digging behind what people initially see,” he says, “just trying to figure out what goes unseen and unheard, and trying to bring light to some of the things that society really doesn’t know about.”
Based on his personal experiences with grief after losing his paternal grandparents, he’s eager to investigate grief’s effect on people over time. He suspects there are untold truths about what extreme emotions like grief can do to our bodies and minds. “I’ve always been interested in how grief shapes people,” Peyton explains. “Because I’ve had some loss in my life and I know that it has really molded me into who I am. I’m really interested to know how that affects people… That’s really not a well-known topic.” The stories of loss we can imagine Peyton revealing as a journalist will become part of a larger tapestry, a portrait of humanity in its most tumultuous state, in all its complexity and nuance.
As for a commitment to listening, Peyton reminds us that we can always listen and take motivation from stories, even to and from the ones we’ve lost: “The people that I’ve lost, they don’t necessarily die inside you. They stay with you. That’s the point. Everything they taught you; you keep with you.”