I always anticipated that the end of my time as an undergraduate would be bittersweet, but I am ecstatic to share that it is as wonderful of a sendoff as I could have hoped for. I was certain of my degree path the moment I selected it; I never once hesitated to share my passions and a not a sliver of doubt existed about following through with my program.
As many criticisms, justified or otherwise, that may be shared about UTEP, I am elated to say that I never had a single “bad” professor. The instructors that guided me through my interests were knowledgeable and unequivocally spirited and sincere. I feel that they not only facilitated my learning but affirmed my place among those that saw the world the way I did, who preferred camera lenses to eyes and spoke in prose and poetry because just saying something was never good enough. Greg Beam, thank you for nurturing my fascination with the art of filmmaking, your guidance and unwavering support — whatever comes of it, it was wonderful to feel accepted and recognized.
I spent most of my initial time in college meandering in the library around the religious studies section, pondering if I would ever make something of myself. I felt as though the portion of my life that I dedicated to being a writer was wasted. I couldn’t find work anywhere and I never felt like there was a purpose to being in college beyond fulfilling an expectation and getting a slip of paper that confirmed I passed all the right tests.
My first job was here on campus with UTEP Marketing and Communications, then-known as University Communications (UC), and I still remember feeling teary-eyed the first time I saw my name committed to print below something that I had written. It was a simple piece of interview work — but it consoled a part of me that had been suffering for an awfully long time. I struggled with a variety of mental illnesses for years, many of which kept me from feeling like anything I did would ever matter and the years of pages I had poured myself into would wither, seeing no other eyes but mine. However, I was overcome by the realization that my words could potentially make a difference, and I decided that I would dedicate my life to helping others through my writing.
When the pandemic hit, I was unfortunately released from my position as a communication assistant and I panicked, unsure what I could do to pay the bills now that I had just moved out on my own –until a few days later.
I was hired as a staff reporter for The Prospector, and I know that I will look back at this time in my life as one of the moments that helped define me as a person.
After a few months I was promoted to Copy Editor before ultimately becoming the Editor-in-Chief. A large chunk of the staff graduated or left the paper, and I was set to the task of assembling an entire team of new people, in the meantime managing the duties of multiple editors at once. I recall one night that I collapsed onto the bed, dehydrated, and malnourished, crushed by the responsibilities of my work and huge changes at home. As much as I wish I could have stopped the world then, I think that putting myself through those hours and facing the challenges directly pushed me to become a better person and amounted to one of the most memorable experiences I wholeheartedly cherish.
I would like to thank The Prospector for giving me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and prove to myself that there is far more to enjoy and celebrate in my life than I ever could have known. Tracy, thank you for being such an inspirational force during my time with the paper, appreciating my work and fostering such a progressive and prosperous environment here in the office. Staff, my good friends, thank all of you for your trust in my leadership, for putting up with me, and for making me happy — something I once thought was unattainable.
I leave UTEP with a better understanding of myself, of my place in this world, and the heart to believe I am prepared to undertake anything that life has waiting for me. If nothing else, I am a better person than I once was, and I hope to shed the same light that was shared with me on the lives of others that might need it.
Julian Herrera may be reached at [email protected] and @jay_at_utep on Instagram