The release of imposter syndrome at the 2022 MediaFest conference

Seconds before being called onstage, notable journalist and author, Carl Bernstein, listens intently to his introduction. Bernstein was introduced as a key figure in the Washington Post’s breakout story on the Watergate scandal of 1972. Coordinating with fellow journalist, Bob Woodward, Woodward and Bernstein’s report of Watergate led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Photo credit, Jada Hoffman

People of all ages, from different locations, flooded through the doorway of the atrium. Everyone had lined up an hour before the session began to guarantee spots for themselves and who they came with. From St. Edward’s University’s Hilltop Views to Takoma Park/Silver Spring’s Montgomery College’s Excalibur newspaper, student-led newspapers of universities and colleges across the country gathered at a conference to listen to two guest speakers. Maybe if one looked hard enough, one could see the tall and stout shadows of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein behind the blue-lit curtains.

Soon, they would grace the stage and soon, I would be sitting merely three feet away from them. I, the photo editor of the Excalibur, felt an enormous amount of fear that I would stick out amongst suits and blazers. Being able to photograph Woodward and Bernstein was a goal of mine, but I felt as if I did not deserve to achieve it. I was at a conference for professional journalists, but did not feel as if I were professional enough to belong.

Phone chargers, pamphlets and shoes were sprawled row to row as a flimsy attempt to claim a spot. The Ballroom atrium of the Grand Hyatt Hotel had a maximum capacity of 2,500 people, yet only 750 chairs were available. All the front row seats were occupied. The middle and back row seats were a battle for occupancy. There was more competition amongst the colleges than at a state football game. Those who couldn’t find a seat in time sat on the floor.I watched as they avoided eye contact with the hotel staff, fearing they’d be kicked out.

An argument could be heard from behind me as I secured a seat in the middle row. Samantha, the assistant editor of the Excalibur, helped me to secure eight chairs.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” Samantha counted, her eyes flashed across the seats in a hurried fashion, frantically counting amongst the row of chairs.

I tilted my head to see the arrangement of props laid in front of me. On the seats were three pamphlets, my sketchbook, a sweater and my leg. Starting from my knee, a sharp ache crept down to my heel after laying my leg across the chairs for nearly four minutes. As Samantha counted, I squinted my eyes and examined the crowd, turning my head as if I were a surveillance camera. My eyes collected eyes, noses, and ears- piecing them together in hopes of assembling my teammates. I had one mission: find the rest of the Excalibur.

“Oh!” Samantha exclaimed, “we need one more. One for Kaitlin, Jonathan, Professor Nevans-Locke, you, Diego, Leslie, Vimbainashe and me, of course! I almost forgot a chair for me! Eight.”

She threw her head back and laughed, a contrast to the scene around us. Groans and complaints sprouted from frantic seat-takers. I gave up my search and tuned into a conversation between a woman and a hotel staff member. It was a hectic scene. I watched as her tongue slapped aside the rouge of her lipstick, a complaint rose from her lips, her words rapping along the rhythm she created with her hands.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to claim seats-” she cut herself off with a sudden clap of her hands, “Ah! What happened to first come, first serve?”

 As I eavesdropped, I began to think of everyone who couldn’t get a spot. Was I inconsiderate to make my way towards the front to want my team to get a personal view of Woodward and Bernstein? Was I selfish to immediately claim a series of chairs with my belongings and my body? I thought of the poor speaker in the session before the conference’s guest speaker session. I had left the session 10 minutes before it ended to beeline to the ballroom.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted. Kaitlin tapped my shoulder indicating the arrival of one member of the Excalibur. After her, Diego followed, then the Professor, then the rest of our team. After fifteen minutes of waiting, we secured our spot. So now, the waiting game begins. As the hectic affair between chairs and journalists came to an end, the loud chatter died into a buzz. Those who were not seated were led to the doorway of the ballroom, to view from the entry doorway. Those who sat on the floor were swiftly exited, their attempts to stay ignored.

Kaitlin, Diego, Leslie and I glanced at each other. Apart from me, they were the staff photographers for the Excalibur. My mission was renewed, more so, it was a team mission: take photos of the guest speakers.

Five of the 12 photographers that had gathered in front of Woodward and Bernstein, keenly listen to the guest speaker’s discussion. Discussed were memories and personal opinions that varied from the Watergate Scandal to Woodward’s recently published book, The Trump Tapes Photo credit, Jada Hoffman

We were the first to make it to the front of the stage. No other photographer had gotten up until we had made the carpet floor a makeshift photo pit. From our location, we were front and center, three feet from the one and only. I watched from my peripheral as five other student photographers from different newspapers joined us. I embodied the movement of a duck as I crawled across the floor. An overwhelming amount of eagerness, similar to the eagerness of finding the Excalibur’s seating, filled me. I watched as Kaitlin took photos of Woodward. Diego shifted his body to take photos of the crowd. Leslie chose to take photos from her seat. We were capturing all angles to tell a visual story of the event, a force of true photojournalism.

As I sat on the carpet floor amongst eight other photographers, I looked around and I felt my heart swell. In the midst of the clicking of shutter sounds and intense focus, my shoulders dropped, and my jaw untightened. I rested my chin on my camera and relaxed. I felt myself smile as Bernstein smiled. I felt as if I belonged.