DEENA ADEL EID, Journalist, Al Masry al Youm and Egypt Independent Newspapers, Cairo, Egypt
2013-2014 Visiting Fulbright Student, Columbia University, New York, U.S.A.
Meeting Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Let me tell you about one of the most surreal days of my life. My name was called out; I walked on stage in front of a crowd that included the likes of Robert De Niro, Zooey Deschanel and Barbara Walters. I was hugged by Michelle Obama, then shook hands with the President of the United States, who told me he was “very proud” of me, then cracked a joke with Joel McHale.
Deena Adel greeted by President and Mrs. Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
“Breathe. Take it all in,” Major Garrett from CBS News told me as he firmly shook hands with me. I walked off stage to a smiling crowd. “Congratulations!” a woman told me as I walked back to my seat. “Thanks!” I replied before realizing this woman was the movie star Kristen Bell.
Last year, I was in my room in Cairo watching YouTube clips about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner; dreaming of attending it one day. Was I still dreaming? When I saw photographic evidence of my encounter with Mr. & Mrs. Obama, I realized I wasn’t.
The truth is dreams do come true, if you work hard enough. Last month, at least three of my dreams did: I graduated with a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University; I lived in New York City (the capital of the world) for a year; and not only did I go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but I also received an award at the event and I got to meet Mr. Barack Obama himself.
In May 2013, I got a phone call that changed my life. I was at a conference in Cairo when my phone rang. It was the Fulbright Commission letting me know that I received the grant that would send me to my dream city to attend my dream school: Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
It was a wonderful, enriching, surreal, magical and, by far, the most exciting year of my life. Make no mistake about it; getting this degree was anything but effortless.
We all boast about our accomplishments and share our shiny, smiley photos; however, you rarely ever see behind-the-scenes. Let me tell you about the exhausting times, the sleepless nights, the stressful days (so stressful, in fact, that I collapsed and had to be taken to the ER during finals week), the hundreds of emails, the daily deadlines and the re-writes of the re-writes. I’m not going to lie; there were days that I wanted to give up because of how challenging everything was, but I didn’t.
I didn’t because I couldn’t. I haven’t been just working hard in my classes throughout the year; I worked even harder to get here. It took me three years of hard work, tough career decisions and reporting on the ground when everyone else avoided the streets. It took me multiple rounds of tear gas, speaking to victims of abuse, attending trials of strangers and friends, witnessing inhumane violence, dealing with hostile crowds, dozens of applications, rejection letters and more work, draining and exhausting persistence.
Obtaining the Fulbright grant was my proof that when you work hard, you will be rewarded.
I guess what I’m trying to say is dream big, work harder. Because here I am: one year later, in a reality that far exceeded my dreams. I met the most brilliant people, had the most riveting conversations, laughed about things I never knew existed and yes! I shook hands with the most powerful man in the world.
Thank you again and again, Fulbright.
Deena Adel Eid was born and raised in Cairo where she worked as a journalist for three years. She has reported for several Egyptian and international news outlets including AlMasry AlYoum, the Daily Beast, and the Washington Post. She received a Fulbright Student grant in AY 2013-2014 and graduated in May 2014 with a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York. On May 3, 2014, Ms. Eid received an award at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. She returned to Egypt where she hopes to contribute to media reform and help establish the highest journalistic standards and ethics.