Confession: I haven't been to a single class this week.
But I promise, my excuse is pretty good. For the past four days I've been in Denver, Colorado, joining 14,999 of my closest friends as a member of the credentialed press for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
In that time I've interviewed delegates and recorded speeches. I've watched protesters rally against abortion and meat and the illegality of marijuana. I've gawked shamelessly at celebrities and almost been run over by Walter Mondale's car.
But I think I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let me tell you how I got here.
Last semester I interned for the news department at North Carolina Public Radio. As it turns out, local public radio is not the world's most well-funded enterprise. So when my boss heard I was from Denver, he asked if I'd be interested in attending the Democratic National Convention as the station's correspondent. It was a win-win. The station got some 40 hours of unpaid labor and I scored something I'd never guessed was possible for a 19-year old student journalist: a full-access press pass.
As a college student, at first I felt like something of an imposter in the press briefings and media work rooms of the DNC. While I set up camp amidst people twice my age in the press lounge, I kept looking around nervously. I thought someone was going to figure me out, realize that I was nothing more than an over-earnest kid with a tape recorder. And then, I imagined, they'd take away my flashy orange pass and I'd be gone for good.
But luckily it didn't play out that way. Instead, I was treated just like any other journalist. They let me backstage and into special media lounges. I was allowed to wander around on the convention floor to interview delegates and given advance copies of each evening's speeches that were labeled "EMBARGOED" to remind us not to publish any excerpts before the speech was actually delivered.
All around me, the convention swirled with the excitement of thousands of the Democrats' most ardent supporters. Hour after hour, night after night, the Democratic party's rock-stars-from Hillary Clinton to Al Gore to Edward Kennedy-delivered resounding calls for change and a new beginning for a country that has spent the last eight years under a Republican presidency. And the speeches were broken up with music on the convention floor, sending the delegates dancing into the aisles as they waved American flags and Obama posters. I'll say one thing, the Democrats definitely know how to throw a party.
But inside the press rooms, the mood was more subdued. Rows of people hunched over their computer screens, typing away with such frantic seriousness that I sometimes wondered if they wanted to be there at all.
There were times, though, when even the journalists couldn't contain themselves. As Barack Obama unexpectedly joined Joe Biden on the stage after his speech Wednesday evening, a gasp rippled through the quiet room and two hundred heads swiveled almost in unison to face the television screens in the corner. And when Obama briefly veered away from his prepared remarks Thursday night, people exchanged looks of surprise and the woman next to me hissed, what's he doing?
As for me, I wondered if portraying my enthusiasm was a mark of my inexperience. Would a New York Times reporter cheer on the convention floor? Was taking snapshots of celebrities the mark of a total amateur? But here's my full disclosure: If snapping a photo of Dennis Kucinich scarfing down a plate of fries is wrong, I don't want to be right.
And I have an even fuller disclosure: I had a great time this week. The work was grinding and at times chaotic. I came home every night so exhausted I could barely find the energy to brush my teeth. But there's an amazing opportunity that journalism affords you, and that's the chance to go places you don't belong, talk to people you don't know and tell stories about the world as you see it. For four days, I immersed myself completely in that life. And now I think I may never want to leave.
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