I wasn’t supposed to go to Northwestern. I don’t say that in a whimsical or serendipitous way. I mean, I never knew I could go to a school that would help me pursue a career in journalism.
I was supposed to be a doctor. Or at least that’s what I was supposed to want to be. As a first-generation Haitian American, there were only a handful of careers my Caribbean family deemed acceptable: doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher. Journalist certainly wasn’t one of them.
So when my junior year English teacher at Chattahoochee High School, just outside Atlanta, told me I’d be doing the world a disservice if I didn’t write for a living, I had no idea where to start. I remember coming across Northwestern in my research and falling in love with the beautiful campus and the proximity to the beach, and the vibrant and engaged student community appealed to me.
And when I stepped on campus, it immediately felt like home. It didn’t take long for me to feel at ease on campus, especially within the small but close-knit Black community. I joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and became an active member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and For Members Only. But attending a primarily white institution wasn’t always comfortable for me as a Black student.
As an undergraduate, it was all too common to hear about, or personally experience, racism on campus, whether it was a frat party where someone wore blackface, or a campus alert where the suspect was loosely described as a Black male, or a Black student being asked to show a Wildcard to prove they attended the University. I quickly learned that the Black student experience was very different from any other. And that’s when I realized how badly I wanted — and needed — to tell Black stories.
My dream to share the full breadth of the Black experience was fostered at Northwestern. Professors like Ava Thompson Greenwell ’84, ’85 MS, ’14 PhD and Charles Whitaker ’80, ’81 MS (now dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications) nurtured my curiosity and challenged me to always dig deeper. Writing for BlackBoard, the Black student magazine, gave me the opportunity to both do what I loved and become better at it. The time I spent telling my community’s stories on campus only further equipped me to tell Black stories globally.
After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in 2010 and my master’s degree in 2011, I went on to tell impactful Black stories about the investigation into the shootings of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. I worked with ESPN and Netflix to help them serve Black audiences more deeply. I’ve fought for a seat at the table to ensure publications present a more holistic perspective on the Black experience and tell Black stories more fully.
In retrospect, I not only fell in love with Northwestern, I learned what I loved to do. Medill helped instill within me the drive to succeed in an ever-changing industry. Charles Whitaker, my mentor, recently invited me back to campus to share my story with students. I returned to the places where I once worked and studied, dreaming of leading a Black publication. And today that’s exactly what I’m doing as executive editor and vice president of content at Essence magazine.
When I look back, Northwestern is exactly where I was always supposed to be.
Danielle Cadet ’10, ’11 MS is executive editor and vice president of content at Essence magazine.