One day during my freshman year, I was sitting in the McCormick Foundation Center during an introductory journalism course where different professors would come in and give us a cursory overview of different sectors in the industry: digital, broadcast television and magazines. But the lecture that day was the one I had been waiting weeks for: radio.
As a teenager I would lounge around my room and listen to the long personal narratives and scientific musings of This American Life and Radiolab. I was podcast-obsessed from the age of 14, and finally I was going to get an inside look into this world that felt so familiar but mysterious. Professor Cecilia Vaisman stood at the podium and began to talk about herself, and with each detail she disclosed, my jaw dropped lower and lower. Her parents were Argentine Jews; my parents are Argentine Jews. She wanted to work in radio while she was a college student, and I was already dreaming of it then.
It felt like I was looking at an older version of myself. After class I went up to her and practically shouted, “I am you!” in her face. Thankfully she was not weirded out, and while I never ended up in Professor Vaisman’s class, she ended up being the most influential professor I knew during my time at Northwestern.
When it was time to decide where I wanted to go for my Journalism Residency, I went to her office and told her that I really wanted to do something in public radio. She asked me what programs I was interested in, and right after my first suggestion, Latino USA, she told me to stop. The host of Latino USA, Maria Hinojosa, happened to be her dear friend. Suddenly I was off to New York City to work for one of my favorite shows.
It was thrilling. I was cutting together short stories that were actually making it onto national radio. The office was fun and bubbly, with Spanish and English floating around everywhere as people hustled hard on their scripts and edits. I went back for my final quarter at Northwestern, wishing I would find a job that felt so comfortable and vibrant. And then I got a call toward the end of the quarter with an offer to be an associate producer on the show. I was in shock. I had landed my dream job right out of college.
When I told Professor Vaisman, she gave me a big hug. At this point she was wearing head wraps. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew she was ill, but I did not know the extent to which she was suffering. In my eyes, she was made of steel. Not only did she hide her pain, but she was also ruthless when it came to feedback. She would send me detailed notes on why my stories weren’t working. And frankly, she was always right.
A year and three months after I graduated, Professor Vaisman passed away. Maria Hinojosa and I cried in each other’s arms. I was devastated and somewhat confused. I was also awestruck by how someone who was that sick could still go to such great lengths to help me.
There are many times I wish I could email or call her for advice. I have been working at Latino USA for four years. I get to do what I dreamed of doing as a freshman. I am grateful for Northwestern and how it allowed me to meet someone who, while our time together was brief, ended up guiding my whole career.
Antonia Cereijido ’14 is a producer with Latino USA and NPR.
As a close friend of Cecilia's — Professor Vaisman, to her students — I knew full well how very much the cancer had taken over nearly every facet of her existence. There was a line, though, that she refused to let the cancer cross: She would not let the cancer steal away the depth of her connection to her beautiful family, nor to her students. I remember being jaw-dropped as she would lie on her couch, too depleted to sit or to stand, headphones on, listening, editing her students' radio stories. I knew that in between rounds of chemo and all the other assaults that cancer brings, she still made appointments to meet with her students, and drove up to campus, to sit across the table, to look in their eyes, to not step away. She lived to embrace the passions of her students, to sow the seeds of brilliant radio journalism. Antonia Cereijido's beautiful essay captures that rarest devotion. May her work — and her stories, now and to come — stir the ripples in the world that Ceci so believed in.
—Barbara Mahany ’82 MS, Wilmette, Ill., via Northwestern Magazine
So sorry for your loss. You're part of her legacy though, which is brilliant. — @NyawiraNjoroge
—Nyawira Njoroge via Twitter
Wonderful tribute. She was a star. — @SeanLavery
—Sean Lavery ’14 via Twitter