Manley: Cherubs is a growing Northwestern community that’s cultivating a love for journalism

Emma Manley, Op-ed Contributor

My parents know exactly where Fisk Hall is located, because I point it out to them every time we pass by. I’ve lived in Chicago for almost half my life, and I recently moved to Evanston, so Northwestern has been on my mind for a while. It wasn’t until this summer, though,  the school defined part of my summer — and possibly the next four years of my life — rather than just a bunch of buildings near my house. 

This summer, I participated in the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, colloquially called the Cherubs program. I’ve proudly told practically everyone I’ve ever met, as well as all my Twitter followers, that I am a Medill Cherub. The program, which usually runs on campus, was fully online this year, but it’s made me feel more connected to NU than I’ve ever felt, even living three miles away. The collaborative and inclusive community that NU touts on its website became tangible in the lessons I learned from NU students, alumni and professors. The program showed me that journalism is at the intersection of community, hard work and fun — the place I want to be.

Cherubs was entirely virtual this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Despite being anywhere from three to 10,000 miles away from campus, we Cherubs were told on the first day that for four weeks, we were college students. We were told to follow the “Medill brand” to work ethically and act responsibly. We were warned about Medill Fs, which one of my friends ended up receiving. 

We learned about the basics of journalistic writing, broadcast journalism, magazine writing, photojournalism, interviewing and leadership. We had the opportunity to speak with professional journalists, whom I learned were more than just a byline. We bonded over everything from debating journalistic ethics to meeting the pets of other Cherubs during the second annual pet parade. 

Though we didn’t get a taste of dorm life or Allison Dining Hall food, I still feel so connected to NU. It’s a stronger connection than anything physical, because I bonded with the people of NU. Through Zoom calls and group chats, I found 130 other teenagers around the world who are just as obsessed with journalism as I am, and I met Medill students with whom I could see myself fitting in someday. 

We weren’t physically in the NU community, but we were part of it digitally. On Twitter, former Cherubs and current students have liked my tweets and even reached out to me. Roger Boye’s celebration for 50 years directing the program included hundreds of Cherubs across the decades. Age, location and alma maters separate us, but Cherubs brought us together. 

Being the only Evanstonian in this year’s Cherubs class, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with a dozen other Cherubs and a few of the instructors. Though I didn’t get the whole on-campus experience, I’ve been able to get a drink from Norbucks and walk around the Lakefill while discussing breaking news conferences and AP style. 

Cherubs assignments also brought me closer to Evanston. The pandemic kept me indoors, but I walked around (and got a little lost) in my neighborhood during my photojournalism assignment. I got to know my neighbors a little better while conducting interviews for an article about vaccines. I met a neighbor who taught for 25 years at a local elementary school and another who teaches at NU as an adjunct. On the last day of Cherubs, instructor Bret Begun (Medill ’98) said, “Everything good leads back to Cherubs,” and it seems that everything leads back to NU, too. 

The classes and assignments showed me the work I hope to do in college, but the program as a whole showed me the community I hope to find. I’ve spent longer than I’d like to admit browsing NU’s website, but my experience during Cherubs did more to sell me on the university than a video, brochure, or college visit could ever do. I’m a little wary about college admissions mottos, but Cherubs lived up to “AND is in our DNA.” The assignments were rigorous and fun. The instructors were professional and personal. As Cherubs, we’re part of our high school community. Now we’re part of the Northwestern community.

Emma Manley is a senior at Francis W. Parker School. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.