Before this summer I did not know how much one woman had paved the path for me in the world of journalism. Helen Thomas, who passed away at age 92 on Saturday, was a trailblazer that left her indelible mark on political journalism. I have owned her 1999 autobiography, “Front Row at the White House,” since I was a freshman in high school. However, it was just this summer that I set aside time to read it and soak in all the lessons.
And how glad I am that I did that.
Ms. Thomas held all the characteristics of dedicated and influential journalism: she was tough, she was adamant, she was inquisitive and she was passionate. In her autobiography she demonstrated these traits time and time again through her recollections. In her front row seat in the White House briefing room she was always the one to ask the first question and was designated as the journalist who closed the session with her iconic phrase, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Since the Kennedy administration she has held our highest-ranking officials accountable. She has gotten to know them on a personal level, which gave her a deeper understanding of their policies and motivations.
Yet her autobiography did not just tell the stories of our most recent presidents. She took the experiences, setbacks and victories of our First Ladies into account as well. While reading the book I my perspectives on some of the First Ladies that I thought I understood well and had already built my biases about shifted and, sometimes even, fell away.
By reading this book I was better able to see my role in journalism. As a woman journalist, I am forever indebted to Ms. Thomas. In an era when women were expected to marry and leave their jobs behind after marriage, Thomas showed that a woman’s contribution could extend far pass the household and leave an impact on the world.
And the world Ms. Thomas traveled. She flew from country to country following each president. One of her most memorable trips she talked about in the book was the on in 1972 to China with Nixon — the trip that opened up China to the Western world once more. As a budding journalist who has been given the opportunity to travel to China as a guest of former President Hu Jintao of China I connected with her feelings of wonder and amazement. It truly is a blessing and an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Ms. Thomas reminded me that though journalism is a calling and not just a profession (due to the incredibly long hours one must dedicate to the career), it is one of the most necessary callings in our democracy. Questions must be asked of our politicians. Events must be documented to give a picture of what our world looks like. This is what journalists do. But furthermore, Ms. Thomas showed me that barriers must be broken down to offer new perspectives to history. She was the first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association. My dream is to one day attend the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Because of Ms. Thomas my dream can be materialized.
It’s not everyday that a door is opened and I’m just grateful that Ms. Thomas opened countless doors for me to pursue my passion in journalism.