By Hannah Gebresilassie
Up until two days ago, I thought I would be in Georgia covering Super Bowl LI action in the streets of Atlanta. Instead, I’m in route to Texas with an opportunity to cover the action from the streets of Houston, and maybe from inside NRG Stadium.
How did I get here? Let’s rewind.
I’m still coming down from my high two weeks ago of working the NFC championship game in my hometown ATL. It was the very last game to ever be played at the Georgia Dome, and I was on the sideline to watch the 44-21 victory over Green Bay that sent the Falcons out a winner and straight to Super Bowl LI.
I was working as a game day photographer for the Falcons event marketing department, snapping pictures on and off the field. I captured everything from players and coaches to ecstatic fans in red and black and to depressed cheese heads. From Ludacris, Jeezy and Jermaine Dupri at halftime to confetti dispersing above the NFC champions and their loved ones afterward, I got to see it all through my camera lens.
Every shot was intentional — the framing, the depth, the lighting, the focus, the rule of thirds. A lot of those skills I learned at Medill.
Memories flowed through my head from the last time Atlanta hosted the NFC championship game in 2012. That was my first season working on the game day crew for the Falcons.
Atlanta lost that game, and I remember going into our ops locker room afterward. The room sits next door to the visiting team locker room, and some of the walls are thin. As we packed our bags for the last time that season, we heard the music blast from bumping speakers next door:
“I’m in my zone, I’m feeling it. Stop blowing my buzz, quit killing it … WE STILL IN THIS.”
The San Francisco 49ers were celebrating, and it hurt. That was the most vivid memory for me.
Five years later, we were standing in the same ops locker room. This time, we were celebrating., popping champagne, hugging and jumping, smiling and Snapchatting away. This time, it was next door that was silent.
— Hannah Gebresilassie (@hannahjoyGee) January 24, 2017
— Hannah Gebresilassie (@hannahjoyGee) January 24, 2017
I first got involved with the Falcons thanks to my former boss at Do Restaurant in Atlanta. As a server at the time, he asked me what I wanted to do in life. I told him I wanted to work in sports. It turned out he worked closely with the Falcons in production and referred me. LESSON #1: YOU NEVER KNOW WHO’S WATCHING YOU AND WHERE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WILL TAKE YOU.
After I graduated from Georgia Tech in 2014, I worked as the event marketing assistant for the 2014-15 Falcons season. It was my work in that position and with the Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball team that helped me realize I wanted to tell stories of people overcoming long odds, including athletes. I would look out across a field or court and think, “every single person in this dome or arena has a story, and I want to tell it.”
Then Medill happened.
I got my master’s degree in Summer 2016 and had the privilege to represent our class as the graduation speaker. That’s where I spoke a lot about rejection and failure leading to growth. And the principles couldn’t apply more today than they did then. The reason I say that is because two days ago, I didn’t think I’d be traveling to Houston for the Super Bowl.
During the past week, I got in touch with a friend and former Falcons player, Chris Draft. He now runs the Chris Draft Family Foundation in honor of his late wife. The foundation advocates for the fight against lung cancer and is involved in several events at the Super Bowl. I put it out there and said I wanted to get involved. I mentioned I could be the designated photographer during the community-driven weekend with survivors. He said yes, and now here I am. LESSON #2: PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE.
I currently work as the News Trainee at FOX 5 Atlanta. A good friend and producer referred me for the position and one thing led to the next. LESSON #3: IT HELPS TO HAVE PEOPLE IN LIFE WHO GENUINELY CARE ABOUT YOUR FUTURE, AND THE WAY YOU FIND THEM IS TO GENUINELY CARE ABOUT THEIR FUTURE.
Oftentimes, a trainee in a top market like Atlanta can be viewed as a small fish in a big pond. I think that’s a mindset, and I don’t believe it. In the last week, I’ve had three stories published on FOX 5 Atlanta’s web outlets, not to mention a couple stories that ran on-air as VOSOTS. LESSON #4: WORK THE WAY YOU WANT YOUR WORK TO BE TREATED.
Juggling three jobs and averaging four hours of sleep a night the past couple weeks has been a whirlwind. I say vent if you need to, but make no excuses. LESSON #5: CONTROL WHAT’S IN YOUR CONTROL, SPECIFICALLY YOUR ATTITUDE AND WORK ETHIC.
One thing I appreciate about working in local news is that I can openly support the hometown team. I mention that because I know it usually isn’t typical to strongly favor a team while working within sports media.
I came into Medill wanting to be a sports reporter, but my path shifted thanks to the opportunities I got while in school.
I reported in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
I worked on a documentary on the Chinese diaspora in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I covered the 2016 NFL Draft and the Democratic National Convention
Medill helped shape me into the multifaceted reporter I am today. My next goal is to become an on-air reporter and cover stories on individuals from all walks of life.
Students, I would encourage you to get out of your comfort zones. Wake up every morning and chase stories freely and boldly for the simple fact that you want to be a vessel for someone else’s experience.
To my fellow video journalists – become a one-man-band. Report, shoot and edit, all while looking glamorous in your stand-up. Especially with the way the industry is going, you better come ready.
Lastly, find out what your weaknesses are and work on them. LESSON #6: BE RECEPTIVE TO FEEDBACK, BUT NEVER LET IT DIMINISH YOUR SPIRIT.
This will be my first time covering a Super Bowl, and I believe my journey has prepared me for this moment. Yours will too, if you let it.
You can follow Hannah on Twitter and Instagram at @hannahjoygee for updates throughout the weekend