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Last October, three of Dynahlee Star Padilla’s longtime friends came down from New York City to visit her in Virginia. They planned for a fun Halloween weekend to spend time together and catch up. Padilla, a new transplant to Virginia, was excited to see her friends.
They watched the survival thriller “Crawl” and indulged on candy corn, Sour Patch Kids and pumpkin scones. They dressed up. They visited a farm. And, as close friends do, they caught up on their lives and budding careers and dreams.
By the end of the weekend, Padilla’s friends pointed out the obvious: she sounded very unhappy in her new job. It was her first full-time position in journalism, a field she’s been enamored with since she was about 7 years old, watching PIX11 News with her parents.
“I realized ‘Yeah, that’s not good,’” recalled Padilla, now 24. “They probably are tired of hearing me talk their ear off about this, and I really need to do something about it.”
Last spring — just months after the coronavirus pandemic began spreading throughout the U.S. — Padilla’s fiance was accepted into a federal police academy. The couple left all they knew and relocated to Alexandria, Virginia.
Padilla was determined more than ever to find a full-time reporter job since graduating in May 2019 with a journalism degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz. Back home, the South Bronx native said she only found rejection after rejection when seeking work, and ended up in a freelance writing/marketing position at a community hospital in Brooklyn.
In Virginia, she found a posting about a copy editor position at Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, a Fairfax-based biweekly newsmagazine dedicated to diversity issues in higher education, and a communications associate position with GoFundMe. The offer from Diverse came first, and Padilla said she was asked if she’d be interested in another role that also opened up: assistant editor. A thrilled Padilla accepted.
“I honestly couldn’t believe that, after all this time, I got a full-time job in the field of journalism in a different state — not even my hometown,” she said. “Which was, again, pleasantly surprising and also a blessing given that we were in a pandemic and I was able to seize opportunities and still find journalism even after, in some cases, all the ‘trouble.’”
She began her new job in mid-September 2020. Padilla was given a work laptop and other equipment to work from home because the pandemic had forced her magazine to go remote. Over long stretches on Zoom, Padilla said her new boss taught her the back end of the magazine website, how to write in their style, and more.
“I think it was just an overload of information for my first day, and that’s why I did feel overwhelmed,” she said.
In the next few weeks, Padilla said she became increasingly stressed. She began having trouble sleeping. She was alone in her apartment because her fiance had to leave for Georgia to train for three months. Her mind was also in New York, thinking of her parents who had contracted COVID-19. She felt isolated in an unfamiliar state, with no family or friends, and in a job that — like millions around the country — was forced to turn remote because of the pandemic.
“Pretty much every time I went into a story, it made me more stressed and upset than excited to do it,” she said. “I said, ‘This can’t be right.’”
Before Thanksgiving, Padilla worked up the courage to call her boss and tell him she was leaving the company. She thanked him for the opportunity, and shared what she had been going through over the past month that was compounded by the pandemic. Padilla didn’t give her two-week notice, which she said she felt terrible about. But after the call, she said she felt a wave of relief.
As a student at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Padilla rose up the ranks and became a station manager at the student-run TV station, WNPC-TV. She first dreamed of becoming a broadcast reporter, then later focused on a future in features reporting.
“I had this whole idea that my first job in journalism was going to be the one that was going to continue to build me up,” she said. “And it wasn’t.”
Had it not been for the pandemic, Padilla thinks her experience would have been different. She pictured herself in a newsroom, knocking on colleagues’ doors to discuss story ideas and share contacts for sources.
In the months since Padilla left her assistant editor position, she landed another job where she drew from the reporting skills she’d learned in college. She now works at the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. As a communications associate, she assists in drafting Noorani’s Notes, the organization’s daily immigration newsletter.
Padilla said she remains a journalist at heart because she still writes articles and asks people questions. This new role doesn’t change the fact that she majored in journalism, she added.
“I’m grateful that I’m in communications because I can still be a journalist without even having the title. I still am doing really impactful work. I’m still telling people’s stories. I’m meeting the reporters in the space of immigration,” Padilla said. “It’s actually been really good to know that being a journalist is not the be-all, end-all for me in my career. I can always go back if I really wanted to.”