My Sister, the Graduate.

My little sister graduated from college this week. We went down to celebrate graduation with her. We filed into the school’s basketball arena on Thursday. We sat and watch the processional. An orchestra played. A Dean spoke. Hands clapped, and parents ‘Woo-Hoo!’-ed, and mostly, we just sat, unbelievably proud of my little sister.

Now, she didn’t think much of her graduation. We’re Jewish kids from the suburbs who get to go on week-long ski trips — we’re not exactly the kind of college graduates who’ve had to overcome long odds. I said it when I graduated, and my sister said the same thing after hers.

But I remember a conversation we had three years ago. My sister called me, in tears. She was having a tough semester. She’d felt resistance — from her classes, from her peers. She felt isolated and lost, and she called asking for help.

I remember feeling a tremendous responsibility. I’d been called upon for brotherly support, and I remember reaching back to a place I didn’t know I could go to give her the only advice I think I’ve ever really believed:

Go out and find the things you love and the people you love, and be with them as much as you can.

Fast forward to the close of the graduation ceremony on Thursday. I was holding the camera, and my sister started dragging me through the crowd. She wanted a photo with this friend, and that friend, and this family. Hugs and kisses. Some English, and some Spanish, and even a bit of Swahili. Enough moments to put a Kodak executive’s family through college.

My mother looked at me — my mother, the lady who knows everyone, the lady who can, has and will start conversations with complete strangers in the bathroom — and said, “Your sister knows everyone.”

I was about as proud as a brother could be. We started hearing stories about how my sister had met all these people. Turns out my sister had thrown herself into everything — clubs and sports and classes, and she’d made some incredible friends.

She’d figured out college.

Because there’s a little secret about undergraduate life. They don’t tell you this when you’re reaching for the Ivies, or when you’re cramming for SATs, or when you’re being schooled in the differences between early action and early decision.

College isn’t about the classes. If you’re lucky, for four years, it’s a place to try. College is four years to try things that you won’t have time to try once you’re old, four years to experiment, four years to grow. Four years to find the stuff you love and the people you love.

You’re right, El. We don’t have the Hollywood story. You’re right: we expected you to graduate from college.

But you found something else at college, El. And for finding it, we couldn’t be prouder.

The Very Exciting Thing That Is About To Happen To Me (or: M-I-Z).

This post was originally published over on Stry. It’s actually a speech that I intended to give in Columbia, Mo., last week. I didn’t know I was supposed to give a speech, and then I decided to read the itinerary of events I’d been sent, and saw very clearly the words “Dan Oshinsky” and “five-minute speech” linked together, and suddenly, hastily, began writing. Turned out that they decided to not have me speak — wise move on their part, I should say — but I’ve regurgitated the vague outline of my would-be speech here:

Motion is kind of an amazing thing.

I feel like I should know. I went skydiving last week.

I’m not exactly the skydiving type. I’d never been skydiving before, or bungee jumping, or heliskiing, or anything that involved a significant amount of free fall. I’m also not a fan of heights. So you can guess how strange it must have been for me to be sitting on the floor of a four-seat Cessna, 10,000 feet above Warrenton, Va., strapped to a guy named Dave — white hair, white eyebrows, used-to-be-a-roadie-in-Joplin, Mo., Dave — when the door to the plane opened, and I looked down.

And I surrendered.

Surrendered to the overwhelming, crippling fear, for one. But also to Dave, because he was literally harnessed to my back, and he was going to throw me out of the plane whether I was ready or not, and he was also the guy who controlled the parachute, which meant that he would be deciding whether or not we landed.(1)

I surrendered. We jumped.

I was thinking about that last week. I think there are two types of media organizations out there: Those willing to surrender to the current media climate and move forward, and those that aren’t.

It is not enough to merely acknowledge that things have changed for newsrooms and news organizations. Some fight what’s happening, some fear it.

Some surrender.

That’s the smart choice.

One type of new media organization gets me especially excited these days: The startup. These are organizations that sense opportunity, chance, uncertainty — and are putting themselves in motion to chase their ambitions. I find that to be a remarkable thing.

So this year, I’m going to get a bit closer to them.

The University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) has invited me out to Columbia, Mo., in the fall to serve as a fellow.(2) For a year, I’ll be studying news-centric startups, trying to catalog the choices, successes and failures made during their early stages. I’ll be applying those lessons to Stry, the startup I founded last fall in Biloxi, Miss.

Despite all the success I had in Biloxi, Stry has been idling since the fall. RJI is giving me the chance to kick-start Stry once again. During the course of my fellowship, I’m going to try to take Stry from concept to realization. The goal is to build out an organization that can begin reporting and syndicating stories starting in the spring of 2012.

Better yet is that I’m going to try to bring transparency to the process. I’m going to put Stry inside the fishbowl for others to watch and participate in the startup process. My successes, my failures — they’ll all be public.

My hope is that by opening up the process, we can give other could-be founders the chance to see how challenging the startup process can be. If we do it right, we’ll give them the chance to start their company at a place greater than zero.

Do that, and we give them the chance to put their company into motion faster.

And motion — motion is kind of an amazing thing.

photo at top by Dak Dillon

  1. Well, safely, at least.
  2. The list of former fellows is long and distinguished, and I am not entirely sure how I now find myself among their ranks.