Photojournalist encourages cherubs to “keep in flight”

Medill cherubs in the front row of auditorium speak to a man in a cargo jacket.

Cherubs speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John White. Pictured from left to right are John White, Eileen Chen, Allison Lin, Ilana Arougheti, Grace Deng, Linda Shi and Nathalie Stein. Photo by Abby Banks

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John H. White delivered cherubs’ final guest lecture, affirming the value of journalism and empowering each to “keep in flight.”

White displayed more than 100 of his award-winning photographs that captured moments of humanity, some featuring Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela and other notable figures. But White only used his photos as a springboard for a larger discussion about the meaning of photojournalism.

“There’s a story in everything,” he said, presenting a photograph of a broken window. “There’s an image in everything. There’s a lesson in everything.”

While previous guest speakers explained their own journalism careers or life stories, Angela Liu of Palo Alto, California, said White’s presentation felt more personal. Even before his lecture, he greeted cherubs individually, asking each questions from their name to their aspirations.

“It was really casual and heart to heart,” said Liu. “It was less of a lecture and more of a conversation. You could tell he really cared about what he was saying.”

The personal nature of White’s actions carried through his presentation as he flipped through images from ballerinas to running horses, telling cherubs that their pursuit of journalism matters.

“You are the most important people in the world,” said the 73-year-old, long-time Chicago Sun-Times photojournalist. “You make an impact on history. What you think and do is very important and you have a voice. Everyone has a story, and if we don’t capture those stories, who’s going to do that?”

White’s words especially resonated with Caitlin Limestahl of Sevierville, Tennessee, who said she cried when she heard his optimism for the profession.

“I’ve had doubts if I want to do this as a career, and when he talked about the humanity so much, that affirmed why I want to do this,” said Limestahl. “This has meaning. It’s not just another job.”

White also left cherubs with advice not only for journalism but for life, encouraging each to do his or her best to serve others.

“Stay focused on what really matters,” he said. “You have good wings. You must live your dreams, but it’s not all about you.”

Passionate about supporting younger generations, White left each cherub with a photograph of a seagull soaring through a rainbow, hand signed with “Keep In Flight” in the bottom left-hand corner. The photojournalist also gave cherubs pins with the same message.

“It just meant a lot that he believed in us so much,” said Limestahl. “He’s seen the things that his work has done and the lives that it has changed, and he inspired people to do the same and make those differences.”