When Jair Hilburn’s mother named him, she gave him a Hebrew name meaning “light” or “he shines.” And she told him, growing up, that he was meant to be a good energy in the world.
“Langston Hughes said that a mother names her child after what she aspires them to be,” Hilburn says now. “So, I want to stay on track and do the work I’m supposed to do.”
And that work, Hilburn believes, will center on journalism.
Hilburn served as editor-in-chief of The Maroon Tiger for the last two years of his college career, but he didn’t attend Morehouse to study journalism. He had decided on a major in international relations early on, but had been interested in journalism since high school.
“One of my teachers said if I liked writing I should take the journalism class,” he recalled. “The more she taught us about what it was, the more I fell in love with it. She let me join the newspaper, and that’s where I learned to do layout and photography, so it piqued different interests for me.”
On Sunday, Dec. 13 Hilburn, who completed his academic requirements in June, will join the Class of 2020 in Morehouse College’s online Commencement. The Morehouse scholar is looking forward to starting a promising career as a journalist.
Hilburn joined The Maroon Tiger staff at Morehouse, and as he moved up the aspiring writer learned more about such things as videography, social media, budgeting, and rebranding. “I wanted to be a writer but I loved producing stories and making game plans for what we needed to do,” he said.
The Maroon Tiger, and the editor’s position, eventually became a big part of campus life for the young man from a small Southern town. And Hilburn took great pride and satisfaction in continuing the tradition of a publication dating back to 1898 (originally as The Athenaeum).
After Kobe Bryant died tragically last Jan. 26, for example, The Maroon Tiger staff did something special to mark the athlete’s passing. Hilburn was the editor at the time, and he remembers getting butterflies in his stomach when he saw a student reading the issue, in memoriam, that he had worked so hard to produce.
“When I saw someone with it in his hands, I felt touched by it because we were able to capture something that was so momentous for someone else,” he said.
Growing up in Kilgore, Texas, Hilburn hadn’t seen many people who looked like him delivering the news. But Morehouse gave him the opportunity to envision a career in journalism. Hilburn also credits Morehouse with showing him that that he could be smart, intellectual, spiritually aligned, and multifaceted.
“It allows you the opportunity to be more than what your major is,” he said. “At Morehouse, no matter what you’re going for, you’re coming out of there also a form of something else. I know business majors that can talk science. And we all take things like public speaking or a music class, or philosophy,” he added. “You may feel like there’s no point to these classes, but they do have value.”
Morehouse also offered Hilburn significant career opportunities, such as going to New York City one summer as an NBC Universal fellow, and working for Oxygen.com. “Morehouse,” he emphasized, “led me to those opportunities.”
For the future, the 22-year-old is considering going to law school or graduate school. For now, however, he plans to spend some time freelance writing and creating opportunities to showcase his writing talents. “I’ll go wherever God and life take me, but the love I found for journalism is just something I can’t let go.”
He’s also grateful for the opportunity—and the decision he made—to attend Morehouse. “When I look at the person I am now, the parts of me that were made better as a human being and intellectual wouldn’t have happened without Morehouse,” he said. “It told me, ‘You are a Black man and have the right to succeed.
“You can do it. You just have to show them.”
It allows you the opportunity to be more than what your major is. At Morehouse, no matter what you’re going for, you’re coming out of there also a form of something else. I know business majors that can talk science. And we all take things like public speaking or a music class, or philosophy. You may feel like there’s no point to these classes, but they do have value.Jair Hilburn, Class of 2020