Steven Sotloff's parents, Shirley and Arthur, talk about their son's life and legacy as a journalist on Monday, Nov. 16. Video by Daniela Marin
UCF students and faculty remembered the life of UCF journalist Steven Sotloff Monday night as they gathered to learn about his legacy as told by his parents, Arthur and Shirley.
Steven was a 31-year-old freelance journalist who was beheaded about a year ago by the Islamic State after being held captive in Syria for 13 months.
He attended UCF from 2002 to 2004, where he developed his journalistic craft.
More than 85 aspiring journalists attended the lecture to learn about one of their own.
Shirley was the first to speak at the event, starting off with words Steven wrote in a letter smuggled to his family during his captivity: “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.”
“Steven began to accept that he would not return home and that his first life, that he had relished and lived to the fullest, was coming to an end,” she said. “His second life began. He urged his family not to grieve for him, but instead to honor him by cherishing the freedoms that we all have.”
She went on to describe Sotloff as a man known for curiosity and love for people, which led him to a career in telling the stories of those who are denied the freedom to tell their own.
“Steven showed us that no matter who you are or where you come from, if you listen and step out of your comfort zone, you will learn, you will grow and you will experience life through a newer, larger lens,” she said.
Arthur held the floor next, sharing anecdotes about his son’s childhood and work as a professional journalist, describing him as the type of man who told the story of the common people, who went out his way to meet the people in breadlines, in hospitals or even just those who sat alone at lunch in high school.
“Unlike most young teens … every day he would sit at a different lunch table to mingle and interact with different peers,” he said. “This aspect of his nature, and his desire to meet new people and explore to new things, was the core of what Steven was.”
Frank Urrutia, a board member of the 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation, along with Steven’s parents emphasized the importance of helping these future journalists and preparing them for their professional careers.
The 2Lives foundation, which has been set up to raise scholarship money for aspiring journalists, recently provided airfare for journalists traveling to Ireland to receive training as part of a new global initiative to provide freelance reporters with first aid courses, health insurance policies and risk assessment skills. It is also awarding its first endowed scholarship on the field at a Miami Dolphin’s game on Dec. 6 to a recipient from the University of Miami’s School of Communication.
“It hasn’t been easy. It’s definitely been a year of challenge, but more so a year of triumph for us,” Urrutia said.
Kristen Fiore, a sophomore journalism major, said Steven showed the courage that all journalists should have.
“I just think that he represents real journalism, or just journalism at its finest,” she said.
Fiore’s friend Martina Smith, also a sophomore journalism major, agreed that journalists like Steven play a vital role in the journalism industry.
“I think they tell stories that people otherwise wouldn’t tell,” Smith said. “They have bravery and courage that many journalists don’t have, and those stories need to be told by someone.”
At the end of the lecture, Shirley and Arthur said they wanted students to take away from their son’s legacy a belief in what they’re doing and a commitment to honesty in their reporting.
“Realize that what you’re doing is a contribution to society. That people are depending on you to know what’s going on in the world, and it’s up to you … to report what’s going on … like Steven did,” Arthur said. “He was reporting things that no one else was reporting. He wanted to bring that to the surface. He wanted to let people know that people were suffering all over the world.”
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer and Watchdog Reporter for the Central Florida Future.