Strangely, a story earning almost as many column inches as the Berkeley tragedy itself is the manner in which the New York Times initially covered the balcony collapse.
The NY Times was greatly criticized for the way in which the paper portrayed Irish students on a J-1 summer visa as hedonistic and reckless party animals heaping shame on their country. The story earned complaints from Irish Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, former Irish President Mary McAleese, Ireland's Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
As featured by IrishCentral earlier this week, the NY Times has since apologized for the article on numerous occasions and the matter should be put to bed. The criticism of the Times article, however, does raise questions about the way in which young Irish people are regarded in other countries, in particular, those on a J-1 visa in the US.
One of the main arguments against the NY Times article is that many felt that they failed to mention that the J-1 visa is a work visa and students come to the US to work, as well as to enjoy themselves. To avail of a J-1 summer visa, you must be enrolled in a degree course and many use the visa as the perfect way to see more of the world during their long summer break.
According to the US Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, Ireland annually sends more students to the US on J-1 visas than any other country. These students are Irish ambassadors and over the past 50 years more than 150,000 of them have made their way to the US to make up a highly influential group within Irish society who have forged a strong connection with the US.
Speaking to J-1 students in April of this year, Ambassador O’Malley stated, “We find alumni of the J-1 program working in American companies and organizations all over Ireland. The advantage you will have in making the best of this opportunity is real, as long as you treat this program for what it is – a unique educational and cultural exchange.”
The year-long J-1 visa for recent Irish graduates works very much in the same way and many of those who take part in the summer program return to the same city or to a different part of the US to build on their summer experience.
Both sets of students come to the US with a sense of adventure and a sense of fun. They also arrive with a desire to see the world, to experience more, to learn more, to work in different places, to further themselves and to gain experience that will stand to them when they return to Ireland or to any other country where they chose to settle.
For the past three months, IrishCentral has been running a J-1 Graduate Visa series profiling many young Irish people who have traveled to New York.
So far in the series, we’ve encountered young Irish people working in a wide range of industries, in a diverse range of jobs, and all of them succeeding in forging careers for themselves in an incredibly short space of time, in a city that is famed for its cutthroat competitive nature.
The maturity these young people show in reflecting on their careers so far, on their time in the US and in their advice to the future set of graduates traveling to the States on a year-long visa is admirable and showcases the talent that Ireland has to offer.
The horrific news from #Berkeley just contextualises all the trivial nonsense that consumes our lives. Heart bleeds for all the families.— Eoghan McDermott (@eoghanmcdermo) June 16, 2015
Featured already in the series, promoter Paddy Clancy told us how it is vital to have prior work experience before coming to the US; regional marketing intern with Moët Hennessy USA, Eimear Glass, warned students to save, research and be realistic; Laura Meehan told us that you are never too young to be successful in New York; and Laura Lynch, event design executive at Tantawan Bloom, warned us that Irish graduates must be mentally and physically prepared to adapt in the US.
These are not the words of the party animal Irish propping up a bar and wrecking apartments as the NY Times initially portrayed us. This is the sound, solid advice of our country’s talented youth, who are using their experience in the US to not only learn more about their industry but about themselves and bring it back to Ireland.
We are so proud of our young people, at home and abroad. They made history for us last month & we have lost so much this week. #Berkeley— Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD (@AodhanORiordain) June 17, 2015
Many of our participants have spoken of the confidence that moving to New York has given them, of their realization that they have the skills and ability to succeed and they are all inspired by their time here.
The young Irish workforce is truly that – a force. They are hardworking, motivated and willing to put in the hours to ensure that Ireland plays an important international role.
The tributes pouring in for the six young people who lost their lives only add to this.
Just yesterday, one of Lorcan Miller’s closest friends, Katie Wolahan, wrote a beautiful article on coping with his death. Sitting in Vietnam, a long way from home, a long way from those you love and a long way from any kind of comfort at your loss, to have the presence of mind to write in such a measured and mature way is a tribute in itself to young Irish people the world over.
“We’d spend hours on the beach talking,” Katie writes. “I’m struggling to remember what exactly we talked about for hours on end. Probably the normal stuff; relationships, college, exams, food, family, what we were doing next weekend. It all seems so trivial now, and I can’t help wondering if I told him enough how much he meant to me.”
Although all of the participants on our J-1 series have not met with any kind of the same negative response to the Irish that the NY Times portrays, a surprising connection between many of them is their telling of their growth in confidence working in a US office. Some have talked of settling for jobs and how they’ve seen others settle for things that are below their own capabilities.
Young Irish people should be applauded for their achievements the year through, not just in defense of other people’s criticism.