James Foley's Story: What We Can Learn From a Fallen Alumnus

James Foley was a young man with a childhood like most American kids; bike rides with his parents, trips to the mall, growing up amongst a large and loving family. He attended several schools, amongst them our own Umass Amherst, graduating with the class of 2003. He was a teacher and a journalist and loved his work. However, in one tragic way, Foley’s life differs from most of our own. Kidnapped in 2012 while on assignment in Syria and held for ransom, Foley was executed by terrorist organization ISIS circa August 19 of this past summer.

The politics of the situation are still being debated upon, and accusations are being tossed around as to whose fault the beheading of an innocent journalist is. Yet, while this debate may never be settled (or possibly could never be settled), perhaps one of the biggest things we can take away from this situation is not the death of James Foley, but the life he led and the passion he possessed for the job that he had.

Many people may look at this situation and be amazed that any individual would put themselves in the midst of a war zone for any reason whatsoever. Foley had already been captured and released once while reporting in Libya in 2011. To many, Foley’s return to the conflict-ridden region was tempting fate. Who would put there life at risk again for a job, a paycheck?

But Foley felt more about his work, a passion he believed strongly in, previously stating “I believe that front-line journalism is important, you know -- without these photos and videos and first-hand experience, we can't really tell the world how bad it might be”.

As a journalism major, a student, and just as a young adult in general, this kind of dedication and commitment really hits home. At this point in our lives, sometimes we struggle with a direction; finding a job doing something we like, maybe hoping to actually make a difference in the world. It can seem daunting to look towards a future and picture it wasting away in a daily rat race.

The word “passion” is thrown around a lot these days. We all want something to embrace, and live for, but how many of us really have it? James Foley did, and that is something to be admired. He died doing what he loved; seeking the truth for the rest of us, enlightening and teaching the world to what could have otherwise remained hidden. He found a path and followed it, knowing the risks and deciding what he felt was most important. As young people searching for a direction in life, this reminds us that sometimes there's more important things in life than just money and financial stability; there’s a thirst to seek out truth and the desire to right wrongs and shed light on injustice.

Foley was a passionate person, something we should all aspire to be, and for that, and amongst many other things, we should honor our fallen alumnus.

Photos courtesy of Google.