By Christina Elias
For Al Drago, Trying out different majors questioning his path in life was never a part of Al Drago’s college experience when he attended Elon University from 2011 to 2015. He considers himself “lucky” in the journalism world because he has known what he wanted to do since he was 16: take pictures.
Drago, a photographer for The New York Times, spoke at Elon University Friday, March 31. Drago spoke about the challenges he faced before achieving his dream job and gave students tips for a successful career in journalism.
Drago is based in Washington, D.C., and has been a part of the White House press pool for the end of the Obama administration, post-election transition, the presidential inauguration ceremony and President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Drago is one of three New York Times photographers who remain with the president at all times.
Before achieving his 16-year-old self’s dream within two years of his college graduation, Drago was using any opportunity he had to take pictures, including his own move-in day freshman year.
“My Elon experience was based around the journalism that I did, the journalism that I committed,” he said. “I have a four-year archive of my Elon experience.”
From then on, he devoted all of his extra time to advancing himself and moving closer to his goals, whether that included working for student media, freelancing for the Raleigh News & Observer or attending every conference, competition and workshop he could get into for feedback.
“I voraciously worked,” he said. “I knew what I wanted and I knew I wasn’t going to stop until I got it … If you just put your head down and work hard, dedicate yourself everything you do.”
One of the secrets to his post-graduate success is embracing social media as a reporting tool. He said what makes The New York Times unique – and what helped him eventually earn a position there – is a willingness “to get outside the bubble, risk it and make something no one else is going to make.”
From the beginning of his college to his current position at The New York Times, Drago has worked for The Herald-Sun, The Times-News, The News & Observer, Baltimore Sun and Roll Call. His photographs have been published by various organizations across the United States and rest of the world.
“You have to have me-time or you will totally explode,” he said. “Having that balance and friends to have your back, or a relationship, or parents. Having a family or network to support you is just as important.”