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Hispanic Heritage Month Speaker Julio Cortez

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Gilman invited Hispanic Heritage Month speaker Julio Cortez, who spoke to Middle and Upper School students on Monday, October 10. He crossed the U.S. border from Mexico in 1989 at the age of 10. Now he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning AP photographer based in Baltimore who travels the world capturing news and sports through images.

As a child, he dreamed of becoming a sports writer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but after September 11, 2001, when he saw the spectacular photos from that historic day, he knew he wanted to tell history through photographs instead.

Cortez said his job is not to tell people what to feel but to show them what’s happening so they can decide for themselves. He has shot four Olympic Games, 27 funerals, many tragedies, and countless sporting events. He showed the students a small portion of his portfolio, which included a photo of Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker celebrating after his game-winning field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals fewer than 24 hours before the assembly.

He spent time showing the students a progression of photos he shot during the riots in Minneapolis three days after George Floyd was killed in 2020. He went through dozens of images explaining how his camera settings were adjusted for the building that was on fire in front of him when he saw a man carrying an upside down flag — a sign of distress — quickly approaching. He had to make a split-second decision about whether to readjust his camera settings to better capture the man — who was in the dark — or keep the settings to work with the building in flames. The first few photos he shot turned out dark, blurry, or blown out, but one in the bunch — as the man with the flag walked directly in front of the burning building for just a moment — ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

Cortez was one of two AP photographers standing outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021. “I had to pause for a second,” he said, realizing that the feeling he had on 9/11 — the desire to capture history through photos — was occurring at that moment. “If you work really hard to chase your dreams, it’s possible.”

Follow Julio Cortez on Instagram.


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