With two internships under her belt and a summer reporting contract with the Hamilton Spectator, Rachael Williams credits her success to her life experience — from growing up as a gifted student to living and sleeping on the street.
The McMaster graduate with an MA in history and BA in political science admits she has always been smart. She says in the sixth grade she was doing grade 12 math.
“I always had this gift and this desire to learn, but I just never knew how to use it … appropriately,” said 27-year-old Williams. “I ended up getting situated with the wrong crowd and I ended up making a lot of stupid mistakes.”
Williams was born and raised in the city’s east end and was suspended from high school frequently for bad behaviour. She was expelled more than once. After a while, she said her parents got sick of it and sent her to live on her own.
Williams “made a home” on the street for a while, sleeping in alleyways and, at times, getting into minor trouble with the police. “Things I really shouldn’t have done, but I did because I had to make do.”
“Pardon my language, but it just takes a good ass kicking sometimes to get you where you want to go … I got a few ass kickings when I was a teenager and I smartened my act up.”
She did find a home and finished school, then applied to McMaster University. She got in on a President’s scholarship because she had an average of over 95 per cent in high school.
“People always said I got into trouble because of boredom,” said Williams. “I kind of found my place and I knew where I belonged, it was just a bumpy road, and it took some time to find myself.”
“I don’t regret it at all.”
Williams believes her very diverse life experiences have made her something of a chameleon. “I can interview someone who’s been homeless for 10 years and I can relate to them … but I can also talk to presidents of companies because I did my Master’s degree, so I had to socialize at wine and cheese parties.”
After graduating from university, she attended Mohawk College to study journalism in a two-year fast track program for university graduates.
“I always loved sports, and I thought sports reporting was one of those dream jobs that are kind of out of your realm to attain, like a firefighter or an astronaut. I don’t know why! Journalism to me always seemed like one of those top-tier jobs that I didn’t know if I was ever going to get.”
Williams speaks admiringly of the journalistic work of Bob Woodward, and dreams of writing stories that can reform the environment and society.
“I want to be that person who exposes something that changes normalcy.”
She credits Roger Gillespie, her managing editor at YourHamiltonBiz.com, with connecting her to Spectator managing editor Jim Poling.
Poling hired her for a four-week internship. “I’ve always loved the Spectator… I love this city, so working for the Spectator is kind of like my dream job.”
Williams begins a summer reporting contract with the Spectator in June.