By Meredith Seymour
At NCRA Connect Virtual in August of 2020, there was a new professionals group that had so much to talk about, we decided to have another session after all the seminars were over. Thank you to Mike Hensley, RDR, a freelance court reporter from Dublin, Calif.! I met many amazing stenographers, namely Chris DeGrazio from Fort Pierce, Fla., a new professional who at the time was two months in and was soon to graduate. Here are some excerpts from an interview I had with him at the end of 2020.
MS | Where did you go to school for court reporting?
CD | Bryan University. I got my associate’s from there. It was based in California and Arizona, but the physical location is now closed. Now it’s only online.
MS | And how was it being a court reporting student online?
CD | I think for any students, not just Bryan University, online in general was very challenging. You have to find the discipline to practice.
MS | Was it at your own pace?
CD | It was not. The semesters were 10 weeks, and there are deadlines, there were goals that had to be met.
MS | Do you wish there were something different about it?
CD | I wished mental health and support were addressed a little bit more, and I don’t mean Bryan University, I just mean in general, because we need to go deeper, we need to take a little bit more time. You can’t practice and you can’t thrive or progress if your mind is in mourning or is in a state of panic or paranoia or destruction of any kind.
For whatever reason, I don’t think we were really prepared to not only prioritize time management but emotional time management. I wish in general mental health could have been something that was addressed, that we could have been checked up on, or at the very least, have an accountability partner who are assigned to check in with each other every week.
And I love the concept of the practicing more. I wish there were external forms of practicing to funnel our progress to instructors.
I still go to class because I like practicing. And I also get to encourage, motivate, or share some of what I’m learning with the students, only when they’re open to it. But when I was a student, I loved hearing from graduates.
MS | When did you start working as a freelance reporter?
CD | May 19, 2020.
MS | How long were you in school?
CD | Five tragic years [both of us laughing]
MS | Your graduation was completely virtual; how did you like that?
CD | It was upsetting that it was virtual. I think for everyone, you always envision graduating with wearing the hat, you hear your name, and it’ll be a little moment. I remember my high school graduation, I tripped on my gown when I went up the stairs; it was embarrassing. So, I wanted to redeem myself, but it was virtual.
Everything was prerecorded; I wish it was more live. Out of 200 graduates, five of us were court reporting graduates. I actually didn’t watch it because I was on the road, and we ended up accidentally watching a graduation commencement from seven years ago, and then the Wi-Fi wasn’t working. We celebrated regardless.
One of the things that was really fun was they did a Zoom graduation scavenger hunt.
MS | What is it like to be a new professional?
CD | I’m freelance, and I like it. I always knew I wanted to start out freelance because of the flexibility. It’s beneficial for me to learn and understand along the way, so I started slowly. I work for two agencies, soon to be three. But I’m excited about it.
I wanted to travel because I just didn’t get to while I was in school and even in the context of work. If I have time, I like to explore and get food from the area or try to go to restaurants that I haven’t been to.
Traveling is really fun and really rewarding just to understand the jobs I want to take and the jobs I don’t want to take. I’m so grateful to learn even from the worst-case scenarios, because now I have a foundation to base my decision-making on and to feel that confidence in making those decisions. You can’t do it easily unless you’re in it, so I’ve really been grateful for that experience of traveling.
MS | You have a fur baby?
CD |Puppy named Godfrey.
MS | What are your hobbies?
CD | I like to volunteer. I’m getting more into it in 2021. I used to do it every week last year, but then I had to focus on graduating or passing certification tests which I did. And then the pandemic happened.
Cooking. I love pretending to exercise. And just, you know, getting excited when I do a few sit ups and then calling myself fit. Dancing is huge. I dance in the ocean, I dance on the beach, I do the splits.
MS | Do you have a background in dancing?
CD | I did hip hop, jazz, and ballet. And I received an offer from an agency in California but turned it down. I taught it for a while. I want to teach again.
MS | Tell me about your Zoom practice group?
CD | We call each other Zoomers. I host a Zoom practice session twice daily, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. I play different audio dictations depending on who attends and what they need. I have students from 140 to 225 words per minutes and recent graduates, new professionals, and I have seasoned court reporters who have worked for decades. It’s been really cool to get to know people and to become unified because it was so isolating in school and even more isolating when the pandemic happened. And it’s exciting to know people and to relate and to practice and hear what they’re doing or to celebrate their successes.
Meredith Seymour is an official reporter in Madison, Wis.