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Pulitzer winner achieves his dream

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    Vinny Vella, a 2008 Marian Catholic High School graduate and a Pulitzer Prize winner, speaks to students Monday as part of the school’s Legacy Series.

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    Vinny Vella, a 2008 Marian Catholic High School graduate and a Pulitzer Prize winner, visits an Honors English class at the school Monday to answer questions from current students.

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    Vinny Vella, a 2008 Marian Catholic High School graduate and a Pulitzer Prize winner, speaks to students Monday as part of the school’s Legacy Series. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

Published March 19. 2019 01:27PM

Who do you want to be?

It’s a question everyone ponders at some point, usually early on in their life. For Vinny Vella, a 2008 Marian High School graduate, the answer, or what he called his “moment of clarity,” came during a bus tour to Philadelphia after he chose to attend La Salle University.

As the bus passed by one of the city’s many eye-catching buildings, the one marked by the logo of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Vella turned to his parents and said, “some day,” signaling his goal to work for the newspaper.

What was once a dream of “one day” has become now, as Vella left a previous job at the Hartford Courant last year to return to Philadelphia and become who he wanted to be, an Inquirer reporter.

On Monday morning, Vella shared his tale, which along the way included a role on the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning team at The Denver Post, to current Marian students. Vella was the first speaker in Marian’s “Legacy Series,” which will feature alumni who are making a difference.

“Marian has had an effect on me that has lasted way beyond graduation,” Vella said. “I’ve been all over the country and all over the world and there is no place quite like Marian.”

Vella credited former Marian English teacher Marcia Evans, who he called the greatest teacher he ever had, with setting him on the journey that would eventually land him at the Inquirer.

Never a star athlete or a big fan of math or science, Vella did enjoy writing.

“I had (Marcia) for AP English my senior year and she was brutally tough when it came to writing,” Vella said. “She ripped apart essays and challenged the class to the point that most of my friends couldn’t stand it. The tipping point came during a writing exam, during which we had to read a paragraph and write an essay about what we thought it meant. Later that week she pulled out one of the essays and began reading it. I realized it was mine.”

It was the first time someone had singled out a piece of Vella’s writing, and she encouraged him to pursue his passion for journalism.

Help from coach

Outside of the classroom, Vella got hooked up with former Marian athletic director and football coach Stan Dakosty, first selling tickets to volleyball matches and later as a four-year manager for the football team.

“Coach put his trust in me and it taught me responsibility,” Vella said. “I was part of something bigger than myself and I didn’t want to let him down.”

Working for Dakosty, Vella said, prepared him for the most pressure-packed moments of his career, starting with his internship at The Denver Post. Vella, then 22, was a Dow Jones News Fund intern at The Denver Post and helped edit stories on the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 people dead. The coverage earned the Post, including Vella, a Pulitzer Prize.

“I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the reporters and editors there to make sense of all of it,” Vella said. “A year later my name was on the Pulitzer Prize. I was riding high and thought this is it, I’m going to leave here and become a full-time reporter.”

However, Vella didn’t become a full-time reporter based off that experience. His first job out of La Salle was a position he described as a “glorified clerk,” posting stories online for the company that owned the Inquirer.

Eventually, Vella took the overnight police and crime beat for the Philadelphia Daily News, but upon being caught up in a round of layoffs, was forced north to the Hartford Courant.

“I was there for two years and the entire time I thought obsessively about how to return to Philadelphia,” Vella said. “But the job I wasn’t that crazy about took me to places I never thought I would go.”

Those places included Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Vella also exposed a prominent Hartford city official breaking a crucial ordinance by listing a fake address as his residence. During his resignation, he blamed Vella.

“Few things have made me happier,” Vella said.

The call finally came for Vella to return to Philadelphia and work for his dream paper, the Inquirer.

“I wouldn’t have gotten here if Mrs. Evans didn’t give me the confidence to keep writing or if coach hadn’t shown me the importance of working hard and performing under pressure,” Vella said. “I wouldn’t have gotten here without Marian.”

Legacy Series

Vella was the first in what Marian is calling its “Legacy Series” of alumni speakers.

Dakosty said he hopes to have at least one Marian graduate back each year to share their experiences with students.

“I often said I have seen greatness walk the halls of Marian Catholic High School,” Dakosty said. “I believe we have future greatness and legacies here right now. I did a TV spot about the Legacy Series and the next day I got seven emails from graduates who said they want to come back and give back to the current students. We have a lot of proud Marian people and are looking forward to continuing this into the coming years.”

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