Connecting the dots of decisions made and circumstances encountered may be an exclusively human experience. We crave meaning, resolution, a storyline that helps us, at a certain point in our lives, look back and take account.

For 23 students from across the country, the two weeks they spent in Tucson in May 2013 will be a guidepost.

These smart journalists gathered at the University of Arizona School of Journalism as part of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. The young journalists - reporters, photographers, copy editors, online producers and designers - come together to work with professionals from the Times and the Boston Globe. I'm honored to be part of it.

For these kids, the world is open.

I'm not sure at what point adults begin calling young adults kids, but I suspect it's connected to the wrinkle in the time-space continuum that happens when you realize you're comparison shopping for frozen corn while singing along to the Ramones song that was playing when you learned to drive.

But these kids aren't there yet. They're at the precipice. And what an exhilarating place to be.

These young journalists are launching into the so-called real world, but many are already there. They've had to figure out how to pay for college while holding a job or raising a family - or both. How to get hands-on journalism experience while not going broke at unpaid internships, how to navigate a quickly changing media world.

The friendships and skills they develop during the institute will become part of the connective tissue that grows and changes bit by bit until you look around and see that you've built a life.

If it sounds like I'm bragging about these young journalists, I am. Without hesitation.

And they're not here by accident. They're part of a deliberate outreach by The New York Times to identify and develop journalists from different backgrounds. The Times works with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists to hold the two-week institutes, hosted at the UA School of Journalism and at Dillard University in New Orleans. The institutes are open to students of any color or ethnicity.

Diversity is a matter of survival. Knowing that your particular experience isn't universal is one of the most valuable lessons any human can internalize. Exemplary journalism demands that empathy, but also the inquisitiveness to ask why and the courage to find answers.

Diversity is about relationships, finding what we each bring to the table.

Diversity is looking at a sidewalk patched with weeds and asking how a person who uses a wheelchair navigates that terrain. Diversity is hearing the polka-style accordion in Mexican banda music and exploring the cultural ties across oceans.

Diversity is noticing where we connect and digging into why we diverge. Diversity is building relationships across boundaries, both obvious and unspoken.

Sorting by color, age, disability, geography, ethnicity, income or any other box a human can check off is too simple. No human is the finite sum of her parts. Diversity isn't a math problem to be solved solely with addition - but subtraction most certainly hurts.

No endeavor is improved with fewer perspectives.

"The children are the future" tops my list of all-time most detested clichés. It's such an obvious faux-pithy thing to say, because of course children are the future. What else would they be?

So I won't say that these smart people, these innovative and eager journalists who aren't burdened by the memory of the "good old days" of newsgathering are the future.

They don't see the dividing lines that others might, and they have much to learn. Their advantage is that they recognize that they're aware of their world.

They fill me with hope. And expectations. Of them, and for them.

See their work online

See what the New York Times Student Journalism Institute has produced:

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at