Written by: Isabelle D’Antonio
“Everyone has two lives; the second one begins when you realize you only have one.”
Those were the impactful words written by freelance journalist Steven Sotloff to his family as he remained in captivity before he was beheaded by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS in 2014.
Sotloff’s parents, Shirley and Arthur Sotloff, spoke at UCF Monday night in a presentation put on by the College of Science and Nicholson School of Communication.
More than 100 people were in attendance, including 85 journalism students.
Steven was a former UCF student and freelance journalist who wrote for publications including Time and the Christian Science Monitor.
In August of 2013, he was kidnapped whilst covering the Syrian civil war. On September 2, 2014, a video surfaced of Islamic State showing Steven’s beheading at the hands of ‘Jihadi John.’ He was only 31.
Steven attended UCF for two years and was a senior staff writer for the Central Florida Future.
After a trip to Israel in his second year, he realized he wanted to cover the Middle East. His parents were proud but concerned for his safety.
“I would tell him, ‘Steven, you’re walking around with a target on your back,’” said Arthur. “But he wasn’t worried – he said had to do what he had to do.”
Steven often became known for his want to provide a “voice to the voiceless,” later travelling regularly to the Middle East to cover unfolding events as a freelance journalist, making little money, although eager to continue pursuing his dreams.
Places like Syria drew his attention, where people had no way of sharing their accounts.
“He never wanted to go for the big stories – it was always about the common people,” Arthur said. “It was about the voiceless, the people standing in the breadlines and the hospitals, the people that were suffering.”
Arthur and Shirley opened a panel to students and described the journey taken by their son at UCF and through his career.
UCF sophomore journalism student Gianna Doxey was honored to have been able to hear the Sotloffs speak.
“We all needed to hear this extra push and inspiration, especially after the recent Paris attacks,” she said. “Last week, the whole country was concerned by the red cups at Starbucks, and then a real story happened. Now we’re here tonight, and I think it was meant to be.”
To honor Sotloff and continue his legacy, the Sotloffs created the 2LIVES: Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation to provide scholarships for journalism students.
“The scholarship not only memorializes our son, but also contributes to the future in a way that lives on for future journalists,” Shirley said.
The Foundation will soon award its first scholarship to a University of Miami journalism student. The first Steven Sotloff endowed scholarship will be presented on December 6 at 1 p.m. at the Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens game.
“Knowing that our son lives on, and the endowment will touch the lives of students with similar interests truly touches our entire family,” Shirley said.
Though the Sotloffs have made strides in their acceptance of Steven’s death, they are still devastated.
“My son was murdered in front of the entire world,” said Arthur. “I still can’t put my feelings into words.”
Photo Credit: Aileen Perilla