People ask all the time why I’d want to work in mass media. When I say I want to be a print journalist, they ask if I’m crazy, or just an idiot.
I wish I had an easy answer. I wasn’t one of those kids you see in movies, carrying a notepad and pestering people for information. No one is going to say, “That Amanda – we knew since she was five that she’d be the next John Quinones.”
I grew up with my nose in a book, reading or writing. I had a handful of friends and that was enough. Getting me to talk to new people was the worst kind of torture.
I graduated from Caprock High School with the equivalent of two extra years of credits and certification as a nursing assistant. I chose medical studies because people told me that was where the money was and that I would be “wasting my brains” (and life) if I decided to focus on something creative like writing.
I took a year off after graduation and started at Amarillo College in September 2001. I was so tired of the grind of school, but had resigned myself to take the path everyone else told me was best. I needed to get a degree and start making money as soon as possible. This is what people do, they said.
After struggling through a few semesters and failing a handful of classes, I realized my heart wasn’t in it. I decided to find a job with a decent paycheck, get married and maybe have some kids.
I worked my way through stints as a daycare teacher, a grocery store cashier and assistant manager, and finally, a public benefits advocate. As a PBA, I was helping people, bringing home a decent salary and training for a promotion that would come with more money and travel opportunities.
I was miserable.
I didn’t know what I needed to be happy, but I thought maybe I could try school again. All those years, writing was the one thing I’d held on to, I was sure of, and always brought me out of the darkness. I met with my adviser, Brenda Walsh, and when she asked me what I wanted to do, my answer was simple.
“Write,” I told her. “I want to write.”
Less than a month later, I was walking, nervously, anxiously, into Jill Gibson’s Introduction to Mass Communication class. I was unsure, scared and half-convinced that I had made a huge mistake. What the hell was I thinking, giving up a good job and returning to school to be a journalist? I didn’t even LIKE talking to new people.
Then class started. Anyone who knows Jill knows that she is passionate about her subject matter and her enthusiasm and commitment to her students makes them want to go out and light the world on fire with their own fervor. I knew in an instant that this was what I should have been doing all along.
At the end of that semester, she encouraged me to apply for a position with The Ranger. Still being the horrifically shy introvert that I was, I snuck in and dropped off the application and ran before anyone could speak to me. For whatever reason, she and Mike Haynes (who would become my News Writing and Reporting instructor and be just as influential in my life as Jill) decided this was acceptable behavior for the online editor and hired me.
That was three years ago. I’ve been fortunate to spend the past two years as editor-in-chief of the paper. I don’t know how I’m going to leave.
My time at AC has been some of the best years of my life. I found the person I wanted to be and grew into that mold with the help of some of the greatest instructors in the world. They’ve taught me how to think, how to live, how to trust and how to let people in. They’ve given me my voice and taught me how to use it for the greater good.
They’ve let me stumble and fall, but they’ve always been there to pick me up, help me dust off and get right back on track. Everything I know about journalism, photography, design and reporting, I learned from them.
They also lighted the path that led me to some of the best friends I have ever had. As part of student media and The Ranger, I’ve slowly amassed a family of friends I never knew I needed. They’ve supported me when I’ve struggled with schoolwork and life, they’ve talked me through the dark times and they’ve laughed with me to aches and breathlessness too many times to count.
They’ve been with me every single step of this journey, through the all-nighters and the state conferences, in the rain and snow, in and out of class and everything in between. They’ve taught me that I can be myself and not give a single care what anyone else thinks, and they push me, every day, to be the best person I possibly can be in all aspects of my life.
There are not enough ways to tell them how much I love them, and I feel like my heart is breaking knowing I’ll be at Texas Tech University in the fall instead of at AC again. Still, I know they’ll be with me to help me through the rough spots if I really need them.
What I’d like to leave them, and all of you, with is this: I never would have had the chance to experience everything these past three years if I had not been brave enough to stop, reset my life and take a chance on the dreams I truly want instead of the things people told me I should want.
Don’t ever let people tell you they know you better than you know yourself. Listen to that little voice that’s telling you that you deserve to be happy, take the chance and jump. You always can go back to a mediocre life – but you only get a handful of chances to live an extraordinary one.
You are worth it.