In high school, I was what I generously describe as an average student. My parents, who had three other children who were straight-A students, thought I didn’t try hard enough, which was probably true. I applied to four colleges: ECU, Wake Forest, UNC and St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
ECU was my safety school, and I got in. Wake was my first choice, and I didn’t get in. Carolina was where all my high school friends wanted to go, and I was admitted. But I didn’t grow up in North Carolina; UNC wasn’t in my bones.
St. Andrews was a late addition. My mother, who knew me better than anyone, suggested I check out the small school in Laurinburg. I drove down, primarily because it got me out of school, and I fell in love with the campus and the people. I chose St. Andrews, and it was exactly the place I needed to be at that time in my life.
When I was passed over as the editor of the News & Record in the early 90s, my dear wife said that if I wanted to move and work at another paper, we’d move. I didn’t even consider it; Greensboro was exactly the place I needed to be.
And in a different place with a different job, I’m exactly the place I need to be at this time in my life: At UNC.
I had quit the newspaper business in 2011 without a plan, but a door quickly opened at Elon University. It shut after a semester there, but Dr. Chris Roush, senior associate dean at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the time, called to offer me two courses in the fall of 2012.
My two daughters had graduated from UNC; one of them from the J-school. My wife graduated from the J-school. The school – one of the best in the business – gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself as a teacher after years of being a newspaperman.
I can’t imagine what I’d be doing if it weren’t this. The students energize me, and their total engagement fulfills me. And as I look at the traditional retirement age in the rearview, they keep me young. I’ve made friends that will last me the rest of my life
So on this Thanksgiving week, I’m thankful for the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and the students there. It’s exactly the place – and it’s filled with exactly the people – I need to be.