Small-town students can ‘succeed’ by reconnecting with their roots

I grew up in my father’s childhood home. The turning point to my family’s farm is marked by a faded barn, nestled on the outskirts of Rockville, Nebraska (population: 143).

Traffic jams are caused by fans leaving baseball games and old farmers refusing to swerve their tractors for others to pass.

My alma mater is located on pasture land, five miles from each of the three consolidated towns. My great-uncles and aunts graduated from this school, as did my father and his sisters, as well as my five younger siblings.

They are my roots, but instead of planting me, they grow with me.

Last month, my roots followed me to New York for the Collegiate Media Association conference.

I met professionals from The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, CBS and other big names in the media. I visited the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Modern Art, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and Broadway.

It was incredible, but at the same time overwhelming.

My roots were trampled on the busy streets of New York and doubts crept in like weeds.

I thought, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong in the same room as these people. I cannot succeed as a journalist.

Then I went to a basketball game at Madison Square Gardens during the Big East Tournament. My compatriots from Nebraska from Creighton University faced Providence College.

At the start of the game, a student from Providence yelled at a student from Creighton, “Hey, turtleneck, how does it feel coming out of nowhere?”

The sweater-clad Creighton student replied, “I don’t come from nowhere. I’m from Omaha.

“Yeah, that’s nowhere,” repeated the opponent, just in case his punchline got drowned out by the thunderous crowd.

Blue Jay just smiled, shook hands with the student from Providence, and said, “Nice to meet you. Good luck to your team.

That night, Providence lost to a team from “nowhere” 85-58.

When you’re a college student from Nebraska, no one sees you coming. It makes for a better story when the underdog achieves their goals.

My Midwestern background has blessed me with a strong work ethic, strong morals, a sense of humor, and a unique perspective.

Whether I “succeed” in this world depends on my prospect of success.

After New York, I met local news leaders at the Midwest Journalism Conference in Minneapolis.

It filled me with a desire to champion the “little guy” with writing. There are so many untold stories about farmers, small business owners and my neighbors.

The support of these broadcasters reminded me of a quote I heard at the Nebraska American Advertising Federation conference in Omaha.

“I think what you want to do is make things, and I don’t think there’s a bigger project than making relevant where you come from,” said Clint Runge, CEO of Archrival. “…there are plains and fields here that provide opportunities that you just can’t get in Austin, Texas – that you can’t get in New York. It exists in Nebraska.

At UNK, it is not uncommon to meet students from towns with less than 5,000 inhabitants. People with this background need to encourage each other and realize that anyone can do it.

Wherever I decide to plant my roots, I plan to use my small town perspective to make an impact.

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