WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — When I was in journalism school one of the first lectures our professor gave us was what we could expect going into broadcast journalism. First, all the girls would have to cut their hair to a more professional length. We were not happy about it but willing to do it. Second, we’d have to move to the “middle of nowhere” Nebraska to get our first jobs.
Most people don’t know this, but there are 210 markets in this industry. When you’re first starting out, you take a job in a small market and work your way up like any other job. This career could have you traveling the entire country, though. You’re away from home and almost nomadic until you find a place where you want to plant your roots.
When I heard that, it scared the life out of me. How could I move away from the place and people I love? The thought of missing birthdays, holidays, graduations and family dinners was enough to make me feel sick. I was a sophomore at the time, so I had a couple years left to decide if I wanted to run the other way or just embrace this lifestyle like anyone else who chooses this path.
Over the following two years my hair gradually got shorter, and I came to terms with moving away from home. I figured I could make it back to Boston in 10 years or so. After graduating from college in May 2011, like any other steadfast graduate, I was ready to conquer the world and move to Timbuktu to start making my dreams a reality. I figured I had a decent resume and was a shoo in for a tiny market.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. For about a year out of school I waited tables. I wasn’t getting any bites on the applications I was sending out, and I was getting extremely restless. I started to think my aspirations to run all over town with a camera in my hand were hopeless, and that I should have picked a more realistic major.
For those of you who don’t know me, though, I’m hardheaded and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I was determined to use my degree and pursue a field I loved, even if it wasn’t what I originally pictured it to be.
I ended up taking a behind-the-scenes job at a station in Boston. Although I wasn’t the first on a crime scene or standing out in the snow telling you to stay home because the conditions are so dangerous, I was in the thick of things.
After a couple months of working there and asking anyone who would listen to me for help becoming a reporter, two of my coworkers took me under their wings. They taught me how to become a more marketable journalist.
Less than a year later, I got a call from the news director at WWAY, who said he wanted to fly me in for an interview. After applying for nearly 100 reporter postings, someone finally believed in me and was willing to take a chance on me.
I was grateful and beyond excited that my dream was coming true but nervous to leave my family. Heck, I was about to move to a place where I didn’t know a soul, my way around or what a hush puppy was.
When I got to Wilmington I was taken aback by its beauty. I was mesmerized by the beaches and the sunsets. I was so grateful I was about to call a vacation destination home, because I was entirely expecting to end up in the “middle of nowhere.”
When you’re away from home, it’s inevitable; you’re going to get homesick. I found comfort at work, though. Small newsrooms have a strange dynamic. It’s some kind of understanding of a feeling we all have. Needless to say, we become fast friends and each other’s family. We watch each other’s pets and kids. We also know how to push each other’s buttons and know one another so well that when something is bothering one of us, we can usually all pick up on it immediately.
Outside of the newsroom, there is also another dynamic, one with our viewers. For me, that relationship was especially meaningful, and at times, even magical. I started spending your birthdays with you, covering your child’s Halloween costume parade, coming along on your Christmas festivities. I was there when your kids headed off to school for the first time and saw them graduate. I was there for the special moments like when your son was filled with joy when the garbage truck came and when your daughter was over the moon when she found out she was going to a Taylor Swift concert.
This community became my family, all with a camera in my hand. Yes, it was my job to be there for all those things but, it meant more to me than that. It was an honor of a lifetime to share life with you.
In August, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I immediately told my news family. I got that awful phone call right after the show on a Tuesday morning. In the physical absence of my own family, they were the ones to hug me and ease my fears. Then, before I left for surgery, at the end of September, I told you all. It was one of the most emotionally challenging things I’ve ever had to do, not to mention how vulnerable I felt doing it on live TV. I was honestly nervous for how you would respond and what your reaction might be.
I don’t know why I felt that way, because again, my North Carolina family was there when my own family couldn’t be.
Being at home for several months put life into perspective. When your world is rocked to the core, and when you sometimes barely even know your own name, you start to realize who and what is important to have in your life.
Although I sincerely was honored to spend your birthdays, holidays and special moments with you, I want to share those times with my own family. I don’t want to wait 10 years like I originally planned. Life is too short and too fragile not to take advantage of making those memories with them and making the most out of the short time we have together. It’s the little things in life that end up meaning the most. And that’s why after Friday I’ll sign off “Good Morning Carolina” one last time and head home to Boston and my family. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I’ll figure it out with their help.
I got into this business because I thought I could change lives with the stories I told. I wanted the tales I was privileged enough to cover to be the reason someone smiled when nothing else was going right in their world. Although I probably made you laugh when I couldn’t sink a basket with the Harlem Globetrotters or made you cry when I gave you money to pay your bill with the Surprise Squad, if there’s anything you take from my short time with you it’s never to give up on yourself, that your dreams can come to fruition, but it’s also OK if your dreams change over time. Believe in the underdog and give them a chance. Embrace change even if it scares you, but most importantly, don’t be afraid to face your own reality and seek out the things in life that make you happy.
I never expected to find a family here, and now I truly feel like I am leaving one behind. The Cape Fear will always hold a special place in my heart and I’m leaving part of it here with you. I’m forever grateful to this entire community in more ways than one. But here’s to letting my LONG hair down, I encourage you to do the same.