University campuses are magical places. Students of all ages and backgrounds, varying experiences and beliefs, come together in a thriving and diverse community bubbling with new ideas. That section of land is both of its surrounding city, and apart from it. Simultaneous partner and autonomous. Universities are residents, but can also create their own wonderful islands of pure opportunity.
When that university campus is nestled in the Midwest and surrounded by the crisp temperatures and changing colors of the fall – yes, even sans a football team – the experience is just about perfect.
I have been lucky to spend nearly a third of my life on a particular college campus – the University of Nebraska at Omaha – first as an undergrad, and more recently as a full-time employee, graduate student, and part-time instructor.
All of that makes this particular essay a difficult one to write.
I first set foot on the sprawling UNO campus as an eager freshman in the summer of 1997. A few months out of high school and I thought I knew everything I needed about journalism and the newspaper business. The college experience consumed me in the best way possible. I spent exceptionally long hours at The Gateway, our student newspaper, working with staffers who would eventually become lifelong friends. My courses were exciting, the faculty engaging, and the opportunities outside UNO that came my way while still an undergraduate were plentiful.
I worked damn hard those five years, and proudly crossed the stage in the spring of 2002, bachelor’s degree in hand. I was excited to start the next chapter of my story: working as a reporter for the Bellevue Leader newspaper. The opportunity was a great one, but the transition did leave behind an empty feeling.
What would I do without UNO? Where was my (new) home-away-from-home? Would I meet new friends? Would I continue to find challenging opportunities and places for personal growth?
The answer, of course, was yes. Only after college, however, I had to look harder. Much harder. No longer were enthusiastic instructors guiding me along the way. From now on, the journey was solely my own, the path my own choosing.
Three years passed, and the time had come to move on again. This time, the transition was out of the newspaper business into the world of public relations. A natural career progression for “recovering reporters,” some had joked, but the decision turned out to be the right one.
Some six years later, I have three PR jobs on my résumé. The last and most recent – managing media relations for my beloved alma mater – has been the best of times. When the opportunity arrived in 2007 to return to UNO, I jumped at the chance. To come home to that beautiful and memorable campus in the heart of Omaha every single day and to help students whose goals and aspirations seemed so familiar, was a dream come to true.
Which is why, with only five days left working for my wonderful UNO, my heart is a heavy one.
A friend once said doors open, and we walk through them. A door opened for me a few weeks ago, taking me someplace new, but also ending my second chapter at UNO. Later this month, I will join The Steier Group as a campaign manger. I will continue teaching for the School of Communication, an opportunity that came my way in 2008 and one that I have been grateful for ever since.
UNO has a hard working, dedicated, creative, generous, and kind student body, and it has been a privilege to teach a small group of them every semester. Many of my former students have become good friends, and it has been exciting and rewarding to follow their careers after graduation.
As emotional as leaving UNO has become, I have learned to realign my love for that one-hundred-year-old institution. I will always be a proud alum, and will cherish the memories I have built there. I am learning that I can still love UNO from a distance. I will continue to marvel at the success stories who walk across the stage every May and December, knowing that in a small way, I have been part of something special.
So long, UNO.