Five years ago, I sat in the newsroom of the community newspaper where I was managing editor and gritted my teeth while I watched one reporter after another leave the room to go to HR. Each one returned with tears and a severance package.

Jean Reid Norman, adviser of the Signpost.
Jean Reid Norman in 2010: former editor, future professor. (Source: Jean Reid Norman)

The Henderson Home News, my hometown newspaper which had grown to a small suburban chain, went through two rounds of brutal layoffs in 2009 before it closed in October. I had the pleasure of directing a newsroom of recent college graduates and the pain of watching them thrown overboard as the newspaper struggled for survival.

The closure that October brought a bittersweet end to a long news career that started when President Nixon resigned and I got my first taste of deadline adrenaline.

My 30 years in journalism included such well-known publications as the Washington Post and USA Today and places that no longer exist like the Valley Times and Boulder City News. I was, as one old professor defined it, both a big fish in a small pond and a small fish in a big pond. (Turns out the small pond was more fun.)

I landed fairly quickly at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension teaching nutrition to seniors, and that became a strategic step for me. I was just finishing a master’s degree in English and decided to follow the example of my boss, also a former journalist, and get my Ph.D.

Like many graduate students, I practiced my teaching skills on poor, long-suffering undergraduates at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and discovered I loved it. This summer I arrived at Weber State to launch a second career as a professor and adviser of The Signpost.

It is an exciting prospect that eases the pain of a career cut short.

You won’t find these among the learning outcomes on any of my syllabi, but here’s what I hope to teach my students here:

  • Know there is a place for you in the real world. I do not know what or where that place is but I know it is there, and I and my colleagues at Weber State will do our best to prepare you for it.
  • Always have a Plan B. Even if you land your dream job, you may grow out of it or your industry may change. Think about what else you would want to do if it all ended and explore those options before you need them.
  • Choose love over money. Relationships matter. A good job can bring great satisfaction, but in tough times, people love you. The job doesn’t. People will stay by you; the job may not.
  • Never stop learning. The speed of change is ever accelerating, and you have to learn just to keep up. Basic skills like writing and math (yes, math … sigh) will always be in demand, but to stay abreast of your field will require constant study. The best thing you can take with you at graduation is the ability to learn.

You now have the answers to the most important final: Life. I wish they were all the answers you will need, but of course they are not. I do hope they help you at some point. If so, both of my careers will prove worthwhile.

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