I’ve long considered Athens my adopted hometown. My heart is in these hills. Years before I stepped foot on the Ohio University campus as a wide-eyed freshman in August 2003, I knew I wanted to go to college here.

I grew up on Lake Erie in Ashtabula, Ohio, but by age 12, even though I had never been to Athens, I felt destined to become a Bobcat. My namesake Uncle David, who passed before I was born, was a Bobcat. That knowledge sparked in me a quiet fascination with this place.

A little over 15 years ago I became a high-school correspondent for my hometown newspaper and – much to even my own surprise – I found that I had a facility with words. I showed my parents the first piece I had written, and I remember them asking, somewhat shocked, “You wrote this?!”

It wasn’t long afterward that I began the college applications process and discovered that Ohio University was home to the premier journalism school in the country. I applied, and again much to my surprise, I was accepted.

Visiting Athens for the first time that summer, I was struck by the idyllic beauty of the campus and city. This is the quintessential college town, and the pride that wells within me showing it off to newcomers has never waned.

My undergraduate years were mostly focused on doing sketch comedy and wringing every drop of fun and personal and intellectual growth I could from the Ohio University experience. I wrote a couple pieces for The Athens NEWS my senior year.

I landed an internship in Washington D.C. after graduation, which then turned into a full-time job, and I lived there for nearly a year before moving to Columbus to cover Ohio for the 2008 U.S. Presidential election cycle. When the election cycle ended, I was laid off.

That’s when I saw a job listing for a writer at The Athens NEWS. I applied. Editor Terry Smith remembered me. I interviewed, and I accepted a job offer the next day. Move back to Athens? Yes, please. And that’s exactly what I did in January 2009.

For the past nine years, the people of Athens County have welcomed me into their homes and shared their lives with me.

I’ve gotten to see how all the policies being made in D.C. and Columbus and right here in Athens County actually impact people every day. I was no longer dealing with abstract theory and political bickering, but witnessing first-hand the real effects on people’s lives in every corner of the Athens County community.

It’s been my job to go out and talk to the people with knowledge and experiences of vastly important issues, and then to relate that knowledge and those experiences to anybody who wants to pick up our newspaper to read about it.

Sometimes I think of journalism as going on a field trip every day, getting to see things I would never otherwise have the opportunity to see, and to talk to people with whom I would never otherwise have the opportunity to talk.

The experience has been humbling to say the least. Attempting to think of all the stories I’ve written, and all the people who’ve helped me, boggles the mind. I couldn’t begin to relate in this small space the breadth of human experience I’ve encountered on the job here.

My colleagues at The NEWS are pure pro. My editor, Terry Smith, has been an invaluable mentor. The inimitable Jim Phillips, who was associate editor before I took the role, is a monument to good humor and intellect. Conor Morris, who came on as a reporter after Phillips left, has been an absolute pleasure to work with and to watch grow. Dennis Powell, our photographer and longtime columnist, is as pleasant a conversationalist as he is gifted as a writer. They’ve all become cherished friends.

The list of other wonderful and wonderfully talented people who have come and gone during my time here is much too long for this page, but I’ve always appreciated each and every one of them.

Then there’s the community itself. The joy of knowing well so many people in Athens County doing extraordinary things to make this city, this county, this state, this country, and this world a better place has been a great gift. 

I’ve learned so much that I’ll never forget. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’ll always be an advocate for us here.

I can’t begin to say what a privilege it’s been to cover this vibrant, unique, wonderful community. To all my colleagues over the years, my friends, my sources, and the countless people who opened up to me to help tell their stories, I’m forever grateful.

As the song goes, I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. Thanks for everything, Athens. You’re beautiful and I love you.

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