As the fall sports at the local high schools have already kicked off, I couldn’t help but take a moment of reflection and think about what the last year was like.
I never wrote an introduction column when I first started working with the Tribune, I kind of just jumped in and started going. Before I started working for the Tribune under Barry Merrill, a man for whom I have a ton of respect for, I was in Lake City, Michigan finishing up my internship. I graduated from the University of Mount Olive, or the University of the Fighting Pickles as I liked to call it to my friends that aren’t from around here — a week after I returned home. My first assignment was to live-stream North Duplin football. I’m not going to lie, I definitely had to GPS where the school was because coming from Snow Hill, I never had a reason to go anywhere in Duplin County.
As time went on, I ended up moving out of my family’s home and into the Olive Court on Main Street. I went through a breakup, I dealt with a lot of mental health issues, among other things, but the one constant thing was the continuous support that I received from members of this community. I didn’t turn 23 until April of this year and I was an hour away from my family, but I was always busy so I never saw them and this may sound crazy, but I felt like the people in the town and at the schools who I interacted with were my family. I considered myself a young pup trying to learn the game and every event I went to, every game, every time I interviewed someone, I just felt a genuine sense of home. That meant a lot, especially being out on my own for the first time.
I never would have thought I’d be so happy here. Throughout my four years at UMO, I often talked about when I would leave and not come back unless it was for homecoming. I even told my mom that before I left for Michigan, I told my girlfriend at the time that after graduation was going to be the last time I was going to be in eastern North Carolina.
It’s funny how God takes things that we would never expect to work out and uses them to make us feel whole. I didn’t understand it, but I felt that my time in Mount Olive wasn’t done yet because there were still some things that God is doing through me here. It took some time for me to be OK with it.
As the school year went on and I went to more and more games, I felt like every fan base had adopted me as one of theirs. I had parents, who knew my name, thanking me for things as simple as tweeting scores and kids messaging me on social media to tell me what a great job I was doing; there was a lightbulb moment for me.
Coming out of college, I wanted to jump straight to the big time, but I think God made a way for me here because I wasn’t ready and I hadn’t reached the level of growth that I needed yet. Throughout this last year, I have been through so many bumps but I have grown so much more than I could ever have imagined being here in the little Pickle Capital. I guess I just wanted to put it in writing. It would take too much time to thank individuals, but I want to thank every single person with whom I’ve interacted in the last year. You may have done nothing but say “I liked your article,” but as a first-generation university graduate who often felt like he was in over his head, it meant more to me than you could ever think.
As I have the opportunity to use this platform as a writer, I encourage you to value life, value others and always choose to live in love and not in fear. I am excited to kick off my sophomore season as a community journalist. Thanks for reading.
T.J. Edwards is a staff writer for the Mount Olive Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.