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Joe Dennis: shaped by journalism

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Journalist. Father. Teacher. Husband. Student. Friend. Mentor. Son.

There are many hats underneath the fedora that frequently adorns my head, but at the core of every aspect of me is a passion for people. Whether they are family members, students, colleagues, church members, friends or even strangers, I am fascinated by the uniqueness of each individual and the stories underneath their hats. It’s why I’m a journalist. Every person has a story, and I want to discover it.

My journalistic journey began at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. My summer orientation leader was sports editor of the college newspaper, and he needed a volleyball reporter. I didn’t know much about volleyball, but had a huge crush on one of the volleyball players. Middle hitter Tara, and the promise of free pizza at the newspaper meetings, roped me into journalism.

Little did I know that a little crush and a lot of pepperoni would set up the rest of my life.

The stories I heard, wrote and even lived through shaped who I am today and the hats I wear. I became an organ donor after profiling a man’s unsuccessful wait for a new liver. My respect for police officers grew immensely after spending 20 hours with a unit during a meth-lab drug bust. My compassion for the poor — especially children — was reinforced after visiting the blighted home of a slum-lord victim. My faith was strengthened after witnessing victims of various tragedies be thankful for the silver linings of their situation.

In addition to shaping who I am, journalism has also been a lot of fun. My career has given me the opportunity to hang out with several “stars,” such as musician John Mayer, WWE superstar Chris Jericho and basketball legend Isaiah Thomas. I’ve met several historical figures including civil rights leaders, war heroes and prominent politicians. But the most inspiration came from the everyday people I encountered: the principal of an impoverished school who is doing all he can to stop the cycle of poverty among his students, the nurse who has dedicated her career to providing free healthcare for the poor, the retired couple who are housing and keeping the local Red Cross chapter alive.

I tried my best to tell their stories through an article, later published in a newspaper. But their stories didn’t die there. Although the physical papers may have been trashed, their stories continue to be recycled in every interaction I make, each an individual thread in the hats that make me who I am.

Toi Wanders

When Juliet asks Romeo, “but what is in a name?” her point was that we are not our namesakes, we are individuals. But, are we truly individuals that are free to chart our own course? Do our names only affect us because of who we are associated with or does the name bestowed upon us somehow determine the path we travel on in life?

My name is Toi Mekhi and names may matter. Toi is a Hebrew name meaning “one who wanders.” Mekhi has a few translations. The Polynesian translation is “toward the water.” In Hebrew, it means life source or G-d like, and finally, the Japanese translation is “of the underworld.” Let that sink in a minute.

Having spent my entire life wandering, most of it in a daydream, I have to wonder if there isn’t more to a name. A copy of my Kindergarten report card reveals, ” Toi spends her day with her head in the clouds,” and my first grade report card notes, “Toi is very talkative and distracts other students by speaking her own language which only she seems to understand, and always at inappropriate times.” In hind sight, I was in a dual language school for those two years and I did not come from a dual language home, so I was not versed in the second language that was required to be spoken every other day. I may have very well decided that since I had no idea what these people were saying, I should be challenging them too. Who knows. As I grew up, I felt stuck and unhappy with my perceived life choices. I did not understand people, but I was fascinated by them. I continued to love new adventures. It wasn’t until I reached high school and registered for a speed reading class that I started to feel I wasn’t the only space cadet on the planet. One day in class, my teacher declared the quote that changed my outlook, ” If you don’t like the view, change your seat.” I have been changing my seat ever since.

Having a plethora of life and work experience, from Traveling, Teaching, Sales and Professional Acting, I have now wandered here to Piedmont College to enjoy this new view and learn all I can. A bit like the ” Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I am being born in my prime, already equipped with much knowledge. I am here to connect a few more dots. As J.R.R Tolkien realizes, “Not all who wander are lost.” Having found many life sources in the underworld and above, I continue to water my soul. I am happy to have wandered into Piedmont College and I am excited about the adventure.

Leo Galarza: If You Know…

My name is Leonardo Galarza, but everyone calls me Leo. I was born and raised in a small town called Douglas, Georgia. I was born in October 2001. I am majoring in sports communications, and I might double major in marketing. I’m currently on the men’s tennis team for Piedmont College.

I grew up in a divorced household from a very young age. My parents both became remarried, and I happened to become the oldest child out of seven kids as years go by. While being the oldest does not seem to be all that bad, but in my life, it was a little different. You had to be the role model for your siblings, and you have to prove yourself to your parents. We have to make sure no mistakes are made because one slip up could cause an issue with not only your siblings but also your parents. It was rough growing up in a divorced household because you always seemed to be put in the middle of every situation. I lived with my mother and my two brothers until I was 12 years old. I was kicked out of my mother’s house because I saw things differently from her, and I moved in with my father, stepmother, and other siblings. This all turned out for the better in my life especially for what was yet to come.

If you know who I am, then you know that I always smile. It may be hard to believe based on my happiness that there was nothing wrong. I grew up being bullied because I was different from others. I was confused and lost throughout middle school and even high school. I did have friends that I was close with, but my issues did not seem to be important to them in my eyes. It felt like I was alone because it felt like my parents or friends did not completely understand how I felt.

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to move away from home after I graduated. I did not want to go to a college that was near my hometown because I wanted to explore new things, and I wanted to find myself. Piedmont College gave me the opportunity to be away from home, and an opportunity to play college tennis. I did not expect being away from home away from family and old friends to make such a big impact on my life. The first few months of college I had gone through a rough time in my life. I was unsure that anyone would listen or understand how I felt. There was one person that I knew I felt like I could talk to, but it still scared me to share my feelings with someone else. It was a hard decision, but I knew it was something that would make me feel relieved and happy. I decided to come out to my friends, and even to my parents. It was hard because I was not sure how others would react, but it turned out that my friends still supported me.

I still face some hard times, but that is life for you. There will be times where things will be thrown at us, and we just have to overcome every obstacle. My story is not all there, but it does show what I had to go through to become the person I am today. I still have places where I need to grow, but it all takes time.

Who are you?

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WHO ARE YOU? Now, go back and read the question again. It is a loaded question, and quite frankly, a tad bit scary. The truth is, I have not been around that long, but in my experience, I have found that we fill the quiet space with all kinds of things including social media, friends, and awkward conversation. People tend to avoid questions that make them feel uncomfortable. WHO ARE YOU? I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am a teammate. I am a student. However, as I reflect on who I am, I realize that I am a small part of everyone who has poured into me along my 22-year adventure on earth.

I reside in the quaint little town of Winder, Georgia. That is wine-der not win-der. Winder is just a little dot on the map between Atlanta and Athens, but it’s my little dot. Winder gives a 21st century Mayberry aura. You introduce yourself with your last name and who your grandparents are, and a man’s word still carries weight in my little town.

I have lived in the same neighborhood my entire life. I am the oldest of three girls, but as the family started growing my parents decided it was time for us to move. The “big” move was right next door. As I said before, I am coming to realize that my story, who I am, is the summation of who I’ve been surrounded by. Both my parents and grandparents played sports growing up, so naturally I had a ball of some sort in my hand from a very young age. As I enjoy the privilege of hindsight, I can see the indispensable value that sports have had in my life. Through sports I’ve learned that nothing is handed to you. You can and will be successful, but it will not be because you didn’t pay your dues. The teammates will not remember the all-star play you had or the game winning at bat, but they will remember how you made them feel. You will only go as far as your attitude will let you.

These lessons, some learned the hard way, carried over to my academic life as well. What I lack in brilliance, I make up for in hard work. My academic capabilities led me to Piedmont College, where my athletic skills followed. Playing college softball was a dream of mine since I was twelve years old, and as I stepped onto campus, I quickly found that college was not all that it was made out to be. The people who spent hours pouring into me were no longer standing by my side and the challenge of the next four years seemed insurmountable. My first semester seemed to torment me as I painfully adjusted to the life that everyone around me seemed to be enjoying. I missed home. I missed mom’s cooking, my dad’s stupid jokes, and my sisters’ annoying comments. All the while, I was praying to find just one friend. As it seemed the faith that was easy to grasp at home was being held to the fire, the Lord led me to my first true friendship at Piedmont College during the end of my first semester. From that point it seems like the rest is history. This one friendship was an answered prayer for authentic, iron sharpening iron, friendship that I had been praying for since high school. It led to other friendships, belonging, and a renewed fervency in my faith.

              Fast forward and as I am entering my last semester here at Piedmont College. The last .2 miles of a marathon if you will. There have been peaks and there have been valleys through the last four years of my collegiate journey. I entered college as an early childhood education major with a concentration in special education and I am leaving college with a major in psychology bound for Augusta University’s Occupation Therapy program. I am leaving Piedmont with more than a degree. I am leaving with friends who I will continue to walk through life with and teammates who have played an imperative role in molding me into the person I am today. I am a part of every family member, coach, teacher, professor, friend, and teammate who has poured into me over the years.

              So, look around. WHO ARE YOU? Wrestle with the question. Evaluate who you are surrounding yourself with. Thank the people who pour into you, they deserve it, I know the people in my life do. Then pay it forward because someone in your circle needs to be poured into.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” Proverbs 27:17

The Life of Matthew Loftin

On March 13, 2002, I was born at St. Marys hospital in Athens, Georgia. My parents Laurie and Jamey, decided to give me the Hebrew name Matthew. My birth also resulted in my brother, Dylan, becoming a big brother. Since that foggy and cloudy day of March 13, I have grown a lot and experienced many life-changing events, including a pandemic.
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” The quote from Babe Ruth can be applied to many aspects of my life. For example, my mother has always described me as fearless, and since a very young age, I would climb up any tree in sight. Calm, ambitious, and brave are three ways that help better describe me as a person. Many people, throughout my short life, have helped me develop these skills. For instance, my parents, my brother, and some coaches have helped me grow tremendously.
Childhood is filled with so many memories that shape our lives. My favorite childhood memories include the birthdays my parents would throw for me and the fun I would have during them. My most significant achievement so far is winning the State Championship for my high school soccer team. Accomplishing that goal was an incredible feeling that I’ll never forget. Furthermore, soccer has given me such joy that I am currently playing in college, and I am trying to become a coach one day.
Overall, events are what shape you as a person. Whether the events are positive or negative, they will ultimately help me grow as a person. I hope to experience a lot more challenging circumstances throughout my life.

The Life of James Whitmer

My name is James Whitmer and I am a sophomore Sports Communications major here at Piedmont. I also play baseball and play first and third base. I am from Lilburn, Georgia where I have lived my whole live. I live with my mom, dad, brother and dog. My dog is a schnauzer poodle and is currently 13 years old. My brother is 23 and graduated from Georgia Tech this past december where he majored in economics. My mom is a teacher who attended the University of Georgia and the University of Vanderbilt. My dad played soccer at a community college but then would work at UPS and he retired there 3 years ago.

Baseball has been my favorite sport ever since I started playing it when I was 4 years old. I have also played basketball from 1st grade to 8th grade and soccer when I was 6 and 12. I attended Parkview High School where I played baseball all four years there. While there, we won a National Championship and 2 state championships in 2018 and 2019. While playing baseball I have torn my labrum which was my sophomore year of high school and broke my foot senior year.

As a kid and during my pre teen years I used to be kinda shy. Once I started middle school I started to talk more I have a lot more friends. In high school and college I have definitely been a lot more out going and like hanging out with friends. One thing I hate now though is being alone. Sometimes I will be alone to do homework or something else, but if I’m alone for awhile I start to get anxious. I have done a lot better to cope with anxiety and panic attacks.

I hope to have a successful life in the future and have a job that does something with sports or in the technology field. I plan to have a family when I’m ready for it and hope that I am wealthy in life. If I do make a good amount of money I will donate some of it to charity. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me in the future.

Who is the Dante Wilson?

Hello, my name is Dante Wilson and a sophomore at Piedmont College. I am 20 years old and am a theatre arts and mass communication major. I was born in Miami, Florida in 2000 then moved to Georgia in 2009 where I lived in Atlanta, Ga for two years then moved to Gainesville, Ga in 2011. I have a little brother named Deshaun, older brother named Dwayne, half-sister named Britney, and amazing mother named Anitra. I have an amazing grandmother which I call “Mema”, funny uncle which I call Uncle Steven, and hyper auntie which I call Whitney. I have a pretty funny family which makes me mostly who I am.

I’m a very energetic person who loves to wake up early in the morning which isn’t typical for people my age , but I just got used to it when I have to for my years from K-12th grade. I am usually called “book smart” than “street smart” because my common sense isn’t that great but my intelligence is strong. I am very well when it comes math and science which I find very entertaining as well. My favorite specific field for math is algebra and chemistry for science because I love playing with equations and love learning the study of matter. I am weak when it comes to history and language arts because tracking historical events and politics are confusing and grammar is my enemy. I love writing and have creative ideas, but hard to format on a page. I am also a very loud person so I heard. I just a naturally loud voice because of my mom which I believe is a good and bad quality at the same time. I can be heard easier, but I can overboard at times. I can also make friends very easily because I’m definitely a people person. I just love to meet new people with same or different interests, same or different personalities, and make memories.

I am proud to say that I am a performer because I don’t have a nervous bone in my body when it comes to performing in front of an audience. I am a theatre performer, but I wasn’t always like that. I always wanted and still want to be a famous dancer. Dancing is like a second breath to me. I’ve been dancing since I was 5 years old and took multiple classes for it. I have took tap for 2 years, took a tango class for 1 year, took jazz for 1 year, and took a step class for 2 years. I do qualify myself as a good tapper, good step dancer, and good tango dancer, but I want to learn more types of genres of dancing. I am taking modern and jazz for my sophomore year at Piedmont College. I did ballet here at Piedmont which was very difficult because I love fast moving steps. I taught myself hip hop and breakdancing because it feels very comfortable to me and my body type which is being 6″6 tall and skinny. I just collect fast movements quick and love doing flips. I’ve been in different kinds of dance crews which relates to church, school, and neighborhood. I have entered a total of 15 talent shows and got 1st place in three of them, 2nd one of them, 3rd place in five them, an honorable mention in two of them so I have danced a lot in front of people. Dancing has always been my passion and that will never stop.

I have always loved acting, but I never tried it. My first acting experience was the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” which was in 4th grade and not that serious but gained my interest. The passion of acting grown when I had to play Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” in 7th grade. The whole English class had the opportunity to perform it in front of the whole 7th grade class and I loved every second of it. My interest of acting kept growing until I had a realization of my love musical theatre when I played Seaweed in “Hairspray” in 8th grade. The experience of singing also included that because I didn’t realize I would love to sing in front of people on my own. I have a lot of choir singing since I was 7 years old, but never enjoyed singing by myself. The experience changed my whole perspective of what I enjoyed doing. I started doing musicals after 8th grade being in the ensemble, having featured roles, having secondary roles, and having leads.

I have also gained a love to making the morning announcements for two years at my high school. That gained my love to radio hosting and now have become one of strong motivations and goals. My life is just feel with excitement and memorable moments.

A Little Bit of Lizzy

My name is Lizzy Carver and I am a senior at Piedmont College with a double major in Theatre Education and Theatre Performance with a minor in Mass Communications. Before coming to Piedmont I first attended a university in Jacksonville, Alabama known as Jacksonville State University. After a quick major shift and the realization that a giant university was not for me I found Piedmont. A native to Georgia, I was happy to find a college that was not too far from my home town of Cartersville, Ga. 

     Growing up I was one of a six person household. Comprised of my mom, my step-dad, my two older brothers, myself, and my younger sister…my house was rarely a quiet location. Of course I was stuck as one of the middle kids with my older brother, but that has just caused me to have a great personality with an exceptional talent for humor. At least I think I’m funny. 

     As far as what I tend to do with my life in the present, I am usually wrapped up in all things theatre here at Piedmont. Between acting in the productions, helping behind the scenes in set construction and lighting, performing with the improv troupe, as well as managing the marketing office – my days are pretty full. When I’m not working on lines or ensuring our shows are being promoted I am working on my various class work and trying to keep my social life afloat. On the ever so rare occasion, I am able to hike some near by trails with my friends or spend some time watching some of my favorite things on Netflix (Criminal Minds, New Girl, etc.). 

     To think about what I would love my future life to hold I have some wild and big plans. The dream would be to hop on a national tour for a production or even make my way to New York and take the stages there. After some time on the stage I would like to transition into working on some of the marketing teams for the larger theatre programs around the nation. In my elderly years, after I’ve taken the stage and gotten my experiences in I would love to transition into an educational field where I can share my experiences with the up and coming performers of the future generations…Now of course this is all if my dreams come true. But no one truly knows what the future has in store for us…sadly.

Jordan Hicks: The Boy Down the Street

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While I may just look like your everyday boy who lives down the street, I am so much more than that. I grew up in Kennesaw, GA with my mom, dad, sister, and overly cute dog, Baily. Growing up, I was pushed into almost every sport you could think of; baseball, soccer, basketball, and even football. News flash, I sucked at all of them. My family was huge into sports; however, with me, sports never seemed to stick. Instead of being on a court or baseball field, I would much rather play outside with a few friends. I was a very shy kid, so shy that the chances of you to get me to talk were zero to none. Teachers would complain to my parents all the time that I would not talk in class and that they were worried about why I was so bashful to just about everyone. However; that all changed in the 9th grade when I discovered the world of theatre.


From the moment I hit the stage, my personality did a complete 360. I became way more outgoing, confident, and some would even say obnoxious or loud. I loved the attention that being on stage brought me and I fell in love with the idea that I was able to be someone else while others watch. In high school, I performed in every single show as well as participated in over 3 different types of choirs. Theatre has given to a chance to shine in ways that I never dreamed possible.


After 4 years of high school theater, I decided that the stage is where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. College was a very last minute decision for me, however, I’m so thankful that I decided to go. Up until the last week of my senior year summer, I was enrolled at both KSU and Piedmont. I genuinely had no idea where I wanted to go and felt as if it was just not worth all the stress. At the very last minute, I trusted my gut and moved up to Piedmont College.


Here at Piedmont, I have found a new love for Mass communications. Over the last 3 years, I have taken many classes in the mass commutations field and I’m interested to see where this huge career path could take me. While also being up at Piedmont, I have developed a new love for personal fitness and staying active. I work out almost every day and try to live a lifestyle that is both healthy and fun. I have an amazing friend group here at Piedmont, and I can’t believe that my journey here is coming to an end so soon.


When going out into the real world, I still have questions and uncertainties about what I want to do and where I want to go. However; I am fully ready to take on the workforce and make a name for myself in whatever that may be. From theater to mass commutations, I’m eager to see what this world has to offer for the basic boy that lived down the street.

Finding my way

All of my life I have been the type of person who liked things to be familiar and comfortable and was afraid of change. Even though I should of been use to it with how much my family moved growing up, I still never was a fan of new and different challenges.

I was born and raised in Arizona and never once did it cross my mind that there was even a possibility that I wouldn’t live in this state for the rest of my life. I had an amazing childhood. I am the second oldest in my family and have four siblings, 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Having such a big family definitely kept things in my life busy and interesting. I started playing soccer at a very young age and I couldn’t tell you a time I don’t remember being on a team. My family was very supportive and dedicated a lot of time and money into my soccer career. I played travel soccer for 10 years and learned a lot about myself. I found out I had a natural talent for this sport and I fell absolutely in love with it. I created relationships with teammates and coaches that really left an impact on my life. Playing soccer led me to finding some of my best friends and I created some of the best memories. We were able to travel not only the country together but the world. I was very blessed and grateful for the opportunity I had playing soccer and growing up in this beautiful state.

When I was 15 years old, my life changed in a way I never expected. My dad had accepted a new job opportunity and we were all so proud and thrilled for him. At least we were until we found out we were moving across the country. After my parents had told us the news, we had 3 weeks to pack up our house and say goodbye to all our family and friends and move to Newnan, Georgia. I felt like I was in a dream and that there was no way my family could possibly be moving so far away. I had an extremely hard time with the move. I was leaving one of the best soccer teams on the west coast, the high school I’ve always wanted to graduate from, and everything I’ve always had known. I can still remember my last day of school and soccer practice like it was yesterday. I remember the tears, hugs and heartbreak. It was definitely one of the hardest moments in my life.

After moving over a thousand miles away from all my family and friends, it took me quite some time to realize this wasn’t a trip, we weren’t going back to Arizona, it was now permanent. I cried for months and was honestly depressed for the first semester of my sophomore year at my new high school. However right around my birthday, and beginning of our second semester, I met someone who changed my life forever. Sieria Behringer introduced herself to me in the locker room before our weight training class that semester. Little did I know at the time that this girl would be my life long best friend.

Sieria introduced me to everyone at our school. I was known as “the new girl from Arizona” for the longest time. But I was okay with it, I got a lot of attention and I kind of enjoyed it. I met all of my best friends that semester. We went on some of the coolest most memorable adventures. We all had just got our drivers licenses, so we had the world at our fingertips. That summer I really had the chance to get to know myself and learn things about myself that I didn’t even know. I met someone really special and fell in love, learned a lot of important lessons, and grew so much as a person. I began to love Georgia and all the people I had met and became so close with. I had such a fun high school experience in Newnan and I honestly wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was able to play both travel and high school soccer, and that’s how I found Piedmont College.

My move to Georgia turned into one of the biggest blessings in my life. I grew as a person and truly found who I am. I have met some of the most amazing people in my life and I will forever be grateful for that. It made my fear of change turn into an excitement for new adventures. I am so lucky to have found my way to Georgia and I’m excited to see where my life will take me in the future and I can’t wait.

Autobiography

My Name is Emmaleigh Strickland. I was born in Dekalb Georgia and I slept the entire first week of my life. I was raised in the Gainesville area, but I went to go in Gwinnett from elementary school and most of middle school. I then transferred to Hall county schools for the rest of middle school and the first two years of high school. The last school I went to was East Jackson and that is where I graduated. I went to many different schools I never was at a school long enough for people to know me much less my name. I never have had any friends I really only have one but sometimes I don’t think he is actually my friend but that could be just the anxiety talking. Moving schools every 2 years was tough academically because teachers did not know what I knew and what I did not know.  At the age of twelve I was diagnosed with ADHD and Depression and extreme social anxiety, so I don’t remember much of my childhood. I have one sibling who is my best friend in the entire world we tell each other everything I basically raised her because of my mom’s drug problem.  My dad is a Baptist youth pastor, Chorus teacher and a retired bartender and politician. My dad is my inspiration for life. Before 2016 I wanted to be a athletic trainer so I could take care of athletes and basically watch sports for a living. But 2016 changed everything after the election of the president my passion for social justice grew and I decided I could not just sit there and let stuff like this occur, so I decided I wanted to be the president. obviously, you only can be president for 8 years, so I have a lot of things I want to do as well. I know I either want to go to Harvard law school or get my PhD in political science from an ivy league. Being in the political world is important to me because of that amount of social injustice that happens every day. Social justice is my main passion I want people to be able to walk do the street without being afraid of getting shot or unfairly judged. When I am president I want to bridge the wealth gap, help end police brutality have all women paid equally to men and many other things.  I would also like to do news either investigating journalism or white house press. I would like to be in congress at some point and maybe white house chief of staff or press sectary. Also, campaign managing is something else I want to do. I would also like to work for the ACLU if I go to law school it would be to be a lawyer for the ACLU or a communication for them or any other democratic politician.  This is why I have decided to major in both political science and mass communications with a minor in social justice. I am hoping to later transfer to George Town, UCLA, Boston College or Boston University. My dream is to live in the city. I have realized recently that all my life I was worried about take care of other people and making sure other people where happy and I never truly tried to make myself happy and I don’t know how to do that yet but I am trying to figure it out.  I hope that in the future I have a group of good friends a busy job and loving cats. . I know I don’t what kids or to get married or have a significate other I just want to live with my cats. I have a broad idea of what I want my life to look like.