I’d just like to start off by saying how incredibly honored I am to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. And I’d just like to thank John and everyone for all this because this feeling right now is pretty incredible.
I know that this is an award that’s based what on we’ve done in our career. And I’ve undoubtedly been blessed and fortunate to have had success in my time as a sports journalist — really getting a chance to truly live out a childhood dream. I wanted to be a sportswriter since I was 13. And I got my start at the Vidette, so in a way this is kind of coming full circle for me with where I’m at in my life right now.
I can sit up here and talk about how the Vidette is a great career starter. And I could go on and on about the amazing memories we had over on Locust Street.
But instead I’d like to talk about what this honor really means to me. It represents family. And it’s an opportunity for me to say thank you. When I think about what the Vidette has done for me, I think about all of my best friends who have impacted my life in such a profound way.
The last time I was on a podium like this was at my father’s funeral. Ironically, I’m looking at the same faces right now. … It was four years ago Wednesday that I lost my Dad to cancer. He was my best friend and it pains me that I can’t share this with him. He read every single Vidette story I ever wrote. And I know he’s still reading. And listening now.
A week before he passed, Tony flew out to D.C. to be there for me. I’ll never forget that. That’s when I knew we were brothers. One of my favorite sayings is “walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.” That’s what you guys have been for me. Of all the things the Vidette gave me, it was a family to fall back on when I needed you all the most. The people here in this room and the people back home (you know who you are) — you’ve all helped make me the man I am today.
It was a former photo editor who helped me heal in California and truly believe in myself — seeing strength in me when everyone else saw weakness. And inspiring me with an unyielding passion to make a difference in this world with her career.
It was another former photo editor, a Hall of Famer himself, who set a bar for history to be made—both in my career as a journalist as well as a part-time rap artist.
It was a former features editor, who I leaned on in D.C. when I was working 70-hour work weeks … to help me persevere and finally become full-time at USA TODAY. (His dog, Charlie, also helped quite a bit).
It was another pair of features editors who have impacted my life by starting families. Your weddings were some of the best memories of my life. And I’m so happy for you, Chris, with your baby girl.
It was a former front page news writer who helped me find myself. She led me to my faith and helped me truly trust God. And, whether she realizes it or not, led me to my true calling after my career in journalism.
It was a former news editor who helped me understand depression isn’t something to shy away from. It’s something to embrace, because even if others don’t always understand it, that adversity makes us stronger and we’ll be able to help others some day because of it.
It was a former sports editor who lifted me up with her humor — imitating supporters at Obama’s inauguration and pretending Jersey Mike’s was a California landmark.
And it was a former editor in chief, the best editor in chief the Vidette ever had in my opinion, who became like a sister to me in my darkest hours. Your leadership and impact at the Vidette is honestly why Alex and I are in the Hall of Fame. I’m saying that even though you never let me put Osiris or Kristi Cirone on the cover. But really, everyone’s success from the Vidette has your imprint on it, Amy. You’re the true Hall of Famer in my book.
Next, I have two mentors I’d like to especially thank.
Rick, you’re the reason I chose Illinois State. You’re the reason I worked at the Vidette. And your red pen was on every story I ever wrote for USA TODAY. My handsomeness on camera, though, you had nothing to do with that. But seriously, you’ve been a father figure in my life and I’m grateful for your belief in me and our continued friendship.
I’d also like to thank another mentor, Justin Bieber. Justin, while I know you couldn’t be here, I just want to tell you that your music and who you are as a person inspires me in life. The lyrics you sing, “You Should Go and Love Yourself” truly, truly speaks to me.
The funny about this award and the Vidette is that almost all of you have seen me for my outer layer. For my ego. But that was never true confidence. It was all a façade to protect myself. The truth is I was always afraid. I never felt good enough. But it started in that office (point). Tony, you thought you were feeding my confidence by telling me I wrote an award-winning story. No, you were creating it. All the stories I’ve written that impacted millions, that have even saved lives, it all started when you and I were sports editors.
And I have one last person to thank and she couldn’t make it tonight because she’s very sick back at home. The best way I can thank this person is by telling a story, one that I’ve never revealed the full details on before. You see, Rick tells the tale of how a last-minute trip to the Vidette helped me choose Illinois State over other colleges when I was a senior in high school. I told him that I didn’t enjoy the college day visit but before we left, I made a stop at the campus newspaper office. That visit, of course, changed my life.
Here’s the part I left out of the story: The reason I was feeling so blue and unhappy on my college visit was because I had received a rejection letter from Illinois State earlier that month. Even if I wanted to go here, I didn’t get in because my test scores weren’t high enough. That last trip to the Vidette, truthfully, made that rejection hurt that much more.
But I had someone come to the rescue. Usually, when I wasn’t good enough or when shit hit the fan, my Dad was the one to help me. This time it was my Mom who saved the day. She called Judy Peppers in the school of communication office, pleading to find a solution. She expressed how passionate I was about sportswriting and how any shove in the right direction would mean the world to an 18-year old with high hopes and dreams. A few weeks later, I got into Illinois State through the school of Comm. And, as they say, the rest is history. So all of this, all my never-ending friendships from the Vidette and all of my career accomplishments that put me up on this stage right now, none of it would be possible without that phone call. So, as much as I’d like to accept this award saying it was all my hard work, without question: This one’s for you, Mom.