In honor of the Section VI playoffs this weekend (Go Panthers!) I thought I would use my blog this week to share a little about my history as an alumna of the Sweet Home School District.
My teachers, friends, and experiences there made me the person I am today, and it was there that I discovered my love of journalism.
I was humbled last week to be inducted in the Sweet Home Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. The other - and much more deserving - inductees were local entrepreneur David Gordon ('71), legendary girls' volleyball coach Sally Kus ('66), American hero Col. Brian Mennes ('84), and president of the AHL's Worchester Sharks Michael Mudd ('86).
The easiest way for me to explain my roots in Sweet Home is through the acceptance speech I gave at the induction ceremony on Nov. 1. Here it is:
Good evening, everyone. Let me start by thanking Karen Galli for her nomination and those kind words - I'm honored that you would even consider me for a spot on this wall behind me. I look at myself and still see that sophomore in the school musicals who wished she could dance as beautifully as Karen's daughter, Megan. And of course, thank you to the committee for selecting me for this honor. I'm humbled to be amongst the other alumni being honored tonight, David, Michael, Colonel, and Sally. (Joke about NOT being recruited for Coach Kus' volleyball team despite being nearly 6' tall!)
I can trace my start in journalism to the lessons I learned in school at a very early age. My first memory of public speaking came in the 3rd grade. I was in the Maplemere Elementary Band - I played the flute- and at the time that band was combined with the other elementary schools. I remember the band teacher asking for a volunteer to read the notes about our musical selections during our first concert. My hand shot up. I was selected. I discovered at that concert that I loved speaking before an audience, and I guess the rest is history.
Then there was Mr. Peter Heffley - another huge influence on me. He not only was my 8th grade English teacher, but also my coach for the declamation contest. He helped me perfect my southern drawl as I memorized and performed a selection from a book- I can't remember the name of it but I can remember standing on stage like it was yesterday. I ended up winning the declamation contest, and more than the award, was the confidence it gave me to keep pursuing my passion.
I discovered that passion was television journalism through a program I participated in my sophomore and junior years of high school called NY Expeditions. It was an educational television series that didn't just air on PBS statewide, but was also used as part of the curriculum for 4th and 8th grade social studies classes.
I traveled with a group of nine other high school students from across New York State and we discovered the history, architecture, natural resources, and culture of the state- all in front of a huge TV crew. We asked questions, and wrote about what we learned and shared it all on TV.
I essentially was getting hands on experience learning the fundamentals of journalism as a junior in high school...and I couldn't have done it without Mr. Joe Buscaglia...who's here tonight. He was my AP European History teacher at the time. He chose me out of all of his students to move forward in the selection process, and then helped me through every step of the way until I was among the 10 selected.
I have no doubt that my experience in that program made my college applications stand out, and that solidified my acceptance into Syracuse University- and specifically the Newhouse School for Public Communications- one of the best journalism programs in the country. Mr. Buscaglia, I can't thank you enough for giving me that launching pad to follow my dreams.
In addition to Mr. Buscaglia and Mr. Heffley, I had so many other teachers that made me the person I am today- they include my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Rao who surprised me and is here tonight, as well as Mrs. Marrale in 3rd grade at Maplemere, Mr. and Mrs. Bakewell in 8th grade, Miss Ramsey in 9th grade global studies, Mrs. Wagner for all my years of Latin. And then there was Mr. Camhi- AP English- who is also here this evening.
Mr. Camhi sent this handwritten note to my home after graduation, which my mom saved for me (show note) all these years. Let me read it to you- "Dear Melissa, Congratulations on your excellent grade on the 12 AP English exam. This is further proof that you have the talent and ability to succeed at the highest level in the field of communications and language arts. Good luck and best wishes for the coming year at Syracuse."
That simple yet extremely supportive letter from Mr. Camhi is just one example of why teachers at Sweet Home should be commended. They don't just teach, they guide. I know I was prepared to succeed in that highly competitive university and essentially in my career... because of the education and work ethic I established at Sweet Home.
Throughout college and after graduating from SU, I worked in many newsrooms. And while many reporters and anchors start in small markets but aspire to go to a major network one day, I just wanted to come back to Buffalo and work in my hometown. Luckily for me, that didn't take long, and before I knew it, I was home. I've now been reporting and anchoring in Buffalo for more than 8 years.
I have what I consider to be the best job in the world. I get to meet different people and cover different news stories each and every day. I get to hold people in power accountable, be an advocate for the voiceless in WNY, and interview inspiring and uplifting individuals and tell their stories for all to see. No, it's not glamorous waking up at 2:30 in the morning each day, often reporting outside in sub-zero temps in blizzard-like conditions only to tell viewers to stay inside, and work every single holiday because the news never stops, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
My position gives me the ability to volunteer for numerous charitable organizations and I get true fulfillment in giving back to the community that has given me so much.
If you watch Daybreak, you know I give Sweet Home a shout out every chance I get. I'm so proud of where I came from. You might have seen it- recently channel 2 started running a commercial with our "This is Home" theme and it features the hometown anchors and reporters. That commercial gave me the opportunity to come back here and show off this place that I call home.
My dad - who's a volunteer firefighter at North Bailey up the street- was also featured in the commercial. He, by the way, is a Class of 1971 Sweet Home grad. My dad and my mom are here tonight. They still live in the house I grew up in in Sweet Home. I wouldn't be standing here, with this incredible honor, if it weren't for the how they raised me, and for their tremendous sacrifices so I could follow my dreams.
I also want to recognize husband Jay- my rock. We're going on four years of marriage and we're expecting our first baby in March- and I can only hope our little one gets as much out of his or her education as I did here at Sweet Home.
Final story- I'll make it quick. When I went to high school here, this very wall behind me used to be known by nerds like me as the "cool kids wall." I was never cool enough to hang out here with the popular crowd before and after school and between classes. I find it very fitting that so many years later, this wall has transformed into a different kind of "cool kids wall" (now the Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame) and I finally have found a place there.