You never know who’s listening at career day

Published 10:17 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It took me about nine years to fine-tune my life’s career plan.

It was third- or fourth-grade when the first idea took root. We had a children’s book author visit our school class, and leading up to her arrival we completed a class project — writing and illustrating our own book.

When the author arrived in class, she went around the room asking us each what we wanted to be when we grew up. My answer was in keeping with my still-present desire to please authority figures. I said I wanted to be an author.

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But it stuck.

That became my steady answer for years to come to the question adults love to ask. I wrote (and poorly illustrated) more children’s books — on construction paper — than I can count. In junior high and early high school, I think I tried some short stories.

But it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that my career tuning started to harmonize.

A journalism class, a high school newspaper and the realization that I’m not nearly creative enough to write fiction and here I am today.

I’m not an author, but it’s in the same career family, I’d say.

Perhaps if a doctor, instead of an author, had visited my elementary school class, I’d be finishing med school, headed to a high-paying job as a neurosurgeon and preparing to buy my first mansion.

That’s the way the cookie crumbles. And I’m doing a job I love.

I didn’t think about my experience with the author last week before I went to career day at Robert Lewis Middle School. I just went prepared to talk to them about the newspaper, answer a few questions and be on my way.

But my thoughts changed a little once the fair organizers paired me up with my escort for the morning — an eighth-grade student.

As we were headed to the first classroom, the young lady told me she’d looked at the list and picked me to escort because I worked for the newspaper.

She likes photography and has been trying her hand with a small digital camera around town.

That was as far as we got into the conversation before our first stop. My escort heard my newspaper speech three times before the day was over. I imagine she got her fill.

But it was the short trips down the hallway with her that produced the most interesting conversation for me. Unlike the boys in the classroom only interested in how we get into football games free, this student had a genuine interest in learning more about working at a newspaper.

Who knows whether or not she’ll end up working the long hours lugging camera equipment in the future. Maybe she will. Maybe she’ll be a neurosurgeon.

Either way, she provided a new perspective on career days.

RLMS had doctors — no neurosurgeons, unfortunately — policemen, elected officials, ministers and a barber at their school Friday. Each of the 30 career professionals talked to three classes of approximately 20 students.

If something one of the professionals said laid even the primitive groundwork for a future career, then the day was worth all our time.

It’s the exposure to what’s out there that these students won’t get in their textbooks. Sometimes true interest in a profession comes with the famous author signs your book in third-grade.

As for my escort, she’s hopefully going to poke her head in our office this summer to submit a few Your Takes and learn a little about photographing for a newspaper.

After that, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or