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Life starts with a single day
by Nathan Orme
Apr 10, 2011 | 450 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Junior high school is an awkward time. Young people earn a badge of sorts when the suffix “-teen” is added to their ages, marking the start of their paths to adulthood. That badge is a strange fit for most people, as nature plays tug of war with their bodies and minds. They walk strangely because they aren’t used to their suddenly longer legs and their faces look as though they should be losing baby teeth instead of sprouting hair. As the girls become women, they try to figure out what to do with their new assets as the boys wonder why they suddenly no longer just want to pull the girls’ pigtails.

As these pseudo-humans desperately try to figure themselves out, school teachers get the joy of trying to educate them about geometry and history and English. A swirl of hormones collides with a swirl of academics and creates a whirlpool no one thinks they’ll escape. Maybe that’s why junior high school administrators hold career day. Somehow they hope that by getting the pubescent pupils to think about adulthood it will magically arrive sooner.  

For several years, I have taken part in these career days at local junior high schools. This week, I went to Mendive Middle School in east Sparks to impart some career wisdom to the students. I brought a stack of newspapers, which for this technology-savvy generation would have been more appropriate for history day, and my camera and notepad. My usual spiel is to tell the students that if they’re curious about what goes on in the world and they like to ask questions, they can be journalists. All they need to do is learn to listen carefully, practice their writing and gather information correctly. Then they’ll get to go to the Super Bowl, interview rock stars and travel the world. I figure they’ll find out about city council meetings, high school sports and incessant phone calls from local gadflies in their own time.

My little career day booth is usually far less exciting than booths for, say, the police who bring in their radar gun and motorcycle or the animal rescue group that brings a live dog for the students to pet. Luckily for me, I was sandwiched between those two this week, so my booth got the overflow traffic. For the most part, the action at my station was a blur of skinny jeans and braces racing by to “ooh and ah” over four-legged Freddy from the Nevada Humane Society or to take a cell phone picture atop the law enforcement bike. For those who did stop to find out about the Sparks Tribune, or rather to ask canned questions and fill out their mandatory sheet of paper, I told them about going to college to study reporting and about the long hours it takes to be a journalist but that it is a lot of fun and different every day. Most of the students read their questions, scribbled down their notes and uncomfortably walked away. I was particularly amused at a young lady with facial piercings who left my table and told her friends they need to go find the booth for the Mexican restaurant because they had churros. 

One or two students, however, seemed genuinely interested. One young man wanted to be a sports reporter so I told him to try taking notes next time he watched a game on television. A couple of others said they worked for their school newspapers, which I said was how I got my start. I’ll never forget the breaking news that inspired my career path: a dental clinic in my high school library. In my head I can see the photo I took of a student lying in a portable chair, mouth open wide as a visiting dentist checked for cavities. Perhaps, I thought, a visit to my booth would be some other person’s memory of their inspiration for a lifelong passion. 

After about three hours of this, I packed up my materials and prepared to leave, stopping along the way to talk to a few of the other career day exhibitors to gather story ideas — a reporter’s work is never done. As I walked down the hallway at Mendive and glanced into a couple of classrooms, I wondered if any of those students would be influenced by what any of us told them. More likely they’d go back to worrying about their latest crush or if their hair was long and spiky enough. That’s OK, though. Career day will have served its purpose if, one day down the road, students are reminded of it as they wake up from their puberty-induced stupor and begin to be adults after years of pretending to be them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find my junior high yearbook.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at
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