What Marshall taught me: Farewell from Joelle Gates


If someone would’ve told me that the end of college would occur during a global pandemic, I obviously wouldn’t have believed them. But I have to admit, my time at Marshall has been full of nothing but surprises.  

Whenever I arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, I wasn’t very excited. Growing up, I never felt as though I belonged in Appalachia, but whenever I, a first generation college student, wanted to run away, my parents encouraged me to stay local. After a brutal college tour that spanned the entirety of my senior year, my parents said if they would’ve had the chance, they would have attended Marshall. And who can argue with that? 

Upon arriving, I soon realized that I seriously misjudged Marshall, and my time in the newsroom continued to prove this point over the past four years. I’ve found amazing friends and mentors, and I truly believe college gave me a new chance to live. Marshall wasn’t the end of my life, but was actually just the beginning.  

My time at Marshall has given me so many opportunities that I never would’ve imagined as possible. I’ve been able to share the stories of my community, ultimately winning Best Short Documentary Appalachian Filmmaker at the Plum Tuckered Film Festival. In January 2019 I paused my education to work — and learn — in the West Virginia Legislature, and in January 2020 I began working in the City of Huntington’s Mayor’s Office.  

I never thought someone like me would be able to achieve the things I have, and I know that all my triumphs are because of the amazing support I’ve had at the School of Journalism. Charlie, thank you for helping me find my voice. Tijah, thank you for celebrating my story and encouraging me to highlight the stories of others. Goodman, thank you for taking a chance on me and helping me access the opportunity that changed my life. Sandy, thank you for always giving me a seat at the table and supporting me every step of the way.  

And to my family, thank you for enabling me to write my own story. I’m so blessed that this school played a part in it.  

Lastly, my time in the School of Journalism has taught me a lot of lessons about storytelling, but I have to say that my favorite is this: “The best stories  have a great lede and are full of big surprises.” 

Joelle Gates can be contacted at [email protected]