(Editor’s Note: As part of its Commencement coverage, WVUToday has been featuring some of West Virginia University’s most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those outstanding students.)
Ashton Pellom always figured he would go to school in his home state of Georgia.
But he still wanted to experience something new and different.
He looked at journalism schools around the country and found West Virginia University. He applied, was accepted, and in four years has learned lessons about diversity, tolerance and home.
“I always wanted to get away from home,” he said. “I didn’t imagine I’d get this far away.”
At Pellom’s high school in Decatur, Ga., outside the big city of Atlanta, his world centered around black culture.
“My high school was 99 percent black,” he said. “Out of 1,200 students, there was one white kid that went to my school and three Asians. I’ve just never seen that side of the world before; I was just used to the African-American community.”
To see live webcasts of each commencement ceremony, go to http://commencement.wvu.edu/webcasts
To read about other outstanding students who are graduating this May, go to Meet the Graduates.
At WVU, it wasn’t uncommon for Pellom to be the only black student or one of two in a classroom of 250. It was a challenge that everyone faced with grace, he said.
“WVU has made me more well-rounded, more accepting of other cultures and beliefs,” he said. “I don’t necessarily have to agree with what they believe in but just be tolerant of it. It’s probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned here.”
As vice president of the WVU student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Pellom helped to bring a sense of family to students like him at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Right now, nearly every black student in the school is a part of the chapter.
“That’s a mission accomplished,” he said.
Click below to hear WVU graduating senior Ashton Pellom describe his WVU experience.
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It’s not only the NABJ chapter that fosters a sense of family, but the whole journalism school.
He may not know everyone’s name there, but he sees all the students and says the school feels like a small family.
When he interned at an ABC affiliate in Atlanta last summer, he was with four students from the University of Georgia, a school he’d been interested in attending.
“None of them even knew each other, and they were all in the J-school,” he said.
“I like the fact that in the J-school in particular, we have all the resources in the world. “We don’t get the recognition that we should ? It’s definitely one of the best in the country, but the fact that it’s really small – we get that one-on-one attention that we need.”
In his experience here, Pellom has seen what it’s really like to be a broadcast journalist, through meeting journalists like CNN’s Roland Martin, and working the crime beat for WVU News, a TV program broadcast on campus, public television and cable.
“It gave me a new outlook on the media,” he said. “This experience showed me that it really is diverse, not only in front of the camera but behind the camera.”
Pellom said that as a WVU student, he’s tried to be open minded, friendly and helpful. The community took notice.
In the University’s first NAACP Image Awards, coordinated by the Center for Black Culture and Research and the WVU student chapter of the NAACP, Pellom was recognized with the Outstanding Achievement Award.
“I always try to lead by example,” he said. “I’m the change that I want to see in the black community.”
As he leaves Morgantown with a degree and a job in Albany, Ga., as a television reporter, Pellom feels he’s living his dream – a dream that he hopes will take him to his own morning show.
He will leave Morgantown with the memory of a community that always held its arms open to him.
“A lot of people just want to genuinely help you,” he said of people in Morgantown. “Some people do stuff to help people, wanting something in return, but a lot of people I’ve found here at WVU and in general just want to genuinely help you with what you want to do with your life.
“And all you have to do is ask.”
By Diana Mazzella
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