Grand Island Editor

Vision and technology make Brennan's dream of advanced degree a reality

By Bill Brennan

Bill Brennan is executive editor of the Grand Island Independent. The column below appeared in the Independent Dec. 12, 1999, the week before Brennan was awarded a master of arts in journalism degree from NU.

It’s official. My diploma is in the mail. Five years after I started, I’m finally receiving my master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

My journey toward the degree was longer for me than most graduate students. I could afford to take only a single class during each semester. At times, I skipped semesters. I was just too busy. That’s the nature of the news business.

But I’m glad I stayed with the project. High school, college and postgraduate diplomas are accomplishments that can never be taken away.

Such a venture for someone like me seemed impossible until College Park became a part of the Grand Island community. I simply didn’t have the time to drive back and forth to Lincoln. So I owe a debt of gratitude to Rich Bringelson and the visionaries in Grand Island who have made advanced degrees available to those who live in the area.

Going back to school is something many of us keep in the back of our minds. At certain times during our careers, we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “There’s a couple of things I want to do with my life before it ends. I want to write a book, and I want to go back to school.”

Then we put those ideas in the closet along with the pair of snow boots we bought 20 years ago but never wore.

But one day I learned that the University of Nebraska was offering a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications through College Park. I had the opportunity to pick up the degree without having to leave Grand Island.

In the newspaper business, a college degree is a must for employment. However, a master’s degree is more of a luxury than a necessity.

Yet I believed I had a good reason or two for going back to school.

At the time, our kids were in high school, and my wife and I talked about our own future.

Would we stay in Grand Island? This community has been wonderful to our family, but I had some commitments to ponder.

One issue is that my wife had put me through school many years ago. When we were first married, she set aside her own college dream and went to work so I could finish school. All these years I have owed her one. After our kids left home, I wanted to be certain I would be prepared to do what I could to help her with her career.

A master’s degree in my arsenal seemed to be a valuable tool because I have spent so many years in Grand Island at the same company. If I ever had to change careers or locations, a master’s degree would help establish that I remained energetic and flexible in my existing position.

In truth, her journey toward a higher degree is much more noteworthy than mine. When our kids were young, she went back to college, also taking a few hours at a time. She turned 30 before she graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She became a teacher (and later a chef) at the Hastings Campus of Central Community College.

At the same time she continued to take courses. Within a few years she earned her master’s degree at Hastings College. Today she is an associate dean at the college.
Happily, we find ourselves doing rewarding work in central Nebraska.

Looking back at my recent school days, I’m amazed how much impact classes such as communication theory, media research and methodology, the media and government, entrepreneurship, consumer behavior and community relations have had on my daily decision-making.

The time I spent going back to school has made me a better newspaper executive. My thesis on the history of the Grand Island Independent and its place in the community has enriched my understanding of the purpose of our newspaper and those who read it.
During this past year, I have published a few excerpts from the research so that others might also gain a broader perspective of the newspaper and its role in Grand Island history.

There have been times when I wondered whether I could set enough time aside to get through the program. Now I hate to see it all end. I learned so much in a protracted period of time.

For a moment or two, I considered driving to Lincoln to attend the graduation ceremony. But I have been away from the newspaper many weekends this fall to attend my son’s football games. Being away those weekends has left too many piles of paper on my desk.

So I will look forward to receiving the diploma in my mailbox. It will remind me that I’ve become a better newspaper editor than I was several years ago.