Looking back on my first year

Published 9:43 am Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It’s hard to believe it’s Jan. 19 already.

One year ago today, I walked through the doors of The Vicksburg Post for my first day on the job.

I didn’t know what to expect, and the thought of starting a new job in a new city was unsettling at the time. Looking back now, a year later, I’m not sure what I was ever worried about.

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I thought I’d take the opportunity this week to reflect on some of my favorite stories I’ve told since moving to Vicksburg.

I’m curious by nature, so having a job that allows me, or rather encourages me, to ask questions has been incredible.

I noticed white specks floating around my yard and my sticky, sticky car in the fall, which led to a story on wooly aphids, little bugs that overcame my backyard and much of Vicksburg and Warren County.

This job has also taught me so much about things I didn’t even know I wanted to know more about, like purple martins and frantoio olives.

I’ve also been able to be an activist for things I care about, like the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

One of my favorite stories from this past year involved meeting with the Lyons family about their cattle. The whole herd was in danger due to the rising river and lack of dry land.

An unexpected twist in my job involved launching the magazine Vicksburg Living, which has been a truly fun experience. I’ve been able to learn about the history, art and culture of Vicksburg while finding the most interesting stories to tell to you all, our readers.

The assignment that impacted me the most, no doubt, was Afton Wallace, a senior at Warren Central High School, who was diagnosed with an “impressive” malignant tumor May 22, 2014. After a yearlong with Ewing’s sarcoma, a very rare, aggressive, childhood bone cancer, Wallace died just days after her high school graduation.

Homecoming queen, Miss Warren Central, class favorite, Star Student, and captain of the swim team, Wallace’s diagnosis and subsequent fight rallied the community, and the hashtag #AftonStrong began appearing seemingly everywhere. Wallace inspired many with her mantra, “Just keep swimming.”

“If you go around moping about how much my life sucks, ‘oh, I have stage IV cancer, and everyone gets to have a normal senior year,’ you’re going to be miserable,” Wallace said. “You have to take the happiness when you can. It’s easiest if you put a smile on your face. Even if it isn’t genuine, it turns into something genuine.”

Afton and the rest of the Wallace family will never know how much of an impact they made on my life.

Thank you, Vicksburg, for welcoming me into your community and making my transition here so easy. I look forward to telling many more of your stories in the coming years. Happy reading!

Austin Vining is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. Email comments to austin.vining@vicksburgpost.com.