My First Emmy® Was So Rewarding…But…

Showing My High School Journalism Teacher Was Priceless

By Jessica Harrington, ABC30 Fresno
Guest Contributor

Growing up, I always wanted to be a math teacher.

I was good at it.

It came easy to me.

I’d planned to teach algebra in high school, just like Mrs. Love, my sophomore algebra teacher.

She talked about a special heirloom that was passed down to her from her middle school math teacher.

She hoped to pass it down to a student someday too.

I knew that student would be me.

You see, I grew up in a small town called Coalinga.

It had a population of about 12,000 people when I was there and your career paths were teaching, Ag, oil or working at the prison.

Heading into summer of 2008, Tom Lucero, the AP English, multimedia and drama teacher, encouraged me to try something different for my last year of high school.

I had been part of the leadership class my freshman, sophomore and junior year.

“Why don’t you give the multimedia class a try next year?” he asked me.

“Writing for a newspaper? I don’t think so,” I laughed.

“No, our broadcast team. Come join ‘In the News at CHS.’”

And I did.

I had no idea how transformative that year would be.

I was shooting video, editing newscasts and interviewing people weekly.

I beamed over each completed project.

I went onto college and received my bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in journalism.

I snagged a summer fellowship in New York City working with ABC News.

I sat just off to the side of where David Muir anchored the news every evening.

I was hired in Bakersfield, which meant I was in a market only 1.5 hours from my hometown.

I covered wildfires, murder trials, 5K runs and police corruption.

All of that happened because of that one conversation with Mr. Lucero.

After multiple years in Bakersfield I was hired by the top station in the Fresno market, KFSN-ABC30.

It was the channel I grew up watching.

Now, I know it as the station where I received my first two Emmy® nominations.

It’s also now the station where I won my first Emmy®.

Our weekend evening team was nominated twice for Best Evening Newscast – once for Saturday and once for Sunday – for our coverage of the Oak Fire in Mariposa County.

It was a wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in our mountain community.

Our small, but mighty, weekend team was able to get critical, comprehensive information out to our viewers.

And through the SF/Norcal Emmys®, we were recognized for our efforts.

Our team, dressed better than we have ever dressed, and gathered in San Francisco on June 3.

We knew we would win an Emmy® that night because it was us versus us, literally.

No one else was nominated in our category.

I was excited, but I didn’t know what it would mean to me until I opened up the statuette’s box and saw my name on it.

I’m not one to openly share or express my emotions, but that night I couldn’t help but be overcome by the years of hard work I put in finally being recognized by my peers.

I knew this accomplishment was thanks to countless people along the way, but really came down to the one person who helped springboard my career.

Four days after the award show I raced back to Coalinga.

I coordinated with the high school principal to sneak into Mr. Lucero’s class.

He wasn’t expecting me and he didn’t know our team was nominated, let alone won.  

In front of his current multimedia students, I pulled the statuette of the box and proudly told him I’d won my first Emmy®.

His response?

“It’s about time! Congratulations!”

It was a full circle moment I will cherish forever. 

While I’m disappointed I never got that heirloom from my former math teacher, I think the tradeoff was worth it.

This career has given me the opportunity to connect with people I likely would’ve never met.

I’ve seen places I likely would’ve never visited.

And I have a career I likely would’ve never explored.

I’m so grateful for what journalism has done for my life.

And I’m even more grateful for Mr. Lucero.