Zach Wendling

I have changed a lot since high school, and each day, I often strive to distance myself as much as possible from the me of the past.

On my first day of classes as a lowly freshman less than two years ago, I was undeclared. I had hopes to be a high school English teacher or to go back to my dream of being a veterinarian. Some hope that I could be an actor on the side. I had this idea from high school I could do anything.

Instead, I became a journalism major.

Declaring my major just weeks into my freshman year was startling to say the least. I was shedding this high school model of myself that I had created, and I had to rewrite my future.

It also probably helped that there were some bridges from high school so thoroughly burned there was no hope of returning to that dystopian view of myself I had created.

I was terrified of what the future held, and there are moments when I still question if journalism is right for me.

I mean, I have a duty to uphold the stories, perspectives and mindsets of those I talk to — those who trust me to do them justice.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who is still in college.

But, I also know that, in spite of everything that went wrong in high school — from the drama that plagued our theater department (trust me, the irony was not lost on anybody) to the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. work days — I will be alright because of what I learned in grade school.

This week I reconnected with my high school theater department (and to any drama or performing arts high schooler out there, I highly recommend against this) for a class assignment.

In doing so, I was reminded of how much my performing arts background prepared me for where I am now.

While in theater, actors are required to step into someone else’s mind. They become someone else. They share all the thoughts, hopes and fears of their characters. They adopt any mannerisms that character may have had.

This act takes real empathy.

Naturally, this prepares me whenever I interview someone now because I’m trying to think of what their motives are, what their internal monologue will be and how these comments are going to help or hurt them in the long run, all so I can craft better questions and look at the story from the an impartial view.

After all, that’s the oath of the journalistic mantle.

I’ll do everything I can to look at those around me and ask myself, “What would happen if I was in their shoes?” and, “How can I do this story justice?”

I’m also trying to be cautious because the life of a journalist is no walk in the park either. I, like so many others, share the fears that many journalists are narrowing the line of fear mongering and agenda setting, violating our own oath of objectivity.

But I have hope that everyone is not wicked, and that is probably due to my dumbstricken passion for seeing stories through and knowing that with each play or musical, there’s at least some concrete ending.

This job isn’t always about making friends. Heck, most of the time what I do is going to make people angry. 

No matter what happens, I weigh the pros and cons of every story I write every day.

Despite my nontraditional leap into news writing, I prospered more than I could have ever dreamed. I say this not to brag but to serve as an example to anyone thinking of changing or looking for a new passion that your future is yours to create.

I think often about engineering or pre-med students and how so much of these careers require prior experience and training. 

While I’ve never stepped into these fields, I did work at a zoo, and I knew how much training it took to understand the quirks and subtleties of that field.

While different, everything I did that was not writing made me a better journalist, because I knew better how to look at the world.

My high school theater department had a motto: “Honor yourself. Honor each other. Honor the theatre you represent.” We even called ourselves a family, and most days when I was there, it really did feel like we were a family. 

Cheesy, I know.

Then, graduation comes, and things change — beyond the point of return — and you have to focus on the future, no matter how scared you may be.

While I didn’t have any journalism experience prior to coming to UNL, taking the stage for three years — as a grumpy old Harvard admissions counselor destined to deny Elle Woods enrollment or the power hungry lord protector terrified of Cinderella seizing the throne alongside her Prince Charming — taught me some of the most valuable lessons of all.

To anyone fearful they’ve made the wrong decision with their major or worried they’re not prepared because of what they did in high school, don’t be.

It is never too late to prepare yourself for success; don’t count yourself out.

In remembrance of our scarred high school memories,

Zach Wendling

Zach Wendling is a COVID editor for The Daily Nebraskan. Reach him at