By Casey Holliday
As Emily Roland walked across the stage of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts to be awarded a place in the Hall of Fame, a laundry list of achievements were rattled off: editor-in-chief of The Daily Mississippian, president of the Society of Professional Journalists chapter, choir member, recipient of the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson Scholarship.
From a young age, Roland, a senior print journalism major, was interested in music and travel. Her dad, a musician, told Emily to avoid the field and instead combine those passions with her interest in English and writing and become a journalist.
“I had never thought about working for a newspaper until my dad suggested it,” Roland said. “It just kind of stuck. The more I got into it, the idea of journalism really attracted me.”
Roland walked into the Student Media Center on the third day of her freshman year to ask to be a writer for The Daily Mississippian. It was then that she would meet Alex McDaniel, the editor-in-chief at the time.
Sitting behind McDaniel at the editing desk almost every day, Roland would question every change and edit to improve her own writing and lay the groundwork for what was to come.
“Emily’s work ethic was unlike anything I had seen from someone her age,” McDaniel said. “She was always at the newsroom, always working, always trying to find ways to improve her writing.”
Roland’s first story for the DM was about Donna O. Johnson’s “Guaranteed 4.0” plan. It ran on the front page.
“I grabbed like 50 million copies and mailed them to my family at home and in California, and last Christmas my mom gave me the article framed.”
Her rise would not stop there. After a summer internship with the Meridian Star, Roland would take over as lifestyles editor her sophomore year. Several news editors quit, and Roland became the lifestyles and news editor for about two weeks. Midway through the semester, she was appointed campus news editor and, by the beginning of the next semester, she was managing editor.
“By the end of my sophomore year, we always joked around that I was ‘chosen’ to be chief at some point,” Roland recalled. “It was like Alex picked me and trained me to one day take her place.”
According to McDaniel, their “joking around” was actually pretty close to the truth.
“One of the most frustrating things about running a college newspaper is finding students who are dependable,” McDaniel said. “But I always knew I could count on Emily and that she’d end up running the place one day.”
Spending the fall semester of her junior year as managing editor, Roland experienced the toughest semester academically she had so far, and chose to spend the spring as copy chief. Finding out in March that she would get to spend her senior year as editor-in-chief, Roland immediately started work, and used the summer to lay the foundations of her vision of the Mississippian.
“I would have been shocked if Emily hadn’t gotten editor-in-chief,” said Emily Cegielski, senior journalism major and Roland’s former roommate. “Ever since freshman year, it was what she was working toward, and when Emily wants something, she works her butt off to get it.”
Roland’s first goal was to create a new layout. The design usually changes with every editor-in-chief, creating a new look for the newspaper every August. She worked to create one that corresponded with two Ole Miss themes ─ tradition and respectability ─ and was easy to read and, according to Roland, “look[ed] like a newspaper.”
When it came to the website, she knew it needed work. Although she helped where she could, in the end, Roland was not completely satisfied with the results.
“I’m not a code person; I can’t program or write HTML,” Roland said. “I was more advocating change. We needed a website that looked and functioned better, and I was part of the planning about what the website needed to have on it and what it needed to be able to do, but that was where my role stopped. It still needs a lot of work. I hope the next editor can give more attention to the website than I was able to.”
In addition to her work redesigning the newspaper, Roland led The Daily Mississippian team to multiple awards.
“Every decision I’ve made since I was a freshman was a ‘I hope this is the right choice’ moment,” Roland said. “Winning those awards told me ‘okay, okay, I did that right.’”
Ole Miss students dominated the Southeast Journalism Conference’s “Best of the South” awards in February. The Daily Mississippian won fourth in the Best College Newspaper category, where the DM was the top-ranked daily newspaper. The DM website won second place for Best College Website. The DM and its staff also won many awards this year in the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Region 12 contest, and the Associated Press Managing Editors contest.
The most personal award for Roland was on Jan. 25, 2013. Seated among 153 of her peers who were also being honored as “Who’s Who” students,” Roland discovered she was being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Inclusion in the Hall of Fame is one of the most prestigious honors a student at the University of Mississippi can receive. The tradition extends back to 1930 and currently highlights 10 students who embody superior academics and service, as well as a strong potential to become leaders in their careers and communities. For Roland, being selected was an utter shock.
“I couldn’t believe it then, and I can’t believe it now,” Roland said. “It was the high point. It told me people appreciate what I’m doing, and that it matters. When you’ve spent nights crying in your room because you had to spend so much time at the newspaper and didn’t have time for laundry, it’s so humbling to be told, ‘Thank you for what you’ve done.’”
Casey Holliday is a senior in the Meek School. He is from Nesbit, Miss.