Elizabeth A. Conkey

At the end of last May, I arrived in Bennington for my first day of work as a reporter for the Banner, still wearing the black dress from my grandmother’s funeral that same morning.

This job was my first "real" reporting job out of college and I was convinced that the death of my beloved grandmother only a few days prior was in some way a bad omen, that it meant the job wasn’t for me or that I wouldn’t be successful.

My parents encouraged me to embrace the opportunity and told me to be excited for the job I’d waited so long to have, but during the drive from Albany to Bennington, I found myself doubting them and myself.

Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Upon arrival to the Banner, I was quickly greeted by supportive and welcoming colleagues who soon after became my friends -- some very close ones now -- and gradually found my niche in both the paper and the community as a reporter always striving to tell the positive stories of our town.

Over the past seven months, I’ve covered events in neighboring New York -- including the always colorful Hoosick town meetings -- and captured the reaction of a local Twelve Tribes sect following a massive seizure of children from their community’s German equivalent.

When I wasn’t busy covering the New York side of things, I dug for stories here in Bennington, a town and community with which it did not take me long to fall in love.

During this past summer’s Relay for Life, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Isaac Sprague, a local young man battling bone cancer. His story of bravery, survival, and decision to cease conventional chemotherapy treatment and tread a more natural path to wellness inspired me to write what I believe to be my best and most powerful story to date, and was cause for a tidal wave of feedback from the Bennington community.

I introduced a holistic health series over the summer, in which I highlighted naturopathic and holistic ways to reduce stress and gain health. Through this series of stories, I was able to explore my passion for natural wellness and meet many wonderful local practitioners and artists who were passionate about their modalities and their perceived health benefits.

In August, I began covering the local education beat, which encompassed the schools in both the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union. As a former YMCA childcare worker and New York City nanny, lifelong babysitter, and lover of children, this beat was a perfect fit for me.

I looked forward to visiting each school, interacting with the students, forging relationships with teachers and administrators, and highlighting the positive happenings in our local schools.

I was inspired to learn of Fisher Elementary’s inclusive attitude in regards to its special education program and students, and thrilled when News Channel 13 Education Reporter Elaine Houston read my story and crafted her own segment to feature its uniqueness.

I worked hard to accurately report this fall’s events within the SVSU as Superintendent Catherine McClure announced her imminent retirement and the search for a replacement began.

When I visited the Bennington School a few months ago I found their integration of yoga and Tai Chi into their everyday curriculum to be revolutionary. The feature I wrote to that end shortly thereafter led to a job offer within the school that I accepted two weeks ago.

Today is my last day at the Banner and it’s bittersweet. I begin my new position in public relations at the Bennington School this Monday, where I will also be teaching yoga.

As I write this, and my last two news stories today, it’s hard to articulate how exactly I am feeling. I am disappointed to be leaving the Banner, and obviously excited to begin this next chapter in my career, but mostly, I am feeling thankful.

I have learned so much from my colleagues during my short time here, especially from photographer Peter Crabtree, and credit the majority of my growth as a writer over these past months to their patience and encouragement.

However, the e-mails, phone calls, letters, and face-to-face interactions from members of the Bennington community have also helped to shape me into what I hope is a much more mature, thoughtful, and engaging reporter.

I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to our Publisher Ed Woods and Editor Michelle Karas for giving me my start. Thank you both for your support in my transition. Your well wishes mean a lot.

If there is one thing I have learned since moving to Bennington and working so closely with the community, it is that this little slice of Vermont is unique in all of its beauty and the kindness of its residents.

Thank you to everyone who welcomed me so warmly into their circles of friends, their homes, and their neighborhoods. Your kindness will never be overlooked and I can only hope to emulate your generosity in the future.

I look forward to remaining an active member of the Bennington community and enjoying our hometown newspaper in a different way -- as a reader, just like all of you.