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A Conversation with Greg Heller-LaBelle

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What does a college senior of the year look like? According to the honorary society Omicron Delta Kappa, this year he looks like Greg Heller-LaBelle. He carried four majors (English writing, psychology, religious studies and art history) at the University of Pittsburgh while serving two years running as editor-in-chief of the daily Pitt News and later working with student government. When Heller-LaBelle started at Pitt, in 2001, it was a sort of homecoming: While he spent his teen years in Bethlehem, Pa., he and his family were Shadysiders during the 1980s and early '90s. Now 23, he will soon have a permanent presence on campus: The names of ODK honorees are carved into the stone walkway between Heinz Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning.

 

Does one apply to be senior of the year?

If you're applying to be senior of the year, should you really be? I never do anything for an award, yet I somehow still put in an application. So call me a hypocrite. They ask you that terrible question: "Why should this be you?" ... and the implied question, "Why shouldn't it be someone else?" My answer to that question is, "It probably should be someone else."

 

So you'll be giving it back?

Any award really isn't about the person who gets it. It's about the organization that awards it. And what that says is, "These are the things we think are important, these are the things we want people to do." And so I wanted Pitt to say, "A newspaper is an important part of our community."

 

Were you surprised to win?

I was blown away. I've been given so many great opportunities by Pitt to work with people. And I've screwed up god knows how many times ... a large part of learning is done through the fucking-up. I've been rewarded for those failures with more opportunities, which has been just wonderful for me.

 

No cash with the ODK, then?

[They] carve your name into a sidewalk. I don't know what to do with that.

 

Looks like the winners might be buried underneath.

Yeah, maybe it's a tomb that gets set up there.

 

Four majors, huh?

It sounds more impressive than it is. They're all in the vein of humanities, even though psychology technically carries a bachelor of science. It's less unusual when you factor in that I was recruited by the Honors College, which loves multiple majors and getting people to branch out.

 

Are you considering a journalism career?

For me, being the editor of the paper involved remarkably little journalism. It was really a mangement position. And I loved it. I love to write, but at the same time [...] when I'm happiest is when I'm solving problems, when I'm working with people, and that can really happen in any number of fields.

 

What are you doing now?

I just moved to Shadyside. I have a couple interviews this week with things in politics and PR. I think I'd like to work in politics. I think it'd be a lot of fun. I think it's something I could have a good effect in, positively affect the world around me ... that sounds way more lofty than I intended it to. As long as I'm solving problems and working with good people, I'm gonna be pretty happy.

 

Are you interested in elected office?

God, not really. I think my skills would put me more on the strategy, the behind-the-scenes personality.

 

Is there pressure to succeed now?

There are a lot of people who say, "You shouldn't have any trouble getting jobs." I don't have one lined up, so we've already had "some trouble." I don't expect any more of myself because I won awards.

 

Do employers like multiple majors?

There are still places in the job market that view that as being unfocused. I view that as a tragic misinterpretation of versatility. I think the smarter corporations are going to understand that people who have diverse interests really think about things, have different points of view that they can come at.

 

Did you consider grad school?

I've been in class for a long time. And really, the things I was starting to enjoy most by the end of this were the things that weren't class ... my work with student government, my work at the newspaper. You know, you're really doing something. I really felt like it was time for me to go do something.

 

You still sound pretty high on Pitt.

I love the openness of it. I was able to go to Bosnia with a professor. Pitt's just overflowing with those opportunities. When you leave a place, that's the type of thing you remember. It's gonna be the Pitt News, the student government, the people I met. Even in classes. That's really what you take with you, in the end. It's not a piece of paper. It never is.

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