Thank you for showing me what it means to be from a “small town.”

When I first received an offer from the News-Star to intern here, I was nervous. I thought I was meant for something bigger, something different, but as the days rolled by, I found myself getting far more invested than I ever thought I would.

The Town

At the beginning of the summer, I asked the Shawnee community to show me the town and help me tell stories. Well, the community answered.

To my surprise, I was met with several emails, phone calls and tweets about who lives here and what’s experienced. My first impression: alright, they’re listening.

So, to the best of my ability, I attempted to match that. I hope I succeeded in listening — we noticed the interest in Joe Cool out in Bethel Acres, that Shawnee Splash was an everyday must and wanted to see what was going on at the rodeo.

I got to see the joy on kids’ faces as they got splashed with water, see veterans get honored and watch as their eyes swelled with tears. I met a man who is making strides in Indonesia because of parting words from his father, whom he never met. I got to fly in, and steer, a Cessna 172 over Shawnee; take photos at one of the twin lakes at sunset; watch Shawnee in a 7-on-7 against Meeker; learn more than I ever cared to learn about tractors; found an appreciation for making bales of hay and found a love for the rodeo.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never felt more at home, or more Southern, than I did here.

And I’m sad I won’t get to make my daily 45-minute commute down Highway 9.

But. This isn’t goodbye.

The Newsroom

I agreed to intern in Shawnee before I saw the town or the newsroom. Most people would say this was dumb, but it’s proven to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

On my first day, the wonderful Kim Morava took me on a tour of the town. I ate at Hamburger King, which has the best pie around and no one can tell me otherwise, and took note of the amazing architecture that surrounds the streets. I drank in the warm colors of the bricks and stone, the art on the walls downtown and warm smiles that grew on the people passing by.

By the end of the first week, I knew I was already getting attached, so what else could I do but write it down:

“Week one was exhausting, but in the best way. My heart is full. I was published online Tuesday, in the paper Thursday through Sunday. This is a really great experience.

“Learning from Adam is hilarious. He’s warm and genuine. Kim, too. She has a very good heart.

“I think the people make the journey, and these people are fantastic. We talk about not just journalism, but life, too. It’s easy to get attached — I think I’m already getting attached.”

Most people won’t recognize the people who work in the newsroom if they saw them on the street, but I think I’ll have these people in my heart for a very long time.

Each person in the room, whether it be Brad Casto, Danielle Shoopman or Kent Bush, taught me something valuable about people and journalism.

Adam Ewing took over as the sports editor, and he’s been...relatively good day-time company, but when I started here, he was one of the news reporters. One of the most important things he taught me was to be comfortable in my own skin, not just in journalism but in life.

With journalism, it was walking in and knowing we are here to do work, but we’re allowed to have a personality — historically mine is rather quiet, reserved and a professional-outlook — and it helps connect with people. In life, it’s being able to look at yourself in the mirror and know you’ve done good work for the day and the week.

Adam and I joke around a lot, but it always comes back to journalism. It always comes back to work first.

And that’s true for everyone at the News-Star. We have fun here. We make jokes, we connect, we talk about poetry, exchange books, get excited for each other when we break the internet or win a contest (or come close to it). But it’s always about getting the story right and telling the story well.

That’s why I’m not saying goodbye. Not exactly.

My name may pop up in the paper every once in a while, or you’ll see me on the sidelines of high school football games, because I’ll be freelancing until I graduate in May — and maybe you’ll see it after then, too.

So, Shawnee, feel free to email me with a news tip or just to say hi (arahdnais@ou.edu) because I’m sticking around for as long as I can.

This isn’t just some “small town” — it’s a town with a big, big heart.