Each year the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication selects 12 students to be named McGill Fellows for the McGill Lecture and Symposium. Through their participation, the students will also have the opportunity to help select the winner of the McGill Medal, which will be presented to an American journalist whose career has exemplified journalistic courage. This year, Thomaston native Ryan Williams was selected to be one of the Fellows. He was the 2009 Valedictorian at Upson-Lee and is currently a senior at UGA and is pursuing a double major in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. He is the son of Ms. Deborah Williams and Dr. Ben Williams.
“It is an incredible honor to be one of the few selected,” said Williams. “To be the only broadcast journalism student to represent that branch of the Grady Department-it’s something that I never expected. I’ve gone to the lecture the last two years and seen the other fellows, but never thought I’d be one of them.”
For more than 30 years, the McGill Lecture has brought significant figures in journalism to the University of Georgia to honor Ralph McGill’s courage as an editor. McGill, while editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution, was regarded as the conscience of the South, using the newspaper’s editorial pages to challenge segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. McGill was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his long, courageous and effective leadership.
Williams is part of the sixth class of McGill Fellows, that is made up of 10 undergraduate and 2 graduate students. He was selected by a committee of Grady faculty, who made their decisions based on students who showed strengths in academics, leadership and practical experience. In addition to Williams, this year’s class includes seniors Julia Carpenter, Jacob Demmitt, Amanda Dixon, Maura Friedman, Parys Grigsby, Mariana Heredia, Elayna Rose, and Kavi Vu and junior Gina Yu – as well as graduate students Jessica Luton and Stephen Morgan.
The McGill Fellows will start their day on October 24 with the McGill Symposium, which brings together students, faculty and leading journalists to consider what journalistic courage means and how it is exemplified by reporters and editors. They will then attend and be introduced at the McGill Lecture, which will be presented by PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair. Williams stated he is most interested in hearing the lecture, but is also glad for the experience that will allow him to meet many professionals and better understand how to get on their level career-wise.
When asked if he felt he has had the opportunity to work on a piece that demonstrated journalistic courage, Williams said the one story that sticks out in his mind is when he was able to interview Andy Miller, who is the Editor and CEO of Georgia Health News, for a class that also produces a live news show two days a week.
“I was able to talk to him about how hospitals are becoming more local oriented and are transitioning from typical health care to outpatient oriented, from surgical to wellness center,” said Williams. “The story actually centered on the impending Medicaid and the decisions states will have to make in reference to the Affordable Care Act.”
After he graduates in the spring, Williams is considering going to grad school or law school before starting his career. He feels that having a double major of both journalism and political science will be beneficial work hand in hand for whatever path he may choose. He is very interested in judicial politics and being a political correspondent and ultimately, his dream job would be to work in Washington, D. C.