Alumna lives as a big fish in a small pond

Jessica Andrews Giard Collegian Alumna


I cried as I pulled off the interstate at exit 263 in the middle of South Dakota. This wasn’t where I was supposed to be, was it? 

A month after graduating from SDSU, I was moving to a small town in the middle of South Dakota to work a job making $15,500 per year, a pittance but a paycheck. Considering I arrived in Chamberlain, S.D., population 2,300, with $70 in my checking account, a paycheck was what I needed. 

I had big ideas 13 years ago. I would save the world. I would make a difference. I would have an awesome job doing what I loved with my shiny new Bachelor’s degree. What is it they say? “You can go anywhere from here.” Then, why was I moving back to rural South Dakota, when I was meant for places far and wide? 

It was a place to start. My housing arrangements were super cheap thanks to my kind aunt and her empty basement. I had no problem getting the job working for the local chamber of commerce. Give me a year or two in the job and I’d be on to something else. 

Chamberlain was an excellent place to start and build my skills. I did move on after a year and a half, but I eventually came back, for a variety of reasons unrelated to career growth. 

I ended up working for a newspaper, even though I never wanted to work for a newspaper. But, turns out, we weren’t a bad match. And, being in a small town, I could be a big fish of sorts. 

It’s like what my applied sociology professor told us in class one day, rural communities can be successful and attract young people by talking about the change you can make in a small town. You can be a big fish. You can gain experience. You can volunteer. You can become a go-to person. You can make a difference. 

But, I wasn’t thinking about those things on Jan. 16, 2001, when I pulled off Interstate 90 to start a life in this town on the river. I expected to be bored. I expected to have nothing to do. No social life. No friends. Just work and riding my bicycle. 

Yeah, it’s not perfect in a small town. The things I didn’t like about small town life, having been raised in a small town and always planning my grand escape, still exist. But people care about each other and ask about your kids by name. The owner of the movie theater knows her customers by name, including me. Just like so many of the other shop owners in town. I find comfort in the familiarity and low-stress traffic. 

No, this wasn’t what I had in mind 13 years ago, but I didn’t have a lot of things in mind that have happened in life. Many of those things … have been good things. Possibility exists in rural communities to make a difference and develop personally, a fact young graduates – like myself so many years ago – should try and openly explore. 

Jessica Andrews Giard is an SDSU and Collegian alumna. She is currently a freelance writer living in Chamberlain.