By Annie Rhoades
From journalism student, beat reporter and editor for The Daily Mississippian to writer for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C., alumnus Jesse Holland (BA 94), has led an accomplished career.
Born in Holly Springs, Holland, Associated Press race and ethnicity writer, had his sights set on Ole Miss long before he graduated from Mount Pleasant’s H.W. Byers High School in 1989.
“I always knew I wanted to go to Ole Miss,” Holland said. “My mother received her master’s degree in English from Ole Miss by teaching in the Marshall County Public School System and taking courses at the university in the summer.”
Holland caught the journalism bug early on in high school. Writing sports stories for the local Holly Springs newspaper, The South Reporter, and hosting a radio show for his high school gave him a taste for a career yet to come.
“I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and Ole Miss had the best journalism program not only in Mississippi, but in the entire Mid-South area,” he said.
Holland fondly recalled the formative summers he spent on the Ole Miss campus as child, while his mother was busy pursuing her master’s degree.
“I basically grew up on campus over in the old English department, which is now the music building,” said Holland. “My older sister and I would come there during the day and read books in the library while my mom took classes, and then we would go take swimming lessons in the old pool. For three to four years I spent every summer on campus, so I always knew that’s where I would end up.”
Upon arrival at Ole Miss, Holland immersed himself in all the university had to offer.
A member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, he became involved in the many offerings of the journalism department from multiple internships to campus radio hosting and reporter and editor for The Daily Mississippian.
“My fondest memories of being at Ole Miss will always be the year I was editor of the DM (1993-94),” said Holland. “Those were some of the most enjoyable days of my life working with a great group of people at the DM and with Gale Denley (BSJ 57, MA 58), after whom the S. Gale Denley Student Media Center is named. If there are any days I could relive it would be the nights spent in the basement of old Farley Hall putting together the DM.”
While he always felt it was his calling to attend Ole Miss, Holland is quick to credit the guidance of Dr. Will Norton in affirming his decision.
“I would not be a journalist today were it not for Dr. Will Norton, now dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media,” said Holland. “He and I started talking about journalism when I was in high school and [he] convinced me that Ole Miss was the place I needed to be.”
Holland also credits his academic advisor, Dr. Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center, professor and Hederman lecturer.
“Dr. Norton got me into journalism, but I will say that Dr. Husni taught me there is more to writing than simply saying someone did this at this time,” said Holland. “Dr. Husni and Dr. Norton were the two greatest influences on my journalism career. I’m always glad to see they’re both still at Ole Miss and influencing future journalists.”
Upon graduating from the university in 1994, Holland found himself in an enviable predicament – weighing two desirable job offers.
He had previously completed an internship with the Birmingham Post-Herald, which went on to offer him a full-time job when he graduated. However, an internship with The Associated Press arose that was too good to pass up.
“Gina Holland, a reporter with The Associated Press in Jackson came to speak at Farley Hall the year I was editor of the DM,” said Holland. “She urged me to apply for an internship with AP.”
After qualifying for the internship, Holland called the Post-Herald to let them know it was an opportunity he had to take.
“The internship was only for a few weeks,” said Holland. “I told the Post-Herald I would still come work for them once I completed the AP internship. I got to Columbia, S.C., and after my fourth week of the internship they offered to hire me on full-time. Of course I took the job.”
Holland will soon celebrate 20 years with The Associated Press in a career that has taken him from South Carolina to New York and eventually to Washington.
He began covering the state legislature and elections in Albany, N.Y., in 1999, which included then Gov. George Pataki and Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
After a year in Albany, Holland transferred to Washington where he first covered Congress and later the White House and the Supreme Court.
“The best thing about my career is I’ve had the chance to see things and meet people that I probably wouldn’t have in any other job” said Holland. “I’ve had the chance to eat lunch in the White House, ride Air Force One, walk through Capitol Hill and be inside the Supreme Court for some of the most important cases.”
Holland has met and talked with many prominent political figures through the years including Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as celebrities such as Stevie Wonder and B.B. King.
“Being a reporter has given me experiences that I think I wouldn’t have gotten any other way and allowed me to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Holland. “The greatest thing about being a journalist is you never know what the next day is going to bring.”
In addition to his work with the AP, Holland also includes author in his list of accolades.
His first book, Black Men Built the Capitol, was published in 2007. His second is in its early stages with an estimated release date of 2015.
“While working on my second book, I remember my days sitting in the classroom with the late Barry Hannah, former English professor, talking about writing and the best way to craft a story to get people invested in the characters you’re putting forward,” said Holland. “Those are some of my fondest memories, and I would not trade those days for anything.”
Holland gets back to Oxford as often as possible, visiting his parents in nearby Holly Springs.
He plans to continue writing, both for the AP and his own novels.
“I always planned to be a reporter,” said Holland. “It was a dream I never really thought would happen. I’ve always loved the journalism part of the job, but I also love writing books. I’m looking forward to doing more book writing. In the end I know I’m a writer. The only question for the rest of my life is, ‘what do you write next?’”