Cathy Wall receives 2016 James A. Tidwell Award for Excellence in Scholastic Media Education


Harrisburg High School journalism adviser Cathy Wall was pragmatic in her advice to a room packed with other publications teachers from throughout Illinois. Pull other advisers into the Illinois journalism community, she admonished. Build relationships with administrators to remind them we are on the same team, she persuaded. Be a mentor to another adviser, she encouraged, just as the late James A. Tidwell had been to her.

This teaching honor, which from the Illinois Journalism Education Association is the highest for an adviser, was more than a recognition of years of advising, nurturing, chauffeuring and supporting her journalists. For Wall, the fact that the award carries the name of the most instrumental person in her professional life was supremely meaningful.

Wall noted that it was Tidwell, former head of the Eastern Illinois Journalism Department, who started her down the advising path when she knew little about journalism or running a publication.

“When I learned that I was going to be honored with this award, I was explaining to my students that Dr. Tidwell was the person in my professional life that was always pushing me to do a little bit more than what may be comfortable,” Wall said. “When I doubt that I can, I remember his confidence in me, and I give it my best shot because he thought I could.”

From those initial votes of confidence from Tidwell, Wall went on to do much, from advising her award-winning journalism program at Harrisburg High School, to assuming leadership of the Southern Illinois Scholastic Press Association.

Herman Albers, former journalism adviser and SISPA leader, noted Wall’s willingness to push herself and take on new challenges, even when more experienced advisers wouldn’t. After stepping up to lead SISPA, Wall also took on the huge task, along with Dr. Tidwell and others, of helping create the IHSA Journalism State tournament, now in its 11th year.

More recently, Wall can be found passionately campaigning and providing testimonials for the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act that is working its way through the Illinois House and Senate this spring.

“Get on board with this legislation,” Wall emphatically told the journalism advisers in the room. “Don’t think somebody else will do it. … Be the person who reaches out to your senator and says ‘This is important; this matters’ because guys, it does. … Make it your legacy that you helped ensure free speech for Illinois student journalists and protection for your colleagues.”

With her emotions clear but restrained, Cathy Wall accepted the adviser of the year award by returning to her mentor and making a firm call to all Illinois journalism advisers — do for others what James Tidwell did for her.

“I know for certain that I wouldn’t be here today, giving you a speech or receiving an award, if it weren’t for him,” Wall said.