Olivia Williams was in elementary school when she discovered what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
The 5th-graders with the best grades got pulled out of class to read the morning announcements. Williams, who is preparing to graduate Tuesday from Mint Hill’s Independence High School, enjoyed doing it, and decided that she would pursue it in middle school.
But it took a conversation with her dad to figure out that broadcasting wasn't just a passion — it was her dream job.
“That's when it kind of sparked,” Williams said.
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She's been a part of her school's TV news club throughout high school. By 10th grade, she had become the program’s leader.
That year, Williams was one of only three students returning to the broadcast team, and their old adviser had left. She quickly became the driving force behind rebuilding the program.
“I only knew one job, and a little bit of another one,” she said. “I had to keep going and figuring it out for myself while teaching other people to do it.”
Now, she is an anchor for the program, and has served as its director for three years. Williams describes herself as the “authority figure” of the club, though her official title is “executive producer.” She keeps order in the newsroom in the mornings, supervises projects, mediates staff conflicts and keeps everyone on the team well-stocked with the resources they need. She also anchors the show.
Lauren Schultz, the newsroom supervisor and media coordinator, says that she wouldn’t be surprised to see Williams on a list of Pulitzer Prize-winners one day.
“She's pretty much in charge of the students,” Schultz said. “I'm going to be blatantly honest with you — I am literally the adult in the room, and she runs it. If there are any issues, she is generally the one to try and problem-solve it and address it before it even gets to me.”
Williams also helped kick off Independence's Student News Lab, a course funded through a PBS grant that lets students pitch, film and edit their own news stories.
Williams isn’t enrolled in the course, but she’s advised the teacher and students on how to set up their newsroom, use their technology and report on stories. She’s become an intern with the local PBS station, and worked on a news lab story about students at her school who walked out to protest gun violence.
Williams said she’s taken away several lessons on leadership in the last four years: You can't mediate and resolve a conflict if neither side is wrong. If you criticize in private, it might become public. There's a fine line between being a leader and being a friend.
William’s family is throwing a celebration soon — she and her two older brothers, Donny and Dolan, are all graduating this spring, from Independence High School, UNC-Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College, respectively.
In the fall, Williams is going to Appalachian State University to study broadcast journalism — after spending much of her childhood in Girl Scouts and a Venture Club chapter that she started, she’s excited to experience the outdoorsy culture of Boone.
But first, she wants to leave behind a message for other high schoolers.
“I think that focusing on getting educated and having fun is the most important thing,” Williams said. “And the more you put into high school, the more you get out at the end of it.”