Abigail Gilbert ’14, formerly Abigail Wood, didn’t expect to end up on camera when she interviewed for a job at Channel 8 News in Lincoln, Nebraska. She’d studied English, journalism and philosophy at Hillsdale, but she’d only done print journalism. So she was surprised when the editor at the station said he hoped she didn’t just want to appear on TV to have “face time.” The thought hadn’t crossed Gilbert’s mind.
“That was the first time I realized I was going to have my face on TV,” she said. But, ever adventurous and willing, she took the job as a photojournalist, filming stories and appearing on camera every day.
“I would never have thought that I would be a photojournalist because I love print. And I was kind of snooty about the superiority of print,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time Gilbert ended up doing the unexpected. When she interviewed for the job, she had recently returned from a yearlong stay in Israel, where she volunteered for a charitable organization’s publication.
A Nebraska native, Gilbert had planned to return to Nebraska after graduation and work in journalism, but a family friend asked her to volunteer as a graphic designer for Bridges for Peace, a charitable organization that runs food banks and other ministries in Israel. As the arts editor for the Collegian during her junior and senior year at Hillsdale, Gilbert had very minimal experience in graphic design — only a crash course from fellow editors who designed the page, she said. Gilbert had never flown out of the country, but she said yes and left on her birthday in October 2014.
Gilbert knew a little about Israel through stories from her grandmother, who loved the Israeli culture so much she visited Israel every year and kept a binder with pictures from each of her trips.
“I grew up with the knowledge of Israel, keeping tabs of what was going on and current events over there and who was the prime minister at the time,” Gilbert said.
But even with her grandmother’s stories in the back of her head, Gilbert said she didn’t anticipate the vibrancy of Israeli culture.
“I had this idea of Israel as sort of a war zone,” she said. “But it is a beautiful, thriving, alive country. It’s not the kind of place you go for an adventure, it’s the kind of place you could go to live. Part of what I did while there was try to paint that picture for people.”
Gilbert got to paint that picture through her graphic design work, occasional news stories for the web, and feature stories for the organization’s publications.
During the year she stayed in Jerusalem, Gilbert said she fell in love with Israeli culture. She traveled around the country and said she found it “surreal” to be in the places where Jesus walked. She helped out in local schools. She joined a church choir. And she made a deal with her neighbor: she would iron laundry in exchange for Hebrew lessons.
“That was such a gift to be able to learn from her and at the same time to have that picture into their culture,” Gilbert said. “They invited me into that. Although that wasn’t hard to find. Everyone invited you into their culture.”
Gilbert herself invited people into the culture: senior Ramona Tausz interned in Israel during the summer Gilbert was there, and the two shared an apartment. Tausz said she was impressed by Gilbert’s kindness and hospitality, (besides offering her a place to live, Gilbert helped her navigate the bus system and find a cellphone) and also by her passion for the Jewish culture.
“She had this zeal to learn the language, get to know the people, just to serve and be of service in any way she could,” Tausz said. “She was continually educating me and helping me to understand things better.”
Gilbert said her time in Israel gave her a “wider lense” for viewing the world — appropriate, perhaps, for a photojournalist.
Now covering crime stories and the legislative beat for Channel 8, Gilbert said she enjoys her work. TV is unlike print, she said, but it’s just another way to tell a story.
She said she is happy to be back in Lincoln, too, and she recently married Hillsdale graduate Colton Gilbert ’15.
Professor of English John Somerville, who became friends with Abigail after teaching her in several classes, said he’s not surprised that she is doing well at her job.
“She’s naturally good with people and would be the sort of person who would become at ease in front of a camera and would make those she’s interviewing comfortable,” he said.
He added that Abigail was an excellent student and a good friend.
“I think of all the students I’ve had here, she’s probably one of the two or three I’ve enjoyed the most,” he said. “She had almost the perfect attitude of a student: eager to learn, hardworking, open.”
Somerville summed up the uniqueness and excitement of Gilbert’s post-Hillsdale life and career: “Who would imagine that would happen to anybody?”