Academics

Already a full-time reporter, veteran prepares for next steps after graduation

Storytelling emerges for retired Marine, one-time garbage man

Clayton Over, a 28-year-old journalism major who served in the Marines and worked full time throughout his senior year, will graduate with high distinction from the College of Communications. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Ten years ago, Clayton Over was preparing to graduate from Williamsburg High School, a small public high school about 35 miles southeast from State College.

He was excited and nervous to join the Marines, looking forward to the challenges and experiences to come.

"At the same time, I had a very real understanding that the four-year period of my enlistment would shape the rest of my life, however long that would be,” said Over.

Since graduating high school, he has served two tours in Iraq, collected garbage and worked full time at the Centre Daily Times, covering police and courts. As he prepares to graduate from Penn State on May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he clearly understands the impact of his experiences.

“It’s been an interesting 10 years,” said Over, in a masterfully understated manner. “It has been an action-packed, very educational 10-year period of time. A little bumpy at times, for sure, but a great ride nonetheless. I guess one of the biggest changes from then until now is that I have a lot more confidence in myself, and I’ve learned to trust not only my own abilities but the ride itself.”

About 10 days after graduating high school in 2005, Over, who enlisted in the Marines, headed to boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina, in what would be the first step in a four-year stint in the corps that included two seven-month deployments to Iraq.

Following graduation of boot camp, he advanced to infantry school at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and became a mortarman as a member of the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. After a pre-deployment evaluation in Twentynine Palms, California, Over deployed to Iraq for the first time in July 2006. On the first trip, which was around Fallujah, his platoon was assigned to protect their battalion commander, touring the area and patrolling on foot and in Humvees.

“At that point in time things were still pretty violent in that region of the country,” said Over. “Not as bad as it had been at other points in time, but it was still pretty bad.”

Over returned home in February 2007, knowing he would be doing another tour. Eight months later at the end of October, he deployed again, this time until March 2008. In his second tour, he was stationed around the city of Ramadi. According to Over, it was less violent the second time around and his unit only experienced one violent incident. Much of the time, he was on foot patrol, attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which included training Iraqi police.

“I spent 14 months, more than a year of my life, over there,” said Over. “When I was in, it seemed like that four years was a really, really long period of time. After that, it seems like it has gone really, really fast. I wouldn’t change anything.”

Upon his discharge from the Marines in 2009, Over returned home. He wasn’t ready to return to school, so he looked for a job. He took a gig as a garbage man for a period of time before starting a job buffing and detailing cars at Blue Knob Auto Sales in Duncansville, Pennsylvania. 

After about two years, he decided to attend Penn State. Even after starting classes at Penn State Altoona in fall 2011, Over was always keeping busy and finding jobs to do around classes. His co-curricular employment included waiting tables, working at a grocery store and a job at the Nittany Mall over Christmas break after he moved to State College.

It wasn’t until recently that Over realized how all of his jobs, including the military, have paid off for him in the field of journalism.

While in the Marines, he spent time all over the country and overseas.

“There’s just the discipline involved in it. That was the big thing,” said Over. “Also, they really preach being the best at anything you do. That always helped me buckle down when I had to for classes and do what I needed to do to take care of what whatever I needed to for work or class.

“Something else, I traveled around quite a bit. I met all kinds of different people. That’s something that helps me with the job now. I met people from all over the country and had to interact with them and work with them. On top of all that, I deployed to Iraq. You’re communicating with people who might only know a little bit of English and I only knew a little bit of Arabic, and communicating that way. That really helped in a job like this, in communications dealing with all kinds of people.”

The same could be said for his experiences in jobs after getting out of the Marines.

“It’s interesting how doing all of these different jobs has helped me a lot more than just paying the bills,” said Over. “I was dealing with the public with a lot of those positions. You really learn how to treat people — waiting tables especially. If people aren’t happy, they’ll let you know about it. I really learned some things doing that. I was getting a whole other education outside of the classroom that’s really paying dividends now.”

Over had always known he would end up coming to Penn State, being the closest university to home. As an added bonus, his military experience and the GI Bill of Rights helped pay for his education. Though he has been a print journalism major since arriving on campus, it was his time in the Marines that really helped him realize he had a gift for storytelling.

“That’s whenever I noticed that when I would tell stories to my friends of mine that they would listen to me and they liked it,” said Over. “That’s when I really started thinking about it. I was like, ‘Yeah, that would seem like a pretty good job for me to do.’”

After two years at Penn State Altoona, Over came to the University Park campus and began as a candidate for The Daily Collegian in fall 2013. He initially covered the city beat. He had always seen himself covering news rather than sports or features. He covered local government for the student paper in the spring of 2014 before completing an internship with the Altoona Mirror in the summer and getting his first taste of crime and courts.

After learning the ropes at the Collegian and taking classes at Penn State, a full-time reporting position at the Centre Daily Times opened in late September. Despite the fact that he was taking 14 credits and had only been reporting for a little more than a year, Over saw an opportunity to get his name out there and put his resume in front of people.

“Sure enough, I got hired,” said Over. “I started like three weeks after I applied.”

A typical day for Over includes a visit to the courthouse in Bellefonte, a State College Police briefing every day at 2:30 p.m., phone calls, writing and making time for his one class — a political science course to complete his minor that meets Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Over credits The Daily Collegian and his classes at Penn State for providing the necessary base and skill set. The hands-on experiences he has received since starting at Penn State have been invaluable. 

“He really stood out as someone who understood what a story was, how to report the story and was not afraid to talk to people and was not afraid to put the reporting hours in and then just a very solid, solid writer. Well organized, very clear,” said interim head of the department of journalism Russ Eshleman, who had Over in three classes. “He’s a success story, there’s no doubt about that.”

Now, the 28-year-old senior is set to graduate with high distinction, while working full time. “This is a good place to be just coming out of school, or before I even got out,” said Over. “Moving forward, ideally I’d like to stay with a newspaper. I’ll just have to see where the road takes me.” 

Clayton Over during his Marine Corps training. Credit: Clayton OverAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated June 02, 2021