By Liz McCue, assistant director of communications and media relations — as printed in the 2023 Norfolk Area Shopper College Guide
For four years, Norfolk High School graduate Trey Porter was the face of Doane University. Except, the 2023 Doane grad couldn’t tell anyone it was him.
It’s a point of pride for a mascot, after all, that fans knew him only as Thomas the Tiger, the silent comedian who pumped up crowds, welcomed campus visitors and posed for selfies.
“The summer before freshman year, I saw it and thought, ‘oh yes, that’ll be perfect!’” Porter said of a 2019 call for students to apply for the mascot role.
Playing Thomas the Tiger was just one part of Porter’s Doane experience. He found a home in the university’s award-winning theatre department, led news and audio production for 91.9 KDNE and made lifelong friends in the Alpha Pi Epsilon (APE) fraternity.
“I had the freedom to do a lot of things at Doane that I couldn’t do at a larger college,” Porter said. “I could do things like, join the forensics team my senior year at Doane and then make it to nationals.”
(And he really did join the forensics team, qualified his first-ever event, a dramatic interpretation, and competed at the American Forensic Association National Speech Tournament.)
It almost didn’t happen, though. Porter initially started film school to become a movie actor, but realized he wanted a different path. He did know of Doane — his girlfriend (now fiancee) went to Doane, and he’d seen Doane memorabilia in the classroom of his high school theater teacher, 2005 graduate Taryn Retzlaff. A visit with Doane Theatre Department faculty members Joel Egger and Rob McKercher, and knowledge that the university had a student-run radio station, sealed the deal for his transfer.
Porter’s experiences at Doane allowed him to grow and challenge himself in ways he hadn’t even imagined in high school. Take the APEs. At a larger university, Porter said it wouldn’t have been an option for him to join a fraternity.
“I wouldn’t have fit in with that,” he said, of national fraternities.
But Doane’s Greek life is all locally based. Some of his fraternity brothers were also in theater, but many were involved in a range of activities across campus — athletics, volunteering for Relay for Life, vocal and instrumental music. At Doane, it worked, he said.
His degree program also provided him with all the skills for his job after graduation, doing audio work for the Nebraska state government. Porter actually was offered the job a full two months before even receiving his diploma. He majored in strategic communication and media communication, with a minor in theatre, learning about video and audio production, radio station management, communication and media, public speaking, script writing, etc.
“There’s so many careers that I can apply what I learned,” Porter said.
And while he’s no longer handing out swag or high-fives during Orange Fridays — where, at 3 p.m. each Friday, students wearing Doane apparel spin a wheel for prizes — his memories from Doane are going to last far longer than his collection of koozies and tshirts.
There are the memories of working with his adviser, Nathaniel Wilson, director of forensics and assistant professor of practice in communication, to clean up Doane’s broadcasting studio and get it in working order for modern media production. Traveling with the forensics team to Santa Ana, California. Holding a lead role in the 2022 production of The Humans.
“That was very fulfilling,” he said. “That was the role I’m most proud of at this point.”
And of course, being Thomas the Tiger.
“I always had the greatest time doing it,” he said.