Shortly after Debbie and I were married in September 2004, I was invited to speak with aspiring journalists or those interested in a journalism career at my alum mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia.
It was not the first time I had spoken at the university, but the previous times it was to a much smaller contingent of students in a classroom the size of a McDonalds dining room with desks scattered about. It was a much more personal attempt at showcasing what I did back in the day.
But this time was different. The classroom, which I had sat through lectures in as a student, was much larger and filled to the brim with young people investigating a career in journalism or taking a class to fill a credit. The Agriculture Journalism program had a new director since I had left a few years earlier and he brought with it a more science-based focus to reporting. He was a former big city science reporter.
One questions that I do recall was centered around where do people in small towns get their national news? I don’t remember my answer, but I suppose like those in big towns, they get it from the local big city television news stations, national and state newspapers if interested and the internet, which was much different in 2004 than it is today.
I wanted to do what I had done in the past, show photos and talk about my job. Those present may have wanted more and looking back, I may have flopped, at least in sharing how small town folks get their national news. I didn’t have an answer for every question thrown my way, but it was OK.
I was more interested in talking about Uncle Ed’s dinosaur bone collection, Fred’s lawn mower repair service or what the local school board was doing than wondering where small town folks garnered their national news.
Even though I’ve never been invited back, I do appreciate the experience and hope in some way that I shared something that helped a student become interested in community journalism. That has always been my goal in life to make others feel important through the pages of the newspaper or with a kind word or deed.
When I went back to school, had I looked at what I didn’t know, I would have never gone. Instead, I tried to focus on using what I had and going from there. When I failed, which I did on numerus occasions, it gave me the opportunity to get up and go at it again.
I’m proud of what I accomplished at MU. It was no small task going back to school in my 30s and earning a college degree in journalism.
My parents grew up in the country outside of small towns in shacks by the road ditch or a farm field with a wood-burning cook stove used for supper and heat. They drew water from a well and used an outhouse out back. They toiled with their hands, working hot summer days picking cotton and harvesting corn by hand.
I was raised in a different world than they had. Thanks to my parents, I enjoyed many comforts like an air conditioner for those hot Oklahoma summer days, a toilet in the house, a telephone and a dishwasher, a luxury back in the day.
They worked hard to make sure I had everything I needed from clean clothes with all the buttons, food to eat and a warm bed to sleep in. And they taught me the value of hard work and going after my dreams and not giving up when life handed me a challenge.
When I got in trouble at school and got my backside spanked by the teacher, principal or dean, I got it a second time when I arrived home. Oh my, did that hurt! I danced around in the living room yelling while my mom used a paint stick to paddle my backside. I’m grateful for it all. It hurt my pride more than my rear.
The point in all this is life is about learning. We don’t have to have all the answers and that is OK. All you have to do is give your best, face challenges head on, admit your mistakes, ask forgiveness when you miss the mark, don’t give up, go after a dream and every so often, try a new experience or challenge. It’s good for the soul!
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.