I’ve had a lot of friends ask why I hold on so tightly to my college newspaper days. After all, they say, it’s been over 20 years, time to grow up and move on. Well, they are half-right; it is time to grow up, but “moving on” is a relative term, one which often requires the ability to discern between a memory held far too long, and an experience used as a point of reference.
In my case, I’m finally starting to be able to achieve my goal, and that is the latter.
One of the greatest quotes about the fellow students I worked with back during that period was from a very good friend of mine, now a minister, who said something to the effect of “we were just a random collection of people.” That is most certainly true. Our staff was, indeed, quite random; we had devout Christians, party animals, nerds, geeks, racial activists, sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, homebodies, entrepreneurs, even a 40-something parent or two. We were all brought together by a unique bond – that we all liked to write or stick our noses deep in the dungpile of campus goings-on and, at the end of the day, try to change our community for the better.
With my final few credit hours about to be in the books and, God willing, graduation right around the corner, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on where I’ve been, and who helped me get there. My campus newspaper, and the people I was so privileged to have worked with 20 years ago, achieved some great things. To toss a laurel wreath over my temples would be an honor greatly misplaced. Instead, those I worked with, those who put up with me, and those who had a simple desire to write, snap pictures, design, sell and simply do “the job” are the real heroes, the giants upon whose shoulders I now stand.
Today, our college, Georgia Southwestern is better that it was in many ways. I like to think our desire to change things for the better and hold those in positions of authority accountable helped lay the foundation for what our university is today. Yes, Americus has changed greatly over the past 20 years, some ways for the better, and in other ways, not so much. It would be the height of arrogance to say we were the team responsible for causing this change; rather, it would be far more appropriate to say we were able to read the writing on the wall and interpret it for all to see. Our gift to our university was our collective ability to discern the zeitgeist of the community, and offer ideas on how to make that spirit actionable. In the end, we were mere students, yet we understood the future had the potential for great things. We truly were, as a whole, greater than the sum of our individual parts, and the results spoke for themselves.
Rather than focusing on only the “juicy” stuff as so many in today’s media do, we chose a higher path – reporting transgression, holding those in power accountable, yet willing to bring stories of positive achievements to the forefront, and using our resources to forge useful, beneficial relationships across organizational and disciplinary bounds. For us, “outside the box” wasn’t just a way of thinking – it was a way of doing and living. We simply knew that the only way to achieve our overarching mission was to do what others hadn’t thought of, and doing it faster and better than anyone else. Yes, we blundered more than a few times, and some of those blunders caused us to be hesitant and tentative when boldness of thought and action were more appropriate, but we learned by doing, not by watching. This was necessary for a team which lacked the support of a journalism or mass communications program.
While won over a dozen awards during that time, those awards were merely an acknowledgement by our peers in the college journalism community. The reality of that time is now clear – we were respected for what we did rather than what our names were, or who we knew, and that was all the validation we really needed.
Ours was a team of random individuals who came together and, quite frankly, lived up to Walt Disney’s oft-quoted line, “It’s fun doing the impossible.” I will admit; there are days I do miss the rush of the office, the thrill of meeting deadlines, and frustration and headaches of dealing with irate students, faculty and administration. In the end, however, I miss the feeling of making a difference, every single day, thanks to the help of the greatest collection of colleagues and friends I’ve ever had the privilege of not deserving. Upon reflection, that original team, which I had to the privilege of serving with from 1992 through 1996, was the greatest single collection of individuals I ever had the privilege of working with and, ultimately, leading. Their names need no mention – they know, each and every one of them, who they are, and that I owe them each a debt of gratitude.
When I graduate, I can finally walk off my campus grounds with my head held high, but with my humility strong, knowing that without the help of that random assortment of people all those years ago, and their continuing motivation of me to achieve even greater things, this would never have happened.