Today I taught the last class of the semester, my hearty group of students gathered around the big table in the late Dolly McPherson’s classroom in Tribble, the second-floor room papered with posters of Paul Robeson and African-American literary giants. We had come to the end of JOU 278, the History of Journalism, but not to what I hope will be a bond that stretches past graduation day. That’s what Wake Forest did for me when I think of Ed Wilson, Peggy Smith, Howell Smith and a number of professors who have since passed on: Bynum Shaw, Elizabeth Phillips, Wallace Carroll and Bob Knott. I carried with me their lessons, their acts of concern and, in the case of Bynum, a calling card in case I needed yet another letter of recommendation that he unfailingly tapped out on an old typewriter. Even in 1994, you could tell the letter was typewritten by its smudginess. Despite AOL’s rampant popularity at the time, Bynum’s old-fashioned missives remained as effective as ever. And he never complained about my repeated calls asking for a reference. Such were the requests of a nomadic newspaperwoman. Such was the generous spirit of a Wake Forest professor.
I’m feeling wistful. The semester has magically disappeared. I’m not ready.
I never tire of watching the students and listening to what they have to say. They are sassy and original. I get a kick out of them. The other day I noticed signs of the season. A young woman was walking across the Quad wearing leggings, a baggy sweatshirt and furry bedroom slippers. I recognized them because I have a pair. I only venture out in them to the front yard to pick up my newspapers. (Yes, a History of Journalism lecturer still counts on a feast of print in the morning alongside iPad fare.) The student shuffled across the grass toward the post office. Another fellow appeared perkier, downright jaunty. He wore a Santa Claus cap. At day’s end cheery holiday lights twinkled on a leafless tree beside the Lambda Chi house. It made a nice backdrop to the parade of students trudging with their backpacks stuffed more appropriately for an expedition to Mongolia than for the library.
My students talked today about how the Pit is going to be open 24/7 because ZSR is overflowing. (It’s worth noting my students tell me that in fashion these days is a T-shirt that says “Rush ZSR.”) The cafeteria turned study hall won’t solve study problems, however, according to my students’ quick assessments. What Wake Forest needs are more electric outlets, not Internet jacks, they said. “I don’t know anyone who studies without a computer,” one said. I foresee a day when a crackerjack Wake Forest entrepreneurial student invents a backpack that powers a computer, anywhere, any Quad, anytime. But it can’t be solar. These students after all are nightwalkers, night-doers and caffeinated study hounds. They come alive at 10 p.m.
My journalism students arrived in class each owing me a 2,500-word final paper. By the looks of them they owed a lot of teachers papers. The young men appeared mostly unshaven. One dropped his head on his arm on the table; he stayed alert if not upright. I know because he managed to contribute thoughtfully to the class discussion even from that position. More than the normal number wore glasses and baseball caps. (All-nighters do not bode well for contact-lens wearers, some of you might remember. Or showers.) One student tripped over my computer cord in the classroom. “I have no depth perception in these glasses!” We had a good chuckle.
In telling them goodbye I urged them to follow their passion no matter what vocation they choose and to be brave. In life as in final exams, it’s a useful posture.