‘Evah Day’ and Other College Tales

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The school year is all but over, my first stint of full-time college teaching about to draw to a close. Next week will contain a flurry of finals, posting grades, wrapping up newspaper contest entries and getting in all the required paperwork. Next Friday night I will don the regalia of a faculty member and participate in graduation — for the first time as a non-student. I am excited about watching a few of my students walk the stage and receive their associate degrees.

Then, for the most part, the summer is free — a bit more than three months with paychecks still arriving in my checking account twice monthly. What a deal. Already I am making plans for writing projects, a lengthy family vacation, and needed work done around the house. I am certain the summer will pass far too quickly, as do most of my days, as did this school year. Some of my favorite memories:

• In my mass communications course last fall, a young man answered the class roll, not by saying “Here” or “Present,” but by proclaiming “Evah Day,” pronounced with an urban savoir faire. And sure enough, though he wasn’t all that great a student performance-wise, he indeed showed up every Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 11 a.m., right on time. Until one day he didn’t. By then I had taken to calling him “Evah Day” instead of by his given name, as had most his classmates. He seemed to enjoy the nickname

The next class period, he was back. When I called his name, he said, “Evah Day.” I looked at him. He added,  “Except for the other day.” Which elicited a roar of laughter from the class and myself.

• Our building is called Communications/Automotive. That is because it is home to the journalism, photography, speech and the automotive technology departments. As one might suspect, this makes for an interesting mix of students wedged into the single hallway of our building. The classroom I use adjoins the automotive lab. On occasion — usually when I am delivering a lecture on libel law or freedom of information laws and trying to keep students’ eyes from glazing over — the automotive students will start revving up a vehicle next door. Soon the sickly sweet odor of exhaust will begin wafting through the classroom, as I fight to be heard over the engine noise. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. Likely I am the only college journalism instructor in America teaching next door to a group of students rebuilding a carburetor — or whatever it is they’re doing. (Whatever it is, they probably will end up making good money, because it is a well-respected program.)

• Speech students are required to dress up when giving a presentation. That means the men’s restroom becomes a dressing room on many mornings, with young men struggling to get neckties cinched, many clutching notes in sweaty palms as they swap gym shorts and T-shirts for sports jackets and button-downs. I can hear them mumbling in the stalls as they frantically dress while rehearsing their presentation.  I feel their pain, since at that age I was terrified of speaking in public.

• One of my favorite students is from San Augustine, where I ran a weekly paper back in the early 1980s. As we talked, it turned out I used to eat barbecue at his late grandfather’s barbecue joint. Devin is a quiet, polite student, eager to learn. We spent several Saturday nights last fall up the pressbox covering Kilgore College football, as I taught him how to record play-by-play and write a game story. When the first issue of our paper came out, I brought him a copy, turned to the sports page, and showed him the story with his byline. I remember that youthful thrill of seeing my name in print on top of a story or below a photograph. It was a gift to see him experience that same flash of recognition —my byline in print! —  for the first time, to see a grin slowly spread across his face.

Teaching students the craft that provided me a fulfilling career and a good living has been a privilege, even as the nature of the business changes dramatically. My goal is to teach them the basic tools, so they are prepared to go to university if they wish, or possibly enter the workplace at a small-town newspaper. (Yes, community newspapers are still hiring. Yes, the pay is still lousy.)

I had a lot of fun this year and learned a lot. Here’s hoping my students can say the same.

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