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Goodbye Mr. Clips: The Aggie Files, Part 5


I'm tired. I don't think I'd be more tired if I'd been digging ditches or laying asphalt.

This week spent as a journalist-in-residence at Texas A&M has worn me out. I don't know how college professors do it. The job is part researcher, part performer and part politician. It's the performer part that I find most exhausting. It's like being in vaudeville: Knock 'em dead, kid.

Except I'm not a kid. I suppose there are those who think being around college students keeps you young. It can also have the opposite effect. After spending the week around 18- to 22-year-olds, I now recoil when I catch sight of myself in a mirror or the reflective surface of a passing truck. Who is that hideous figure bespoiling this crowd of handsome young people?

I found my particular task especially hard: teaching column-writing. I find teaching almost any kind of writing difficult. Evenings spent with my daughters going over essays for school often end in tears. I know I shouldn't cry but I can't help myself.

How does a person transfer such a mysterious skill from one brain to another? I can talk about "voice" and "tone" and "nuance" but what do those things actually mean? It's not like I'm describing neutrons and electrons or mortises and tenons, things that can only fit together one way.

To their credit, the students have been enthusiastic. This is new to many of them, the tenets of news and feature writing being what they've focused on in their college careers. When you've been told not to use the first person, not to let your biases creep into your work, not to go overboard with your language, confronting a blank page with the instruction "Write a column" can be daunting.

jme.jpgI hope I've taught them something, if only that the world needs journalists. That can be hard to believe these days and I'm sympathetic to the rough road these kids have ahead of them, at least those who want to earn their living as ink-stained, er, pixel-stained wretches. Good people will always find work, I tell them, willing myself to believe it.

I want to thank Dr. Randall Sumpter for letting me spend a week with his Journalism 490 students and for my nifty plaque. And I want to thank the students for at least trying to do what I suggested.

Many of them are going straight to unpaid internships. Some are desperately searching for employment. Some are headed back to mom and dad's. A few have grad school in the future. It's not an easy time to be a graduating senior but I'm sure their Aggie spirit will stand them in good stead. Gig 'em, guys.

Come Chat, Y'all
I'll be chatting from College Station today at noon Washington time. You can post a comment or question now or join me then.

By John Kelly  |  April 24, 2009; 10:11 AM ET
Categories:  Aggie Files  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Aggie Culpa: The Aggie Files, Part 4
Next: You Can Go Home Again, Sort Of


I think you did an absolutely wonderful job of describing the Aggie community, muster and the distinct things that make College Station so unique.

I am not surprised that a few people were up in arms about what you said- with a school this big there is definately a range of opinions out there...and frankly some people get a little too defensive- but defensiveness aside you painted a perfect picture, something very few are able to do successfully.

You said what many people/even students were thinking during muster. And for the record- silver taps has gotten quite a bit longer since I started attending the university 4 years ago- i'm sure everyone's backs were starting to hurt:-)

A&M is a culture-shock and I hope you enjoyed your time here.

Posted by: dlg2 | April 24, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Nice hairdo! Must be the humidity ;)

Posted by: dailykos1 | April 24, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...pretty good ratio for the coupla guys in that class picture.

Posted by: capsfan77 | April 27, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I have not one but two journalism degrees (BA and MS) from Texas A&M, which, as you probably learned, makes me an endangered species, as the university no longer offers undergraduate degrees in journalism. And since I feel like I know you (I followed your Voxford blog, and you sort of followed ours in Cambridge ... yep, still here), the fact that you spent a week at A&M is an amusing coincidence!

Anyway, I was very much an outsider going in to A&M -- I moved to Texas from southern California in 11th grade and just didn't get the whole cowboy hats and country music thing. But it really is a special place, and all those crazy traditions (my mom still insists it's a cult) stay with you. I've been in England for two years and attended Muster with the London Aggies twice. It's like seeing old friends, even though I've never met most of them. We talk a lot, eat a lot, and even drink a little, then bow our heads and remember our classmates, no matter their class. I'm not sure I'm still a Red Ass Ag (did you learn that phrase while there? If not, I've definitely made an ... oh, nevermind), but Muster is one Aggie tradition I love. I'm glad you got to experience the Main Event. -KT

Posted by: ktindc1 | April 30, 2009 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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