Archive for the ‘College’ Category

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What I am is what I am…

Minutes after meeting legendary CBS newsman Bill Plante, I was throwing up in the opulent bathroom of the Michigan Avenue Hilton.

It likely had more to do with the several whiskey waters I had tossed back that evening (a little rugged for a 20-year-old Coors Light drinker) than the excitement of meeting Mr. Plante but still, I’d just shaken hands and exchanged pleasantries with a reporter I’d watched on the national news for years.

It was the 1980’s and I was in Chicago for the Society of Professional Journalists (then Sigma Delta Chi) convention. Three of us officers of our university’s chapter made the trip to learn about journalism ethics, meet leaders in the industry and find out if we had what it took to be journalists. We did and all went on to have careers in the field.

The Society of Professional Journalists is our country’s oldest journalism organization, promoting ethics and freedom in journalism for 108 years. It was an honor to belong to it because its members represented the reporters people trusted to tell them the truth.

I grew up during a time of great journalists. Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ed Bradley, David Brinkley, Helen Thomas, Ted Koppel, Peter Jennings, Charles Kuralt, Dan Rather, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Walters. We tuned into their broadcasts and read their articles to find out what was happening in our world. They had access to people and places we didn’t so they could go in and ask the questions we wanted to but couldn’t. That was their job – to be our eyes and ears and voices and we trusted them to do that.

I’m proud of the years I spent as a reporter and news director and hope during that time, people regarded me as an ethical journalist who reported the facts.  

Once trusted news outlets and reporters are taking a big hit in credibility these days and President Trump decries “fake news” on a daily basis. In the old days, you could back up your facts with film footage or audio clips or photographs. There was always the chance those materials could be tampered with but the technology wasn’t as readily available to do that as it is today. Now anyone with Photoshop or a video editing app can turn out altered imagery and post it online in minutes for the world to see.

So when it comes to news, if you can’t trust what you see, hear or read, what can you trust? 

Your common sense.

Fake news reels you in because it usually contains just enough truth to make you think it MIGHT be plausible and that little bit of doubt makes you overlook the misinformation and inaccuracies. We’re in such a rush to know, know, KNOW everything that we don’t take the time to step back and use our common sense. 

It’s your right to believe what you want to believe. But wouldn’t you rather believe something that was TRUE?

There are still good, ethical journalists out there who are doing their damnedest to tell us the truth. We just have to be open to hearing it.

Where do you get your news? What media outlets do YOU trust?

Headstones are the name tags the deceased wear to the afterworld. They tell who and what we were, how long we lived, and sometimes, how we died. Their epitaphs are literature’s shortest biographies and they serve as reminders that this was once a real living person worth remembering.

I’ve wandered a lot of cemeteries. My birthday is May 28 and regularly falls on Memorial Day which means as I was growing up, sprays of artificial flowers and 21-gun salutes often preceded cake and presents. In spite of, or probably, because of that, I like cemeteries. They’re quiet, peaceful, and have great stories to tell.

The headstone that, for me, started it all.

The headstones that speak the loudest to me are the children‘s. As a kid, it never dawned on me that some children never grew up, that they existed as perpetual Peter Pans in old photographs and the memories of the people who loved them in their all-too-brief lives. The first child’s headstone I ever saw was in the Presbyterian cemetery in Bancroft, IA. It’s an old cemetery by Midwest standards, with graves dating back to the 1800’s. This was one of them and what drew me to the headstone was the little lamb carved in the top. Why it sticks in my memory is because the child it honors was just over four months old.

I can’t imagine how the parents felt picking out that headstone. I was unable to have children long before I was of an age when I thought about having one so I will never be faced with that kind of loss. But so many others have, and I wonder how they ever deal with it. Here’s how one family did.

Jack and Marj Thompson are young parents, one still in college, the other a Masters graduate in 2010. They have two children, a four-year-old named Lily and a one-year-old named Cash. And in between the two, there was once another named Tehlula Lee. She died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in 2010 before she was even two months old.

One day Jack and Marj were walking through Greenwood Cemetery in Brookings, SD, where Tehlula Lee was laid to rest and they noticed something unusual. Many of the gravesites for children had only temporary markers, some of them decades old. They decided to do something about that.

In July of 2010, Jack and Marj formed the Tehlula Lee Foundation. Its goals are simple: to provide permanent headstones for the graves of children and to educate people about SIDS. To date, they’ve purchased 90 headstones for children’s graves at Greenwood Cemetery, and are now working on doing the same for cemeteries in other area communities like Volga, White and Toronto. In addition to the name of the child buried in each grave, each headstone contains an image of Tehlula’s footprint and the epitaph “Every soul leaves a footprint”.

The Thompsons never questioned why the temporary markers at Greenwood Cemetery were not replaced before with permanent stones. Brookings is a college town with a somewhat transient population set in a rural area with an economy that booms and busts. Nor did they judge the parents and families, some of whom have thanked them for the gesture. Jack and Marj just saw a need and made the effort to fill it, creating an incredible legacy for a special little girl and honoring generations of lost lambs before her.

It’s a Sunday morning as I post this and while the urge to get all preachy is there, I won’t. Instead, I’ll say this: There are people in this world doing amazing selfless things, and thank God for that.

To find out more about the Tehlula Lee Foundation or to make a donation, visit their website or the foundation’s Facebook page.

Ah, mix tapes – a 1980’s college staple…

There are bands that need to break up, but don’t. Bands that should never get together, but do. And bands that you just think will go on forever until their fans get tired of hearing them, which would never happen. That’s REM.

After 31 years, REM recently announced they’re calling it quits. They did it in the same way they do everything – with little drama, a good share of humility, and a lot of respect for their fans. From the very beginning, the fans have been a crucial part of the band’s success. In those early days, “Radio Free Europe” blared in dorms everywhere; college radio stations loved REM because their music was different, filled with clean rhythms and lyrics that could be both cryptic and crystal clear at the same time.

When alternative rock became an actual genre in the 1990’s (“alternative” literally being some kind of music that was an alternative for people who were tired of hearing the same old stuff), REM was out in front and the fans were more than willing to come along for the ride. Album after album, they didn‘t disappoint: “Don’t Go Back to Rockville”, “Can’t Get There from Here”, “Radio Song”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Stand”, “The One I Love”, “Nightswimming” – feel free to add your favorites.

The boys from Athens are hanging it up for the very best of reasons – they’ve taken their music in every direction it could go and it’s so much better to walk away than be thrown away. Still I can’t help but feel a little bit older, a little less one of the “Shiny Happy People”, now that the group who provided the soundtrack of my youth and the tunes I reflected to as I grew up is being unplugged. But as long as I can still find my cassettes and my 20-year-old Walkman holds up, REM will be in concert forever.

By the way, in case you’re wondering about the guitar painting in the photo? It’s called “Unplugged” by Louis Still Smoking, a talented young artist friend of mine who’ll be one to watch in the years to come.