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Monday, July 28, 2014

Column: Classes, like meals, are meant to be devoured

Why this journalism school is where you’re supposed to be.

Nate Atkins

March 19, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

There’s a line on my senior year bucket list I was never quite sure how I’d check off, but my friend guaranteed I would.

It reads, “You’re about to discover that this is why you entered journalism, that this is why you came to this school in the first place.”

It was January, and Jon Hadusek, my coworker, had been looking at the schedule for my final semester of college when one of my seven courses caught his eye. It was Advanced Writing with Berkley Hudson. Jon wouldn’t let me believe it was anything like the rest.

When I stared at the schedule, I felt like I was staring down the barrel of a gun loaded with 19 reloadable shells. Everything felt mundane: a myZou class listing here that will hopefully turn into a myZou letter grade there.

But I allowed that quote to stick with me like a prophecy because why not? The great thing about faith is that even believing incorrectly still has little consequence.

Berkley Hudson turned out to be a wonderful sort of crazy. Donning bow ties and ripping off his signature cackle, he is always willing to put all of himself out there. It quickly became impossible for any writer to feel ashamed of pouring out what was stored in his heart.

Berkley sends us emails all the time, and only some of them have to do with classwork. I remember one line in an email that had me beginning to connect the dots:

“As best I am able, I will help you for the rest of our lives, if you take the initiative and have the interest.”

That last clause stood out to me as much as anything. “If you take the initiative and have interest.” Berkley said he’d help me if I restored my faith in this process.

I’ve spent this semester trying to take more initiative and show more interest. It still isn’t easy. With 19 credit hours, I feel a bit like Voldemort splitting his soul seven ways. Time, after all, is limited.

But enthusiasm doesn’t have to be. We’re paying too much just to fight for computerized grades and diploma paper. I can spend these 19 hours unhappy, or I can spend them trying to take value out of the lesson the professor has prepared.

These lessons are like meals for many of the creators. They’ll be insulted if you don’t come back for seconds. They didn’t make them just because it is their job. They made them to see someone else indulge and feel better about the world in which we’re living.

That is, after all, why these professors came here. That is their story for being in your life.

After this past week, I’m eternally thankful that some of them are in my life. I was scrambling to finish up an application for a fellowship that was incredibly important to me. I asked two J-School professors, Andrea Heiss and James Sterling, to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. I told them I feared that I was consuming too much of their time.

Professor Heiss called me at 10:30 p.m. Friday to say she was rushing to her office to catch any last typos or mistakes in my final application drafts.

Professor Sterling told me he spent all day on his sick day writing the letter.

“I’m competitive,” he said. “I want to win, too.”

For four years, I’d been searching for a sign that where I am is exactly where I want to be.

I think I’ve found it.

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