The thought of school used to drive me to tears. I cried on the first day of school every year until the fifth grade. It wasn’t that I didn’t like school. I was just scared.
That stopped in September 1986 when my father pulled me aside a few days before school for a short, gentle man-to-little-man talk.
“Son, I know this is tough, but you’re growing up,” he said. “ You need to be strong; don’t cry this year. There’s nothing to be scared of. I love you.”
I don’t remember many of my first days of class. A few stand out: first day at Lincoln Middle School in Burlingame because we’d moved from Missouri the summer of; first day of high school, because, well, it was the first day of high school (also the day I met my future wife); and my first day at Washburn.
But the fifth grade was the most memorable because, for the first time, I didn’t cry. I came close, but I remembered what my father said about being strong, and I’ve thought about that day through the years on many first days.
TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL
The last time I walked into a classroom as a student, I was about as laid-back and nonchalant as you can be. It was May 1999, and frankly, I really didn’t care. I’d earned my degree in December 1998 and stayed for the spring semester essentially to run the school newspaper (and avoid getting a real job for another six months).
A few months before my “last” class, my advisor at Washburn said I should go directly to grad school and get my master’s degree. I laughed. “No way. I’m done with this after 18 years.”
Fast forward 14 years and I’m less than a week away from another first day: my first day of graduate school. Guess I wasn’t done after 18 years.
I’ve been asked throughout the years if I regretted not going directly to grad school. At times, yes, but I was working in the newspaper business about a month after I left college.
I had lofty goals: being an editor, running a big newspaper, working as a columnist. Back then, many of us were foolish enough to think newspapers would forever remain the same (OOPS!).
So I never seriously considered a master’s degree and dove into my career. I worked long and hard at small papers, writing up to 20 stories a week for chump change until moving to mid-sized papers as a copy editor and page designer.
A WRITER WRITES
“Are you writing?”
That’s the first thing people asked over the years. Dad, mom, my high school English and journalism teacher (now my mother-in-law), friends. The answer, for several years, was “No.”
The response generally came with undertones of “You’re betraying your talent.”
I eventually did get back into writing when I had a column at the Topeka Capital-Journal in 2006 and 2007. Few things have made me prouder, largely because all of those people who’d asked me about writing were so proud.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Unfortunately, it became clear a few years later, after I’d moved up to large dailies in Newport News, Va., and Tulsa, that the newspaper industry was on life support.
So, after 11 years, six newspapers, more than a dozen residences, hundreds of columns, thousands of pages designed and an extra 100 pounds, I called it quits.
It was at that point that I wondered why I hadn’t gone directly to grad school.
BACK TO WHERE IT BEGAN
I didn’t look at any school but Washburn when I thought about going back to school in 2010. A teaching degree made sense. I even considered going to law school. Then I saw the price tag for out-of-state tuition. No thanks.
So, I moved back home, started working as a contractor and bided my time trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
That’s when Washburn came calling … again.
A PERFECT FIT
I’ve been asked several times how I ended up going to school at Washburn. It really was dumb luck.
I spent an uneventful year at Kansas State achieving a stellar 2.8 GPA while playing hours of “Zelda: A Link to the Past” and watching “The Ricki Lake Show,” “Love Connection” and whatever else was on the four channels we got on my roommate’s TV.
I left after taking one class the following August and spent a year in junior college. I really only chose to visit Washburn because it was close to home.
I nearly ended up at Emporia State when we mistakenly came to the conclusion that none of my credits were going to transfer during a visit to campus.
Not long after we’d returned home, I received a call from Washburn’s admissions department. The director assured me that the credits would transfer and asked if I could come back the next day for a personalized tour of campus.
That personal attention was enough for me. I started my junior year a few months later and never looked back. By the time I graduated, I was editor of the school paper, graduated with honors and was a completely different person.
BACK TO CLASS
Fifteen years after that life-changing phone call from the admissions director, I began working at Washburn as a media specialist. That’s right, as hard as I tried to get away from being a journalist, I simply couldn’t.
Months later, I discovered that Washburn pays for its employees to attend a class each semester. It was too good of a deal to pass on.
So, here we are, nearly 30 years after the first day of fifth grade, and I’m about to have another first day. I’m a little nervous, but not enough to cry.