The Tough Guy Goes Back to School

The makeup of my journalism classmates, so far as I can tell, is some combination of:
  • People who have degrees in journalism
  • People who have degrees in English
  • People who have degrees in literature
  • People who have degrees in some kind of fine/performing art
  • People who have worked in one or more media fields
  • People who are already established or semi-established as freelancers
  • Me
Who knew that "ex-software flunkie" was such an uncommon starting point? Not me, that's for sure.

But yes, it's now official: you are reading the work of a graduate student. Doesn't that sound so legitimate? So qualified? So expert?

"He sure rattles on about the White Sox a lot."

"Yeah, but that's some graduate-level rattling he's doing there."


The hardest part was in the very beginning when we were introducing ourselves. Everyone had such direction and clear ideas about where they were heading: news reporting, fashion, entertainment, TV production, and so on. The answers were all very clear, until it was my turn.

"Um, I think I'd like sports writing, but not like regular sports reporting but like really, like, deep sports writing, but not like deep like deep but deep like thought-provoking.

"But definitely travel stuff too. That's the big one. You know, like, postcards from the middle of nowhere or something. Weird festivals. Big happenings in small places, things like that. Real literary-type stuff, you know? But still with a very real side to it. Kind of a Hemingway-meets-Hunter-S.-Thompson-with-a-splash-of-Dave-Attell kind of thing.

"Maybe a column of some sort too. But not like a news column. Like some other kind of column I don't know, I'll figure it out."

And with that, a solid twenty minutes into my master's program, I had made myself look like a directionless and bumbling idiot.

Correction: graduate-level directionless and bumbling idiot.


What amazes me the most is not the intensity displayed by a lot of my classmates, or the ease with which everyone faces the uncertainty of their future, or the sheer volume of work that is just so casually thrown at us.

No, what amazes me is that in the end, very little has changed since that August morning in 1984 when mom and I made the long walk to my first day of kindergarten. Back then, I worried about things like waiting for the bus and permission slips and not forgetting my lunch and waiting for recess.



This week we visited the site of the former E2 club and received an excellent presentation on front-line reporting by Frank Main of the Sun-Times. Afterwards, we waited forever for the #4 to show up to take us back to campus, then took an extended lunch break.

Yes, that's right: we took a field trip, rode the bus back to school, then had a long recess since the weather was so nice that day.

And I realized that I, just like back then, had forgotten my lunch. As it was, so it remains and so it shall be.

Did someone say "graduate-level"?