"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another semester

Comes to an end. More students graduate. More will return in spring. Some will not.
How many has it been?

I started teaching college in September, 1986, teaching editng and reporting at Oklahoma State University, taking over from Mickey Bugeja who left late to go to Ohio University. I'd applied there a year earlier for a photography position, but didn't get it. Marlan Nelson told me I didn't want that job.

Then a year later, he called. It was a one-year position, no guarantees of continuation, but I so wanted to do it. Neysa and I had sold the Waurika News-Democrat in February that year--our last issue was the Challenger explosion. I became the ad director of the Duncan Banner for six months when Nelson called.

That first semester, I had 60 students in editing and 60 in reporting. The next semester I got editing and photography, It was a tough year with the family still in Waurika, but it was a dream come true. I met my last mentor and friend Harry Heath, who forgot more about journalism than I'd ever known.

My teaching was good enough that I was rehired, and taught at OSU for another three years, before the job as chair opened at then Central State University, my alma mater. I didn't think I'd get the job, but Harry said firmly, "You're going to Edmond." He was right. Irony of ironies, I got the job, replacing my former reporting professor from 25 years earlier, Ray Tassin. Full circle. Our department was small--five full time faculty members, and through the years it grew in size and stature--one of the key elements being my friendship with Harry and the state press. Today it has more than 20 full time, and the department has changed radically, with technology and administrations. So have I.

There were some good years and rough years personally. My children grew up. I made personal mistakes that keep me from judging others. But there was one constant, it seemed. Every year there were favorite students--students who excelled, who were dedicated, who earned journalism and PR and advertising and photography jobs throughout the state. As chair of the department, I got to know almost all the students in the department, not just the ones in my classes. That was a blessing.

I'd told Harry I wanted to become the primary resource person in Oklahoma for small newspapers and the people who work for them. At the time, Harry was the primary resource person for all newspaper people in the state.

Gradually, because of our many graduates, and because I work with the press, and because the semesters have passed, I was fortunate enough to know a bunch of people in our profession.

Unfortunately, there have been so many students that I've begun to forget their names. I was waiting for Ben Blackstock for lunch one day at a deli near Portland and Memorial and walked by a door. Out came a bright-eyed young woman, saying "Dr. Clark!" I remembered her face, but not her name, but didn't admit it. Instead, I pretended I did, and asked her what she was doing--working in a chiropractic office--and about her husband (big diamond ring on her finger).

Similar events are more and more common. And it seems Susan and I can't go anywhere in the metro area to eat or to other stores but what we run into former and present students serving as employees and managers. And the ones who are working for papers and in broadcast keep in touch by different means. The workshops for OPA have helped, with more students around the state...one person even called me a "legend." That's scary.

It all boils down to one semester after another.

Let's see, there have been 47 of them now--not counting summers. That's 19 more.

How many students per semester? It varies, but a little simple math means I've had about 2,500 students over the semesters. I could write a book on the lives and adventures of the best ones. I've had parents and children of parents. They make me proud, from Steve Curry in the Navy, to Dr. Shelly Sitton of OSU and Angel Riggs of UCO finishing her doctorate at OSU, to Richard Mize, Leslie Belcher, Angie Altizer, Tim Barker and Polly Basore and Kathy Porter from OSU, to Penny Owen, Mike Erwin at Sallisaw, to Billye Johnson in Dallas, Audra Frantz in Oklahoma City, Farzie Razak and Kelly Crow in New York City, to Abby Rhodes, to John Clanton and Leslie Wakulich and Marta McClosky, to Carol Cole, to Zach Nash and Mark Zimmerman to Jimmy Epperson, to Fawn Porter and Kristen Armstrong, to Ashley Barcum of OETA, to Caleb McWilliams who graduates Saturday and is already working full time as a copy editor at The Oklahoman, to a multitude of others. I hesitate to mention even these because I value my students and don't want to slight them or leave them out--there are so many more who are equally special, and I'm writing this off the top of my head without a list in front of me. They not only make me proud, they make me look good. There are so many. I'll go up to work and make a list of the ones I remember well and write more. It's amazing to me and wonderful (in the original sense of the word (full of wonder).

Some students are gone and forgotten forever. Others are memories. Others have gone on to bigger and greater things. Others are valued friends. Others are teaching other journalists. I look at the list of graduates on our wall at work, and many of the names no longer bring faces to mind. But others will be part of me forever.

The end of a semester is bitter-sweet. I'm glad the hassle is over. I hate grading. I'm sad to see students go, because the classroom and the students matter most to me. This semester has been special since I'm no longer chair...I get to be a professor and concentrate on teaching, on students.

This Saturday a lot of my really good students will graduate, and I'll get my photo taken with them, and then they'll be gone.

The passing of a semester means I'm older, but I have more students who are telling stories about "Remember when Clark..." And next semester, there will be more.

It's a good life.


  1. This post is great. When I first started at the paper I'm at now, they made reference to you, and your OPA classes. I was proud to say I was once a student.

  2. This is a great post ... it was memorable meeting, working with, and having class with you.

  3. I can't tell you how profoundly thoughtful this entry is. Thank you. I feel so very fortunate to have meet you (And Susan) through Zach. You are a man with much wisdom to bestow upon the students lucky enough to take your classes. Who knows...one day you may see me in the front row just so I can see what all the fuss is about :)


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