N o matter what some of the students may tell you, I am NOT Harry Potter's dad. My round glasses seem to have triggered a rumor around campus.
I traveled recently and sat beside a very friendly and very talkative lady. At one point in a long conversation, she asked, "Do you have children"
Yes," I said, "I have 63 at last count. But the number varies from semester to semester."
I do see my students as my children, regardless of their ages. They are the heart and soul of my academic life. Many of them prove to be more thoughtful, considerate, and interesting than my family of origin. I still hear from some of them years after they graduate, telling me about their careers, their promotions, their marriages, and, yes, about their children.
As I thought about what I would say tonight, I thought of an assignment from my freshman English professor who required us to recite the Nobel Prize acceptance speech of William Faulkner in 1950. It was a daunting assignment, a terrifying proposition for a gangly, shy nineteen year old growing up in rural South Georgia. I won't attempt to recite all of it tonight but I will tell you how it began.
FAULKNER: "I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work, a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So, this award is only mine in trust."
As some of you know, I have had two previous careers: fourteen years in TV news, ten in public relations, and now eight as a professor.
In this latest incarnation, I have experienced how students enrich one's life. They keep me on my toes; they challenge me; they energize me. They realize at some point in the semester that I am a student too. This shared motivation is what makes teaching most fun and most fulfilling for me.
My students sometimes ask for guidance. My advice sometimes haunts me in my life, that's part of learning too.
Actor/producer Clint Eastwood was recently asked about the secret behind his many successes and he compared his life to golf. "Keep your eye on the ball," he said. "And play your own game, regardless of what's going on around you.
I was not one of those bookish students who excelled in school. My mother thought I'd never make it out of high school. I did and I went on to earn a Ph.D., my family's first.
In the TV business, I was told by a broadcast executive that I was not network material. But I became a Washington correspondent at CNN.
I was told that I couldn't write a book since most of my experience was the minute-and-a-half TV news story. Now, I've written two books and they have done well, even in the eyes of the New York Times.
I think the agony and sweat to which Faulkner refers applies to the writing process but not to teaching....though some of my students may disagree. I must admit that I sometimes break out in sweat when the DVD won't play, or the chalk can't be found.
The path to a career in the news business can be a rocky road. I assure my broadcast students, including some here tonight, that dedication, commitment and perseverance will see them through, if they keep their eye on the ball. I caution them that they will be tested, tested by the simple word "no." Not only "No" from others, but "no" from inside their own minds as they wrestle with self-doubt.
I believe that my accomplishments stem from this and from an insatiable curiosity about people, places, and things and a desire to tell a good story, hallmarks of both the journalist and the professor.
I am flattered and profoundly grateful to receive this honor. Some of you here tonight served on the search committee that brought me to Quinnipiac University in 2002. Some of you were members of the selection committee for this award. Some of you are my students, my friends, and my colleagues. In the words of Faulkner, I accept this award only in trust. It is as much yours as it is mine. Thank you.