This past weekend, I was inducted into the WTAMU Communication Department Hall of Fame. Someone asked me what a person does to be inducted into the Communication Hall of Fame at their alma mater. I did not have a good answer then and I am not sure I have one now. I am not a huge financial contributor to my school—I should be but I’m not. Other schools seem to use this kind of honor as a fundraising event. It became clear to me as the event unfolded that it was directly aimed at their present majors. Student teams from Mass Com had been sent to each of the inductees. They produced videos featuring us. Their work was excellent. They focused a lot of attention on advice we might give to communication students. They scheduled a reception that mainly featured inductees and students. It was meant to help them talk to professionals in various industries. The whole event seemed designed to communicate the message that a person can do a lot of different things with a communication degree and to dramatize that message with the inductees. Along with me, we inducted a man who serves the elderly as a social worker in Portland, OR, a print journalist and a local TV news anchor.
My induction into WTAMU’s Communication Hall of Fame comes at a time when I do not feel a great deal of professional success. I am not despairing; I am perplexed. But, I want to say two things about my induction. The first is that I am proud of my department for selecting a minister. I hope I would feel this way had the minister not been me. We live in a world that still makes movies like “God’s Not Dead” and perpetuates stereotypes about the tension between the religiously observant and educated elites. This tension is as old as Christianity itself going back at least to the point that Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” So, I think it is significant that my state-supported university recognizes ministry as a laudable enterprise for its graduates. Admittedly, per capita worship attendance among the faculty probably rivals anything you’d find at any explicitly religious school. Students more readily identify their social circle by naming the student ministry they participate in than sorority and fraternity membership. Still, I find it significant for a school to say ministry matters, faith is legitimate, and humble service to communities is worthy of “fame.”
The second thing that my induction gave me was the chance to do is to say thank you to the people who invested in me. I tried to get everyone named in my acceptance speech (Vartabedian, Seabourn, Coons, Smith, Yates). But, two people stand out in my experience—James Hallmark and Trudy Hanson. I had the opportunity of co-writing papers with both of them, took both of them for multiple classes and learned a great deal about their thought process and their work ethic. In many ways the two played contrasting roles in my education. Hallmark was my “burden of proof” professor. In academic debate, the side with burden of proof is the one with the responsibility to make their case. I always felt as though Hallmark’s stance toward students was, “I’m not yet persuaded but I am persuadable.” My abilities had burden of proof. Hanson was my “presumption” professor. With Hanson my abilities had presumption. She was endlessly encouraging. She still is. One might think that the presumption professor is easier. Hardly. The presumption professor is the one who doesn’t accept excuses for why we think we can’t do something. She’d calmly listen as I lamented my feelings of inadequacy, smile and say, “Well, I think you can do it.” I needed those two messages then . . . I still do.