I'd like to take a moment and break from the snarkiness to talk about something serious. Brace yourselves...I feel some emoting coming on.
“What will I say when someone calls me as a reference for you? That you’re a nice girl and a good writer but can’t turn something in on time to save your life?”
He made me cry in class more than any other professor. Actually, he was the only professor to make me cry in class ever. But as a journalism student, that was probably a good thing.
Dr. Mike Nolan was more than a professor that taught journalism. He was the entire department. That’s not an exaggeration. As such, the higher-ups cut the journalism program my junior year, and only the people then signed up for the minor would be able to finish it out.
As an editor, I lived much of my collegiate life in the newspaper office. Dr. Nolan was the advisor for the paper – The Augustana Observer—and I saw him more than I saw my own academic advisor. He was everywhere I was. And as such, he saw me at my best and worst.
Like any good suburban private-schooled 20-year-old, I liked to think I was special. It wasn’t really until my first year of journalism classes did I realize I was not. To the rest of the world, I may have been able to extend a deadline with a smile, but Dr. Nolan let me know in no uncertain terms that if I were to become a journalist, I had to come to terms with my reality as the bottom of a sinking totem pole. And, that lesson has served me well in my professional life.
Journalism was my minor; my fall-back. And 5 years after having nowhere else to fall, there it was. I became a small-town reporter, working beats and chatting with farmers, attending town council meetings, and picking up police reports. All of the unglamourous things Dr. Nolan had told me I may be doing. My parents may have thought I was destined to get to the New York Times for my first at-bat, but Dr. Nolan knew I’d first be writing about zoning laws and pig manure for a weekly paper.
When my first story hit the front page a week into my job, the first person I e-mailed was Dr. Nolan. And having the good grace to not point out that most of my stories would wind up on the front page since I was one of two reporters for that paper, he congratulated me and let me be proud of myself.
For as much bringing me down to earth as he did, he also found a way or two to brag about me. Seriously, I think it was only once or twice. I remember my senior year sitting in a classroom for our journalism capstone, talking about getting published. We all had been working on and submitting query letters to real publications, waiting to submit something on spec. Just moments before, I had gotten a submission acceptance…for a poem I wrote. Not anything to do with our class, just something I did on my own. He came into class and asked if anyone had heard anything. I said I was being published, but not for journalism. He said something that made me believe I was about to receive the wrath of the self-appointed journalism god. But when I clarified what was going on, he softened and had me show him the poem. He read it out loud in our class and at the end he said, “That was really good. I like it.” You could have pushed me over with a feather.
And then he asked where my assignment for the day was.
I got the news this morning that he died over the weekend. There’s a news story today about his death, and tomorrow there will be an obituary. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s a sweet little something about all that. The journalism professor’s death is in the paper. And as my friend pointed out, there were three typos in the story. He’d probably have something smart to say about that and then challenge us to find all three.
The very first assignment he gave us was to write an obituary. Not ours, but someone famous. He said if we ever got a job with a big paper, our first written piece would be someone’s obituary. I wonder who is writing his tonight.
(Because if I knew, I'd tell that person that the one thing in the world Doc Nolan couldn't stand was a time lead. Don't use a time lead, okay kid?)