An open letter to the Missouri School of Journalism

 

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They say a cat has nine lives.

I’m unaware of who “they” are, but I’m confident that students at the Missouri School of Journalism are required to have more like 100 lives. And any lost lives must replenish every year.

If we’re being completely honest (which, I mean, I should be because I’m a journalist), there’s a very real part of me that is surprised I’ve made it to this point; I survived the Missouri School of Journalism.

The 2015 NewsPro-RTDNA survey of the country’s top journalism schools ruled MU as the best of the best. It cited:”If you really want to know what your field is like, go to Mizzou. They throw you in head first, and you learn quickly whether you can swim. No sugar-coating, no sick days, no excuses. In many ways, it’s actually much tougher than being in the real world.”

As I embark on this mysterious “real world” and leave the apparent “fake world” I’ve been living in for 22.5 years, I can’t help but reflect on my time as a member of this arguably crazy, but out-of-this world journalism school (which, BTW, told me I couldn’t use that phrase as a headline on a feature about outer space).

A few things to note:

  • There are people out there who are going to read this and say I cheated because I left Columbia for a year. But here’s the thing:
    • A T-shirt used to hang in the window of a clothing store downtown Columbia. It read: “Leaving college after four years is like leaving the bars at midnight.”
    • It’s July 2016, and I’m leaving MU after only three years. That’s like leaving the bars at 11.

 

To my beloved alma mater (it’s still weird to say that),

The past four years have been the most vigorous and demanding four years of my life. And to quote ( but also miss quote — GASP!) Mean Girls, I feel like I’ve been personally victimized by the Missouri School of Journalism (for the readers, here’s your chance to raise your hand if you have been too).

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From the moment we first met (s/o to my high school choir teacher, Mrs. Marianetti, for the introduction), I was skeptical. A school in the middle of Missouri sounded like a pretty terrible option for a Chicago girl yearning for life on the East coast. I mean, why would the world’s best journalism school exist in a city with a population of just over 100,000? It didn’t help that I first witnessed the beauty of your campus in some not-so-stellar circumstances: 98 degree weather and sidewalks that were covered in cicadas. Yuck. 

Luckily, I learned a very important lesson that day in June 2011. Skepticism should be your first instinct, but don’t let any preconceived notions deter the facts. I walked into the Columbia Missourian’s newsroom to find an electric energy that the other 10 schools I applied to were lacking. I was hooked.

When we decided to take our relationship to the next level in the fall of 2012, I sat in Fisher Auditorium and watched as my professor wrote a single sentence on the board: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

One sentence changed my entire outlook on the world. It’s not that I read these words and suddenly became a terrible human who doesn’t trust anyone, but they paired well with the next three years of college where I’d have to learn to abandon a lot of things I held dear and true for most of my life. I had to adapt. 

One of those things was the Oxford comma. My love of grammar started in third grade when my teacher, Mrs. Car, made my class diagram sentences. I’m going to note that this is the same point in my life where I started to hate math (her Magic T’s were torture). For the next 10 years of my life, the Oxford comma was GOLDEN. I never understood why an argument to remove it even existed. The Oxford comma just made sense. 

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But you had much different plans in store for me. Not only did you remove my best punctuation friend from my skill set, but you also forced me to fail papers for misspelling a name in J2100 (FYI I would have received an A on that paper if your grading wasn’t so cruel), spend 12 hours out of my comfort zone on an eco-village, and memorize an absurd amount of communication laws.

I spent two semesters trying to master disciplines outside the written word. I took some pretty-OK photographs:

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(Humor me)

But also truly didn’t deserve an A on this Photoshop assignment:

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(Goodbye, career in design. Hello, being able to read between the guidelines so that your project is technically correct).

I, along with the hundreds of other journalism students who are daring enough to devote four years of their life to you, saw trials and triumphs. I learned that crying over one F wasn’t going to solve anything (and that nearly everyone else had also received an F on an assignment at some point in their four years.) 

Instead, I chose to work harder. I took my time in writing down proper names while reporting and read them over a few extra times before turning my stories in. Instead of being upset about my multimedia skills, I worked on them and saw a potential to really refine my passion for the written word.

My emphasis in magazine editing didn’t come without its struggles. But as I spent time away from MU for an entire year, I learned just how valuable my education had been and would continue to be. As a student at the Missouri School of Journalism, I not only had access to the best equipment and facilities, I also had some of the greatest professors. They cared about seeing me succeed and making sure I understood the material. They were tough, but they gained my respect.

The skills taught at the Missouri School of Journalism aren’t taught anywhere else in the world. That’s because it’s the one educational institution for journalism where students are treated like working professionals. It’s about more than attending a few lectures and studying for exams. It’s devoting any and all of your free time to your craft. It’s about seeing journalism’s role in the world and striving to make that world a better place. 

From day one, a legacy is expected of you. You can either achieve and advance that legacy or bring it down. Some of the hardest working, honest, and forward-thinking people I’ve ever met are graduates of this school. And I’m honored to now consider myself among them.

If I had to do it all over again, I would do it exactly the same. And I know that sounds cheesy and picture perfect, but it’s the truth. And the truth, my friends, is what we aim for. But in typical journalism fashion, feel free to fact check that statement with me a few years from now. I think (and hope) that answer will be the same.

MIZ

Sincerely,

Mary Kaleta

P.S.

When I made the decision to attend MU back in May of 2012, I had a lot of haters from back home. People told me that I was “making a big mistake” and that I’d “never be successful if I went to school in Missouri.” I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard “You should have stayed in Chicago” or “You know it’s spelled like misery for a reason.” Even today, four years later, I still get comments like “IF you get a job in journalism.”

And to those people I have only one thing to say: Thank you!

Thank you for the extra motivation. Ask most journalism students and they’ll tell you they didn’t go in to journalism because of the money or the plethora of available jobs. I chose journalism because I full heartedly believe in the craft. I believe in the purpose of journalism and its role in democracy. I believe in journalism because I believe in correctly used hyphens, memorizing AP Style, and then breaking the rules and supporting the Oxford comma. Thank you for the doubt. Thank you for letting me work hard to achieve my dreams.