When I was 21 and ready to graduate from ACU, I viewed my two years as Optimist editor through these lenses:
• The awards we won, signifying we were the best college newspaper in Texas.
• The controversies we battled through, signifying we were holding student leaders and university administrators alike accountable for their actions.
Seven years later, I realize how wrong that definition was.
Those things certainly were important. As a staff, we held ourselves to the standards of a professional newspaper, and seeing that work recognized was gratifying.
Likewise, we expected openness and transparency from the university and competence and professionalism from student government. When those entities fell short, we saw it as well within our journalistic role to highlight those problems and call for improvement on behalf of the student body.
This led to conflict and controversy – enough of it to fill a book – and ultimately to a blank front page with only the First Amendment printed on it.
It was a wild, stressful, rewarding ride, and when it was all over, new editors moved in and the staffs changed over. The Optimist offices themselves were demolished and rebuilt elsewhere. Other awards were won. Different controversies came and went. ACU moved on, as it has for 106 years, and so did the Optimist, as it has for nearly 100.
But our friendships remained.
When I was 21, I failed to recognize the most valuable things I had received from my eight semesters on the Optimist staff were not the certificates or trophies, not the bruising battles over Chapel or homosexuality, not even the training and preparation for an ultimately short career in journalism.
It took some time in the real world to recognize that relationships are more important than any byline, friendships more worthwhile than any scoop.
I learned that the hard way.
As a reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times, I spent a year as the lead reporter covering the state removal of hundreds of children from a polygamous sect’s West Texas compound. Competing against reporters from across the country, we scored enough scoops to end up with airtime on CNN, Fox News and NPR, among others.
But I was miserable, and a year later, I left journalism.
I had lost sight of the true lessons I’d learned at the Optimist. I thought the more successful I was as a reporter, the more complete I would be, neglecting entirely the importance of being successful as a person, husband, father and friend.
I am fiercely proud of the work we did as a staff during my years as editor. Our little band of 10-15 students, receiving little to no pay, commanded the respect of big-time daily newspapers from humongous public universities in Texas.
But I am prouder of the bonds we forged during that time. When the papers we created disintegrate into yellow dust, when the trophies we won are covered with dust and forgotten, we will still be friends.
There is no greater legacy worth having.