Bill Plaschke: Remembering the college professor who helped launch his career

If you ever had a college professor who had a profound influence on your career, then you can relate to this Bill Plaschke column in the Los Angeles Times. A very nice read.

Plaschke writes:

His name was Bill Ward. He put down his red pen, tilted his head in my direction, and glared. I was overcome with such fear and insecurity, I blurted out words so bold that even I couldn’t have possibly believed them.

“I’m going to be the best writer to ever come out of this department!” said the kid who wrote badly.

Professor Ward’s glare slowly became a soft smile, followed by what sounded like a sarcastic chuckle. He then delivered a most enduring message, not only in what he said, but what he didn’t say.

He didn’t tell me was I wrong. He didn’t tell me to get lost. He didn’t discourage me with the obvious reality that I was a nobody in the middle of nowhere.

He simply looked at me from over his glasses and said, “We’ll see.”

For a lost kid with no resume, it is impossible to describe how empowered I felt by the words, “We’ll see.” With that statement, Professor Ward had created an environment where everyone would be given a fair chance, where even the worst of budding journalists would be evaluated with no judgment, no bias, and best of all, no ceilings.

Professor Ward’s first lesson was that it was OK to dream. And then he taught me to write.

And this.

“Write like you talk,” he would say, and by now most folks know I talk fast and in spurts.

Those descriptions that sometimes color my writing a deep shade of purple and make even me wince? Yep, Professor Ward, who had a simple mantra that I follow today.

“Show me, don’t tell me,” he would say.

Professor Ward taught those lessons to a generation of budding SIUE journalists with a loud snort and an iron fist. He was my toughest editor. He was my harshest reader. He ran our small and obscure department as if it were a daily newspaper. If your copy was filled with typos or misspellings, you flunked the assignment. If you missed any deadline, you flunked the project.

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