Before I get into this week’s Take, I have to say “wow” and how happy I am with the response from last week’s Take.
I am sorry if I haven’t called you back, but all of the names I got through people popping into the office, email or voicemail have been collected and placed on a master list of veterans. To the vets who submitted their information to us; look for a call from either Matthew Shepard or me in the upcoming weeks.
Now, on to this week’s Take.
I dropped out of college when I was 22. I didn’t plan on dropping out. My original plan was just to take a semester off and get back on track with my studies.
I had just had a brutal fall semester. I was partying too much and not focused and thought I could get away with the bare minimum in some of my classes. I was wrong.
Never in my life had I failed any writing-heavy class or course. In fact, I had never gotten anything lower than a B until that semester. That semester (as a junior in college, mind you) I had to take Introduction to Journalism.
This was was an absolute insult and an obvious cash grab by UMKC, seeing as how I had passed the class at my previous college with an A, but UMKC wouldn’t accept the credit because it was from a community college.
Needless to say, I was upset about having to pay to take a class that I had already taken, but I figured I would get any easy A, no problem. Then I met my problem.
Professor Robert Unger, better known as Bob Unger, the author of “The Union Station Massacre,” former writer for the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star and 100 percent ornery older man. Unger has the rare ability to charm you and scare the crap out of you at the same time.
The first day of class he let us know two things:
“A journalist is always on time for his or her appointments” and that if you don’t like to write, you were in the wrong place. He also let us know he hated late work and would not accept a paper that wasn’t stapled. Right after class, I made a Walmart run and bought a printer and a stapler.
After researching this guy and having had a great working relationship with my previous journalism professor at KCKCC, I expected Unger and I to hit it off. We didn’t.
I honestly thought Unger had a negative perception of me because of both my appearance and writing style. I was 21 at the time and fully immersed into the “Hypebeast” lifestyle: colorful sneakers, loud graphic tees, braids that went to the middle of my back and an unwavering swagger and an extreme amount of confidence in myself. My writing style was pretty much the same as my current style. He called it “fluffy” and “flowery” and questioned my choice in stories, in particular a story I did on my cousin who was a rapper and had changed his religious beliefs in jail.
Stories that I was used to seeing A’s or B’s on were getting C’s and if I was a lucky, a B-minus. I was becoming discouraged, and started to wonder if I was actually a good writer. After all, if I was barely passing the only class that I knew for sure I should ace, maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer.
By the end of the semester I was sitting at a passable grade. Unger had truly frazzled my confidence and my 21-year-old, party-first-study-second lifestyle had caught up to me.
I was burnt out on school and I truly felt aimless in life. The week we had to turn in our final assignments, my old unreliable bucket had crapped out on me and Unger didn’t accept late or emailed assignments. So I figured I would still pass, just with a bad grade.
I was horribly wrong.
When grades came out, I got an F in Unger’s class. I was already leaning toward taking a break from school and that sealed it for me. The plan was to take the spring semester off and bounce back in the fall.
But, life happened and my semester turned into a two-year layoff.
By the time I got back, I was older and wiser but missing the confidence that I had held previously. I was nervous in classes and rarely spoke up. Even worse, I still had to take the class taught by Unger, for whom I developed a severe grudge during my sabbatical.
In my mind, he was a antiquated, racist, cantankerous old man, completely out of touch. I detested him.
I purposefully waited until my last semester to take his class, secretly in hope he would either retire or kick the bucket before then. Unfortunately, neither happened and “Unger vs. Rushing: Round 2” was set to take place in my final semester.
By the time I took his class again, my edge was back. Not only was I confident, but studious, more responsible and highly motivated by the promise I made to my mother to finish school.
I had also aced the advanced version of his class, Reporting (UMKC seriously needs to organize its journalism courses better), and I had become former Star and Kansas City Chiefs writer Jon Rand’s go-to student and was the standout sportswriter for the UNews.
I was more than ready for Unger. During the first day of class as he read my name he stopped and asked why my name sounded so familiar. Without keeping my emotions in check, I bellowed out loud, “Because you flunked me three years ago!”
“Well, he certainly doesn’t hold a grudge, does he?” he quipped back.
For some reason, we both laughed at that. It turned out it was his last semester, too, and he had loosened up quite a bit from our first go-round.
As the semester went along, my anger slowly seethed out of my body. Unger and I developed some strange rapport and him flunking me became the recurring joke in our class. Most of my assignments got either an A-minus or B, and he and I really began to understand one another.
I cut down on what he called the “fluff and flowery” content and wrote in a more straight as an arrow style that he preferred.
In that final semester, I learned a lot from him and we bonded, which is something I would never have believed was possible at 21. So of course, when the final grades came out, I got yet another shock from Unger.
That semester I had come to dominate my final set of classes and I did. I wound up with a 3.98 grade point average. I received all A’s, except from Unger, who gave me a B-plus. I know I deserved an A in that class, but I laughed and figured maybe it was just Unger’s last lesson and his way of keeping me humble and focused.