Sunday, August 29, 2010

An open letter to my students

If I had the chance over the next day or two to address the students -- especially at the freshmen -- in the School of Communication at Point Park University, I'd tell them something like this:

I hope like me, you are experiencing a few butterflies in your stomach and a real anticipation about the new academic year. Each year that I've spent in higher education -- and I'm going on 10 of them now -- I approach the new academic year wondering about the possibilities.

What will be accomplished this year? What unexpected opportunities will present themselves? What "a ha" moment will strike? And when?

But most importantly I approach each year reminding myself of the contract, for lack of a better word, that we as faculty make with you as students. It goes something like this --

We will work as hard as we can -- we'd better work as hard as we can; mailing it in isn't going to cut it! -- to provide you with the skills you need to continue to develop your academic and professional potential. We'll never promise you that you will get a job in the communications world simply because you took one of our classes, but we will promise you that you'll increase your chances of that happening if you give as much energy and commitment to your classes and chosen profession as we give to ours. 

A job in the communications world -- whether you want it as a journalist, a graphics designer, a public relations practitioner, a photographer or any other of the many possibilities -- is becoming increasingly more difficult to get and to keep. I think it's fair to say that you have to work harder than my generation did when we were in college in order to get that communications career up and running.

But in some ways you have it better than my generation. That's because the rapid development of technology allows you to be independent professionals in ways we couldn't have been. However, if you get caught up in the technology -- pushing this button here, clicking on that thing there -- you will get trampled by thousands of other people who continue to understand that the fundamentals of the communications world have not changed.

In fact, they've not changed for many generations. Those fundamentals include being able to write clearly and concisely; to understand how to practice communications ethically and legally; to be smart enough to recognize the sources you need to tell your story well; to tell interesting stories about interesting people; to remain independent of various pressures that will attempt to influence your integrity; and to know what is taking place in your field, your city, your state, and your world. The list can go on from there, but I think you get the point.

So today your challenge to yourself should be to make sure that each and every day you are honing your craft. That you are becoming more confident as a writer, a story-teller, an advertising campaigner or whatever is relevant to your area of future expertise.

No, you don't have to do that each day. But please remember that someone -- perhaps in this room, perhaps at another university, perhaps both -- are improving themselves. By doing so, they are positioning themselves to get the job that you want.

You decide if that's what you want.

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