Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Friday, August 6, 2021. Today is going to be another typical summer-in-Florida day. Currently, the temperature is 82˚F (28˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 53% and a southeasterly breeze blowing at 5 MPH (8 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 85˚F (31˚C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to move through our area in the afternoon. The high will be 92˚F (34˚C). Tonight, scattered rain showers can be expected. The low will be 73˚F (23˚C). The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 42 or Good.
Back in the 1980s, I majored in mass communications/journalism at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College. When I started attending classes at the College, there were four campuses: North Campus, Downtown Campus, Medical Campus (from where my half-sister Vicky graduated as a nurse in 1981), and the one I attended, South Campus (now Kendall). A fifth campus, Homestead, opened in 1985 after I enrolled.
I did not start taking journalism classes right away. Like all incoming freshmen, after I took the basic academic skills test that is part of the admissions process, I had to take the “core” courses – ENC-1101, HUM-1020, SSI-1120, and PSY-1101 – before I signed up for JOU-1100. I took three of the four during the Winter Term of the 1984-85 academic year, and I took my Introduction to Psychology in the short Spring Term that followed. It wasn’t until the Fall semester of the next academic year (1985-86) that I took my first career-track class, Basic Reporting & Editing (Newspaper).
I already shared my first reporting assignment – for the Diversions section of Catalyst, the now-defunct South Campus student paper – in Musings & Thoughts for Thursday, July 22, 2021, or: Well, I DID Give it the ‘Old College Try’.
I did an okay job with that story, I think, because I had been on the Entertainment beat when I was on the staff of The Serpent’s Tale, South Miami High’s student paper. I was a staff writer and the section editor for Entertainment during my two years on the staff, so even though interviewing the head of the campus music department was a daunting assignment, it was still within my comfort zone.
To my surprise, my professor, Peter C. Townsend, liked my work – he changed my lead (or, if you prefer, “lede”) to something catchier than what I originally wrote, but otherwise left most of my copy “as is – and my willingness to learn new things. As a result, within my first month on the staff I was promoted not once but twice. First, I became the assistant Opinions Editor, which allowed me to work in the Production Room (Room 8215) in addition to my desk in the “main office” (Room 8216) of Student Publications.
Not long after that, when Professor Townsend noticed that I had a sharp eye for typos and factual errors as well as a decent writing style, he promoted me, on the spot, to Copy Editor. I don’t remember now how much time elapsed between my first and second promotions. However, I did double duty as Opinion Editor Denise Corbitt’s assistant and earned a spot on Catalyst’s masthead as Copy Editor.
The shift to Opinions from Diversions (which, as I mentioned before, was analogous to Entertainment) to Opinions meant that I had to think outside the performing arts/literary arts box I had placed myself in when I was a high school journalist. I had, of course, written a few “hard news” stories for The Serpent’s Tale, but those were easy compared to some of the assignments I got – or self-assigned – to cover at the College.
Here’s one of my early Op Ed pieces from the 1985-86 academic year:
Patience, effort pay off for writer in his quest for accomplishment
Opinions, January 16, 1986
By Alex Diaz-Granados, Columnist
Not long ago, I was going through my desk drawers in the fervent hope of finding a writing utensil – one of those highly elusive BIC pens with four different colors – when I happened to stumble onto a wrinkled sheet of paper. Curious as to its contents and origin, I picked it up and read it.
“Dear Mr. Diaz-Granados,” it began. “It has come to my attention that you are interested in becoming a writer but are feeling insecure about your abilities to become one. No doubt you are wondering what course of action to take, what decisions to make and how to follow up on your past successes.
Life is not made up of good grades – it’s made up of effort, successes and failures, happiness, sorrow and relationships with your fellow human beings.Alex Diaz-Granados, Catalyst, January 1986
“I know how easy you thought it was going to be to become a writer; you had the idea that you could come up with new stories and ideas. I felt your frustration when you discovered that the art of putting words together into coherent ideas requires patience, time and effort.”
I blinked, amazed at the author’s insight. Whoever this person was knew what he (or she) was talking about. And I felt apprehension creeping slowly in. This sort of thing is rather unsettling – I don’t often talk to anyone about my personal problems, especially not these innermost fears and hopes.
Slowly, I continued reading.
“Well, don’t worry, Just keep your head clear, sign up for classes as soon as possible and do your best. Don’t be too discouraged if you don’t get straight A’s the first year, or your second, or even your third year. Life is not made up of good grades – it’s made up of effort, successes and failures, happiness, sorrow and relationships with your fellow human beings.
“Do your best, and keep your chin up.
I studied it carefully, looking for any hint as to its author’s identity. The handwriting was neat and nearly perfect, with a few words crossed out and corrections in the margin. I looked through my high school yearbook for handwriting samples; none matched.
Wearily, I gave up. The next day, the letter was forgotten, thrown in some wastebasket somewhere. But its message wasn’t forgotten or thrown in some distant mental trashcan.
And so it came to pass that I finally signed up for college admission, passed my first two terms with good grades, joined the newspaper staff and became an editor.
All right, so maybe it’s allegory, maybe it’s not. But I think that even in the darkest hours of a person’s life, one can find the courage to overcome even the darkest fears and accomplish something of personal value.
© 1986, 2021 Alex Diaz-Granados