Dear Whoever You Are: A Story of Loyalty and Love

Today’s post involves a letter that precedes a letter. I know it’s a lot for a Wednesday morning, but I promise it’s worth it.

When my twin sister and I were 13 years old, our brother Nicholas was a senior in high school with college plans weighing heavily on his mind. And, for as long as I could remember, Nicholas had his heart set on Northwestern University. To him, it was perfect: the school was close enough to home (but not too close,) and its high academic standards seemed to be a flawless fit for his polished transcript. Alas, fate intervened and he was denied acceptance. So, he attended an amazing school in Tennessee, graduated with a degree in Political Science and worked as a writer for a few years prior to returning to Northwestern in 2009 to earn his MS in Integrated Marketing and Communications.

He flourished as a graduate student at Northwestern, making friends, earning top marks and finding a larger sense of purpose. Midway through the program, in February of 2010, he sent the below e-mail to our entire family (a distribution list of 15 people between our two parents, our siblings and their respective spouses).

His preface to the following letter is more than enough to show you how appreciative he was (and still is) for our family, and more specifically, my twin sister, Kaitlin. Kaitlin has always been a fiercely loyal member of the clan, and her effort (which was launched via e-mail in December of 2001,) only goes to show that she’s maintained this quality throughout the past ten years. So, thank you Nicholas for your permission to post this e-mail and for editing out Kaitlin’s hysterical grammatical errors, thank you Kaitlin for being such a loyal member of our family and lastly, thank you for reading.

[Nick writes on February 9, 2010]:

Hey guys,

So, I know everyone is busy, but I hope you’ll take the time to read this email. A classmate of mine is in his mid-thirties and has been working in the Northwestern undergraduate admissions office for nearly ten years on and off as a part-time job. His main responsibility is to read and separate good/medium/bad essays from high school seniors. Anyway, the other day, he asked me if he could speak with me in private. When I met with him after class, he asked me if I had applied to Northwestern as an undergrad. I said yes. He told me he had a letter he wanted to give me. It wasn’t from the University, he said, but one he could legally give me without getting into any trouble. He said he had been saving it (and a few others like it) in a folder for years, and that recently my last name just clicked and he looked it up. I’ve re-written the email below, and upon reading it, I think you’ll all understand why our family is so amazing:

[Kate writes on December 13, 2001]:

Dear Whoever You Are,

My brother was heart-broken today, after receiving the news that he had not gotten into your school. Personally, I think he can get into many other different and better schools. I’m gonna go to Notre Dame when I grow up. I’m in 7th grade and my name is Kaitlin Schreiber, the sister of Nick Schreiber.

Nick, who applied early to Northwestern and had his heart set on going there is a remarkable person, brother friend, student, leader, and all-around guy. He attended high school at Lake Forest High School. He was president of his class 4 years running. Yes, FOUR! Everyone loves him. He is very smart. And we come from a large family. So he is now already an uncle of two and a GODFATHER of one. Another advantage of being able to go to Northwestern is that he is not far from home, so he can see his Godson and niece. Why don’t you look up his form or resume or whatever application over again…. he is someone you will be lucky to have, or would have been. ALL AROUND STUDENT AND PERSON! AND BROTHER! So please give him a chance, or at least write me back. I’m not even sure if this is the right person to write. Please write me back. PLEASE.

Sincerely,

Kaitlin (Katie) Schreiber

[Nick writes on February 9, 2010]:

So, I think that is pretty awesome. Kaitlin never told me about it. It’s dated 12/13/01 and is addressed to Mark Hill, one of the former directors of admissions. I’ve been the beneficiary of some great actions from my family members, and this just seemed like a good opportunity to say thanks to Kaitlin, and to everyone else.

Much love,

Nick

PS I don’t remember ever calling Kaitlin “Katie” – do you guys?

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And So Goes the Theme: The Noble Pursuit of the Educator

I have been blessed with a very, very wonderful friend (who shall remain nameless until I can convince her to reveal her identity to the throngs of men, women and children reading this blog… And by throngs of men, women and children, I mean my loyal family members and their respective spouses/children, along with a few supportive friends). This nameless friend has provided me with the courage to start the Thank You Project, and I credit her with much of my post-collegiate successes, both personally and professionally. Her sincerity is stunning and her humility is humbling.

This nameless friend of mine has a knack for putting her own needs aside in order to tend to others; it is a gift that never fails to amaze me, and it is one that I will continue to admire. It cannot be learned, and it cannot be mimicked. So, in keeping with the theme of the past few posts, I present to you the raw, honest and touching message that she sent along to a former teacher today. I hope you appreciate her words and their careful honesty as much as I do. (P.S. Thank you to my fantastic, nameless friend and, as always, thank you for reading).

Dear Mrs. Hare,

I hope this email finds you well – or, for that matter – finds you at all, given that this might be a wildly outdated email address. I had the honor of being one of your last students back in 2003/2004 and 2004/2005 and wanted to send my sincere, albeit very belated, thanks.

It was never lost on me – the noble pursuit of being an educator. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had my share of wonderful teachers and professors throughout grade school and college, and even mentors in the working world that I could argue have been equally influential in making me who I am today. But they were only able to build on what you had already instilled in me at 16 years old – a love of language, a passion for learning and a true appreciation for uncovering world views that differ from my own. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

I’m currently living in New York City working for a global PR firm. I couldn’t tell you what that really means – the longer I work in the industry, the less I understand its value. However, I can tell you I get to write every day, and I get by on the notion that I’m sure I’ll find an avenue one day soon in which I can write about something I care about. Once I do, you’ll be the first to know. You once said you’d be happy in prison with the “punishment” of writing a dictionary – if you need some promotional materials for that venture, I’m your gal.

I hope retirement has treated you incredibly well, and you’ve gotten to spend countless hours with your grandson, who must be hitting those wonderful tween years by now (yikes, time flies). Hopefully he’s had some great teachers himself, but he’s already a lucky kid to have had you around. Again, thank you for everything.

A Thank You For His (83-Year-Old) Wisdom

In light of last week’s “Ode to Teachers,” a friend of mine passed along an article that serves the same purpose. Please enjoy Ryan Franks’ Dean Rea: Wisdom on news, teaching and marriage from my 83-year-old professor. It captures Dean Rea’s unique passion, unwavering devotion and, of course, his sense of humor. Even though I have never met him, I thank Dean Rea for creating wonderful journalists with his wonderful method of instruction. (I also have to thank him for his FANTASTIC advice at the end of Ryan Franks’ piece).

If you are lucky, you have a Dean Rea in your life.

Rea taught my Reporting II class 14 years ago at the University of Oregon. He’s been a part of my life ever since. Sometimes, he was there in person — at my wedding, at journalism school functions, on back-to-campus visits. Mostly, he was there in spirit. When I got stumped on a story or faced an ethical dilemma, I tried to think, “What would Dean do?”

Rea, now 83, mentored and nurtured hundreds if not thousands of journalists as a teacher and editor at the University of Oregon, the University of Montana and at newspapers across Oregon, including Eugene, Bend and Hood River.

As a teacher, he was famous for creating realistic exercises, attracting first-rate speakers and, occasionally, throwing his students straight into a story. In my Reporting II class, he got the police PIO to do a mock presser for a car accident and sent us to cover the governor’s campaign rally. Discovery learning is hot today but it was standard practice for Rea years earlier.

He retired from teaching at age 79. But he hasn’t retired from journalism. He still works as a freelance writer, photographer and editor. “You never quit,” he said. “Otherwise, you die.”

We met briefly last year soon after I moved back to Eugene but the visit was too short. Recently, I picked up a phone call and heard his classic direct, clipped reporter voice: “Ryan, Dean Rea.” We agreed to meet for coffee.

I toured him around our office. That was my first clue that Rea never stopped learning himself. He peppered me with questions about our plans for mobile and digital news. I showed him the screen where we track page views in real time. “Why do you care about page views?” he asked.

Over coffee (he took his decaf and black), we chatted about the old days and the future. A few gems:

– On a courthouse tour for class, he taught us that we should immediately know how to find two things: the pay phone and the bathroom. “You only need one of those now,” he said.

– At 83, why isn’t he among the traditionalists who resent new media? “Why? Why would you resent change?”

– There was a time when he didn’t recognize the coming computer revolution. He had a student named Paul Brainerd who wanted to go into computers. Rea told him: “Paul, save your time. There’s no future in that.” Brainerd become a pioneer in desktop publishing with his founding of Aldus Corp., a company he eventually sold in a $500 million deal to Adobe. “That taught me a lesson,” Rea said.

– The one thing Rea hasn’t adapted to yet is Twitter. He doesn’t want to know what everyone is thinking. But he also doesn’t want to give up learning. A few minutes later, he said: “Someday, I might even Twitter.” @deanrea is taken. But we can help find something else.

– If he were a college student, would he still go into newspapers? “Sure. There’s nothing else better in the world than being a news person.”

– What advice does he offer students? “It’s very simple: Follow your heart. If you’re not doing what you want to do, you won’t be happy.”

– Why did he change jobs so much? “What are you running from?” a student once asked him. Rea: “I didn’t have answer. I thought about it. I was running from boredom.”

– Rea has four children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Life gets busy, he knows. But he passed along advice he got from a friend years ago about marriage: “Don’t forget one another. Keep courting her.” That’s what worked for him and his wife, Lou. “We married 61 years ago. I’ve been courting her ever since. That’s my only advice for you and Paige. Keep courting her.”

By Inspiring Ourselves, We Inspire Others: An Ode to Teachers

During my past life as an English major, I was blessed with the gift of many incredible, impactful teachers. One course during my senior year of college, however, took the proverbial cake.

Earlier that year, I had read an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer. I loved the novel, but felt that my independent reading had left it without enough analysis or thought. Dr. Lisa Sewell and Mr. Alan Drew changed that when they introduced the novel as one of our modern fiction studies in their two-chaired course, Literary Festival.

Since then, I have passed out copies to friends and family members in hopes that they will be touched by the literary beauty that I found in McCann’s brilliant work. In spite of continuous talk of the novel, I never thought to thank my teachers for their meaningful insight. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Philippe Petit (a character by way of allegory), that I knew I had to do something.

You may find my initial e-mail below. And, as always, thank you for reading. (FYI: Both professors have since responded with kind, appreciative words that have made starting this website a bit easier)

Dear Dr. Sewell and Mr. Drew,
 
I hope this note finds you both well. It’s hard to believe that I was a student in your Literary Festival course more than a year ago… how quickly time seems to disappear!
 
I came across this TED Talk by Philippe Petit, and I was instantly reminded of our collective analysis of Colum McCann’s “Let the Great World Spin.” Our time spent with that novel was a highlight for me that semester, and it’s clearly made a lasting impression. If you’re still teaching the book (or even if you’re not), I thought you both might enjoy Mr. Petit’s quirky lecture: http://www.ted.com/talks/philippe_petit_the_journey_across_the_high_wire.html
 
As an aside, I’ve spent more than a year in the “working world” since graduating in 2011, and I often reflect upon my time at Villanova and, more specifically, my experience in the Literary Festival course. It was, by far, one of the most rewarding classes of my collegiate career as an English Major, and I never truly thanked either of you for your time, effort, guidance and instruction. To be frank, I think that this error stemmed from my fear of coming off as a “brown noser,” but I hope that it still resonnates with both of you when I say (or write) that I truly appreciate your effort and instruction. You both taught me a lot that semester, and you reaffirmed my love of fiction, writing and, above all, learning.
 
In the lecture that I link to above, Mr. Petit says, “by inspiring ourselves, we inspire others.” Even if you don’t hear it from your students often, you inspire people on a daily basis. For this, I am very grateful . (And envious).
 
Again, thank you both.
 
All my best,
 
Molly

Attitude of Gratitude: A Conceptual Introduction

In the midst of my fledgling young adult life, full of independence (both figurative and literal) and uncertainty, I grappled with a lurking feeling. It was not unlike the feeling that you get when you leave your presentation materials behind as you trek to work for an important meeting, or the lurch you feel in your gut when, without warning, your plane drops from 30,000 feet to 20,000. The difference, though, was important; the difference was, quite frankly, that this feeling felt worse…because it was worse.

After graduating from college, I moved away from my family in Chicago to pursue a new career in Washington, DC. For a while, the newness of it all smothered the feeling, making it seem temporary and controllable. Then, something happened; the illusion of parental immortality was threatened, and (once our family reconvened in the Midwest and the chaos subsided) I confronted the feeling, and I thought. Every day I felt closer to the answer, to the remedy for this feeling. Some days occupied by this introspective reflection were more fruitful than others and, naturally, some were more focused than others. Seven months later, it came to me: where was my gratitude? I knew it was there (somewhere), but did anyone else? Of the thousands of people who had touched my life up until this point, did any of them know? They used to, I concluded. But that’s not enough.

And it is here that the Thank You Project was born. In the coming months I will work to thank one person per week. I will thank them genuinely, with a specific focus on what they’ve done to impact my life. In between my posts, I invite you to submit your own expression of thanks. Once we all start, it may become contagious, this attitude of gratitude.