“If you’re walking through the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, you can be sure that it didn’t get there by itself.”
If you’ve ever been to a formal JSU function that Dr. John M. Beehler deemed worthy of his presence, you’ve heard that metaphor. At graduations, it’s followed by a round of applause for the family, friends and faculty that helped each student to this momentous occasion in their lives.
But let me break down everything that’s wrong with this metaphor and why it’s become more of a running joke among students than an actual illustration:
Turtles don’t belong on fence posts. Let’s just assume that this is a regular old box turtle sitting on this metaphorical fence post. If the turtle fell—which it probably would, because fence posts aren’t very wide, and the little fella is probably terrified—it could be seriously hurt or even killed. So, is Dr. Beehler saying that our loved ones put us in a potentially perilous situation?
Anyone over the age of four should know that turtles don’t belong on fence posts, so if someone did put a turtle on a fence post, they’d have to be a pretty cruel and sadistic human being. Does Dr. Beehler think graduates’ families are that mean-spirited?
There’s the whole matter of being in the Talladega National Forest. If a park ranger were to catch you putting a turtle on a fence post, they would have every right to report you, and you could be charged for animal cruelty. And Alabama’s animal cruelty reads as follows: “Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor and on the first conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than three thousand dollars ($3,000) or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both fine and imprisonment…” (Section 13A-11-14)
It doesn’t take much thought for the metaphor to fall apart. It’s true that college graduates never get to graduation alone. There are friends, family, faculty and staff, high school teachers and dozens of other people and groups who help us get there. These aren’t the people would intentionally put us in precarious situations.
But what if it’s a metaphor for JSU? It almost makes sense now. You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who hasn’t been inconvenienced by something JSU has done in recent years or is planning to do in the future. From the Financial Aid fiasco of Spring 2016 to signing Landon Rice and the clearly failed “It’s On US” campaign to increasing fees and tuition almost every year, it’s easy to feel that the administration is the hand putting you on a fence post you’re afraid to get off of.
And if I were to extend Dr. Beehler’s metaphor, I would say that a graduate’s friends, family, and teachers represent the person walking past a turtle on a fence post who has enough sympathy and intelligence to help it down and let it go about its way. They are the person who helps the turtle succeed.
So, in summary, if you’re walking in the Talladega National Forest and see a turtle on a fence post, just know that it didn’t get there by itself, it doesn’t want to be there, someone should be facing animal cruelty charges, and you need to be the person who helps the turtle instead of hurting it.
I used to sit in my dad’s office and correct the Chanticleer with a red pen. In one issue, there was a jump line that said, “continued on page 2,” but the story wasn’t there. It just cut off in the middle of a sentence. I was appalled.
That was in high school. I don’t know who the Chanty editor was then, and I haven’t bothered to figure it out. But I do know that I relate to him or her now.
I never planned on becoming the editor of the Chanticleer. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a journalist. I just wanted to write. Because, words, well they’re our most inexhaustible source of magic, aren’t they? Writing has always come naturally for me. I used to turn my spelling word sentences into stories. I have journals upon journals and files upon files of poems and stories and character sketches that have never gone anywhere. I write letters to my best friends to celebrate graduations, anniversaries or just the beginning/end of another year. I have a lot of feelings, and words have always been my outlet when talking is maybe too hard. And, because I wanted to share all those feelings with everyone, I thought journalism was a career for me.
I was a little wrong.
Journalism isn’t a place for feelings—except that is. Journalism is short, hard, no-nonsense, “just the facts, ma’am” writing. But that has never meant that I shy away from issues I care about. In fact, I think you’ll find that journalists care more than your average person, because they’re willing to put aside their biases and their feelings to get the real story to the people. And, honestly, it’s one of the hardest things for a person to do.
In the two (amazing, eye-opening, inspiring difficult, long, draining, frustrating, exhilarating, ridiculous, invaluable) years that I’ve been editor, I’ve tried to show readers the human side of journalism. I’ve tried to make our articles about the people. I’ve tried to show ingenuity and originality and creativity. I’ve tried to lead with confidence when I’m terrified, wisdom when I’m unsure, kindness when I’m angry and persistence when I’d rather give up.
And I’m sure that—to an extent—I’ve failed. No one can do this job perfectly, or even as well as they want to. And whatever success I have had wouldn’t have been possible without the scores of people who have believed in me along the way:
My parents, George and Brenda Cline, who have never once told me that my dreams were too big, who run 7 a.m. paper routes and who know far more than they’d care to about the newspaper industry.
Marie McBurnett and Alex McFry, who let me write for the paper when I didn’t know what I was doing and encouraged me to keep pursuing this crazy thing called journalism.
Drs. Kingsley Harbor, Augustine Ihator, Patrick McGrail, Mr. Mike Stedham and Mr. Jerry Chandler, who saw something in me that made them think I’d be a good editor and gave me this job in the beginning—and who I hope don’t regret that decision two years later—and have given me so much genuine support and help as I adjusted into this role and then as I (attempted to) push boundaries and continue growing in my field.
Dr. Jason Peterson and Mr. Fawad Shah, who showed up this year and offered up just as much support and guidance as if they had had a say in hiring me in the first place.
ALL of my fantastic co-editors over the years—Katelyn “Bug” Schneider, Timothy Cash, Alissa Camplin, Rebekah Hawkins, Daniel Mayes and Chris Brown—who have grown with me, worked with me, laughed and cried and complained with me and made a stressful job a little more fun. Some have graduated; the others will, and I am honestly so proud that I got to work with each of you, and I know that you will be massive successes. Please give me a shout out in your Pulitzer speeches, and thank you for never telling me no, even when you definitely should have.
My best friend, Meg, who has sacrificed time with me because I needed to work, brought me food in the office when I was too busy to leave, spent hours listening to me complain and heard way more “confidential secrets” than she probably should have and never breathed a word of them. Thank you for your advice and patience and unfailing friendship even when I was way too much.
To the next editor, I hope you have as much support as I’ve had. I hope you’re braver than me. I hope you’re less afraid of confrontation. I hope you’re better at graphic design. I hope you love this job and everything it’s about more than I did, because, if you do, I know the paper will be in good hands. This small, weekly periodical is my baby in so many ways. I’ve watched it grow for two years, and I feel like a mother sending her child off to preschool for the first time.
And, like any good parent, I have some unsolicited advice as they drop you, scrambling and excited and nervous and reeling, into your editorship:
Treat every issue like it’s your last. Because you never know when a tornado is going to sweep through and throw you off. Don’t put off stories longer than you have to. Keep pushing. Pack every paper with the hardest hitting, most interesting news you can find. Ask more questions. Ask harder ones. Go into this job like it’s the spring semester of your senior year and no one can touch you.
Don’t be afraid. I promise, the worst thing they’ll say is “no.” (And if you’re lucky, they’ll say “no comment.”) If you feel like you’re onto something, pursue it. Make them know your name.
If it’s accurate, they won’t say anything to you. For me, the most rewarding part of being editor was when someone said they didn’t like what we ran. Not because I want to upset people, but because that means we said something that someone didn’t want to get out. Like housing. Like the rec center. Like financial aid. And if they read it and didn’t like it, it still means they read it. And that’s what you want. But no matter how nerve-wracking it is, go for it. Check it. Double check it. Then run it. Make sure it’s right, and you’re safe.
Make your own mark but know that you’ll never do enough. Don’t follow in my footsteps. Make your own mistakes. Do your own thing. Boost the areas I’m lacking in. Throw out that layout you hate. I won’t be offended. I had my time. This is yours. But, please remember that no matter what you do, you’ll never feel like you’ve done everything you’ve set out to accomplish. One year—or even two—isn’t enough time if you’re doing your job right.
My world is already spiraling into my next adventure: graduate school. This summer I’ll be moving to Manhattan…Kansas. I’ve been accepted at Kansas State University where I’ll be getting my Master’s degree in English with a concentration in Children’s Literature. I’ve been offered a graduate teaching assistantship and two scholarships. I’m going to (hopefully) study Harry Potter. I don’t know a lot of what’s going to happen, but I’m never going to stop writing, that much I know for sure.
I’ve been counting down to this, my last paper, for months, trying to decide what to say and how to say it. I’ve looked for song lyrics, Harry Potter quotes, old Chinese proverbs—anything that might describe how it feels to be coming to this moment. And nothing fits. For once, my words are failing me.
All I can say is “thank you.”
Thank you for reading and liking and sharing and making an overly optimistic twenty-something feel like she’s made a little bit of a difference doing something that she’s come to love so, so much.
This may be the last thing I write as editor, but it will not be the last thing I write.
You have been the brightest light in the office since the first day I stepped into it. Full of witty humor and kindness, you took a new A&E girl in without a blink and made me feel welcome and, most importantly, home. I will never forget the openness that you ensured I was extended from day one. I remember leaving the first time meeting you thinking about how much I hoped you liked me and how I hoped I made a good impression because I thought so highly of you.
There are so many traits you possess that I aspire to be when I grow up: brave, brilliant and altogether beautiful. Your grace and smarts are unmatched. Thank you for the times you didn’t roll your eyes when I had to ask basic grammar questions or when I told you I would be a feeeeeew minutes past deadline.
Thank you for the times you joined in singing (screaming) Ed Sheeran in the office, and thank you for turning a blind eye to the shenanigans that Tim and I would get ourselves into.
Thank you for an abundance of Taco Tuesdays and tequila. Thank you for the advice I didn’t want to hear and the guidance when I needed it more than anything else in the world. Thank you for the effort you put into making this newspaper a force to be reckoned with the university. I will always be honored to have worked under such an all-around amazing editor-in-chief.
I’m crying as I type this because I am so not ready to let you move on, but I am so excited for your future. Kansas doesn’t know how lucky it is to be earning such a gem of the hills. This office will miss your laugh and I will always wince at the thought of walking in and not seeing you cuddled up in your blanket behind your computer.
Katherine, I love you endlessly. Because you were here, the Chanticleer is a better place. Thank you for being “one of a Cline.”Thank you for being my friend.
As part of a graduating senior exit survey, I was asked if JSU was the Friendliest Campus in the South. I chose the “disagree” option and was then given the opportunity to explain why. This is what I said:
“I believe that (most of) the faculty and staff truly are the friendliest, most caring, intelligent, and involved of anyone at any university in the country, but the administration, particularly the president, his Cabinet, and the Board of Trustees have shown time and time again that the views expressed by students–and even faculty–do not matter.
The president is not interested in his students’ well-being, and is only interested in their success for the money he thinks it will bring to the university as alumni. He consistently presents a “me first” attitude when interacting with students and does not seem to do so of his own free will. (His interactions are almost always limited to large group settings like Preview Days and Orientation. He does not stop and talk with students around campus or show any vested interest in them as people.)
The president’s attitude trickles down to the other members of the administration, including at least two of the deans (from my personal experience). The administration is almost always condescending toward students, as if them coming into an administrative office to ask a question about financial aid/transcripts/housing/scholarships/etc. is a burden on the staff, and, as a student, I get the impression that they would rather me “figure it out myself” than ask them to do their jobs. Many of the administrative workers and faculty do not have what I would call a servant’s heart and do not seem to want to help the students they are here to assist.
During Orientation, incoming students are made to feel like JSU is really about YOU, but once they get assigned an ID number, everything changes, and they are subjected to the same red tape, runaround, hoops to jump through, and general disrespect that the upperclassmen face every semester.
Part of this, I believe, is due to the university’s dearth of communication skills. Regarding the aftermath of the tornado, I have several questions: Why was the primary form of communication Dr. King’s personal Facebook page and not from the university’s official channels? Why did Dr. Beehler not make any announcements? And why were there so many confusing changes and rescissions to statements? If these changes were, in fact, because of the policy of an outside agency, why were these agencies not named (all we ever heard was the ominous “they”)–or, more effectively, why were these agencies not consulted BEFORE a mass decision was announced?
Overall, it seems like very little protocol was followed during this crisis (if such a protocol even exists–which, at this point, is questionable). As a student who lost her entire childhood home in the disaster, it added so much more unnecessary stress on me and my family than if the university had waited to make one announcement about the plans for the semester after everything had been clarified and secured.”
Will I miss JSU? Oh, yes. I have made so many memories, accomplished so much and grown exponentially as a person in my four years here. (For example, four years ago, I never would have published these comments.) But will I miss feeling like I am less than a person just because I’m a student or that the only thing my university values about me is my money?
Dr. Eric Mackey graduated from JSU in 1992 with a Bachelor’s in general science education, and, on April 20, the Alabama State Board of Education selected him as the State Superintendent. Mackey beat out Jefferson County superintendent, Dr. Craig Pouncey, by one vote. The third finalist, Dr. Kathy Murphy, the superintendent of Hoover City Schools, did not receive any votes.
Mackey began his career in education as a physics teacher at Saks High School in Anniston, Alabama in 1993. He later served as the principal of Kitty Stone Elementary School and the superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools. Prior to being appointed to the State Superintendent job, Mackey served as the Executive Director of School Superintendents of Alabama, a position he has held since 2011.
“After working in the Calhoun County and Jacksonville City school systems, I saw the impact that state policy has on local schools and became more involved in policy issues,” Mackey told The Chanticleer. “Most educators don’t really like the policy end because it often leads to political complications, but I enjoy policy.”
Now, Mackey has a hand in making those policies, and he wants the education system to focus on supporting teachers.
“We are going to support and embrace the work of classroom teachers, who make the difference for students every day,” Mackey told the Chanticleer of his plans. “Only by supporting our educators and providing them with clear goals, direction and resources, do we move educational attainment forward in our state.”
Even though he will not officially start until May 14, Mackey identified his first course of action to media following his selection.
“The top priority will be assessment, getting the assessment system right,” Mackey told WSFA 12 News in Montgomery. “The reason it has to be top priority is because in order for us to have a new assessment in place in two years, which we’ve promised our locals we’ll have something ready to go by spring 2020, that RFP has to be released by early summer.”
Mackey was confirmed by the State Board of Education in an 8-1 vote, with only Ella Bell opposing. Bell voted for Pouncey and claims that a legal issue between Pouncey and board member Mary Scott Hunter swayed the original vote.
Gov. Kay Ivey, president of the Board, released a statement congratulating Mackey.
“During the interview, I was impressed by Dr. Mackey’s embrace of my vision to ensure that our children have a strong start to their educational journey so that they have a strong finish when they enter the workforce,” Ivey wrote. “That is the kind of forward thinking we need at the helm of the State Board of Education. I look forward to working with Dr. Mackey in the days ahead as we put the focus where it should be – on effectively educating every child in Alabama.”
Mackey and his wife, Robin, met at JSU, where Mackey was editor-in-chief of the Chanticleer from January 1991-April 1992. The couple has three sons: John, who is graduating from JSU in May with a degree in integrated studies; Brandon, a freshman at UAB majoring in physics; and Christopher, an eighth grader at Pike Road Middle School in Montgomery.