I thought today was tragic because of my overdramatized realization that I left my cell phone at my apartment. How will I ever survive this day without it? I even made plans to go home in between classes to retrieve it so my day would go as it usually does.
Upon my successful retrieval, I see I have four text messages. I think, “Who couldn’t live without me for a whole morning?” sarcastically. I have one from Ivy and one from Bethany, two of my journalism friends from Iowa State, and a bunch of tweets I subscribe to. I open Ivy’s and it reads, “Barbara Mack passed away. Talk about sad.”
My world stops. My ears ring with that deafening ring that only requires me to sit down and evaluate my surroundings. It’s a shock. It’s ringing like that dead silence that has emptied my brain of every other stupid thought I’ve had today about my phone, about my classes, about the amount of time the bus takes to drive around campus. Everything shuts up and I’m left with a clean slate.
That’s the first and only thought that enters my mind. “Jennifer Dryden,” I say out loud. “My name is Jennifer Dryden.” Maybe you think I’ve gone insane at this point. It’s not that I had forgotten my name or needed reassurance that I was still alive. Barbara Mack taught me my name in junior year Communication Law at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning in January. Okay, she didn’t teach me my name, she taught me my name’s worth.
“It’s not just men who should use their full name!” she bellowed into the classroom of terrified, intimidated, and exhausted-but-attentive students after a student introduced herself as “Sarah” and forgot to say her last name out of habit, probably.
From then on, I held and said my full name with confidence in every introduction I’ve ever given in the past four years. Her showing me my worth mattered. It’s one of the only things in my whole college career that has mattered. And it came from the professor who held 8 a.m. classes on purpose and called out every single one of the latecomers, embarrassing them until they turned red and started sweating.
Barbara Mack was no joke. As I read my friends’ odes to her on Facebook and Twitter I have realized it’s not just me who was terrified, mystified, and totally in awe of this esteemed journalism professor. She taught each of us lessons after lessons about law, about the “real world of journalism”, and about what’s fair and what’s not. I considered her a mentor and a friend through organizations like the Iowa State Daily, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the First Amendment Day committee. She always was quick with a joke, but a sophisticated joke. Nothing that was too dumb to say out loud.
B. Mack (as we mostly called her) would create situations and demonstrations in law and journalism 101 class to embarrass herself, although I think she was never embarrassed. She brought on opportunities for herself to charge things up in the classroom and to make a mockery of her nodding-off-students, if such a brave soul existed.
She was strict, yes. But she was determined, first and foremost, because she valued learning. She was even quoted in an Iowa State Daily article describing her view on teaching. “I want students to come away from a class believing there is always more to learn and there is always a way to improve their understanding. Nothing is as frustrating to me as a day in which I learn nothing.”
So B.Mack, because I’ve been your student and you my professor, mentor, confidant in a tough situation, and adviser on many event committees, I want to thank you for all the wonderfulness you put into the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State. I always thought of the Greenlee School as my college family and Hamilton Hall as its home. (I have always told my parents that I feel comfortable enough at Hamilton to take my shoes off when I enter the door. And I’m sure I went socked feet to your class a couple of times, commuting from my Daily news desk.) You were the mom, or better yet, the Queen of it all. You were the highest source I’d go to in a tough situation or just to get the bullshit sorted out of something. You told it like it was, you taught it like it was, and for that you’ve taught me how to value myself, and more importantly learning.
Today was tragic. I knew that one right off the bat. But I never expected to cry today or be stuck in my head’s silence while I search for the right words to say. These probably aren’t even the right words. So my question comes to a new subject, not my cell phone, but Barbara Mack. How will I ever survive without Barbara Mack? And if I want to be dramatic for a good reason, how will the world ever survive without Barbara Mack?
I will teach my students the best that I know how the things B.Mack taught me, which is too much to list and too hard to complete a list like that now. But in every first week of school during introductions, I will tell my students about an extraordinary journalism professor I had at Iowa State and… that they matter.
Pictures I found taken in 2009 and 2010 on First Amendment Day at Iowa State University. Remember and enjoy!