40 years after graduating from Texas A&M, thankful for a professor’s mercy that helped me reach the finish line

Saturday (May 6, 2023) was the anniversary of my commencement at Texas A&M a mere 40 years ago — not that I would’ve remembered the date. I’m just going off what my journalism degree says. I guess this constitutes a milestone?

And to think I almost screwed things up for myself, cramming photojournalism, broadcasting, and a 400-level class into my final semester while still working full-time as a sports writer at The Battalion, the student newspaper.

I rarely made it to Dr. Steve Pasternack’s early morning Media and the Community class, a small gathering where attendance/discussion were a must. I needed a solid grade on the final in-depth paper that was to make up a large chunk of our final grade (heck if I remember the topic). Although I turned in what I considered a strong paper, I did so a day late. Dr. Pasternack’s inclination was to give me a failing grade on both the paper and the class, which meant I wouldn’t graduate. But he showed mercy and gave me a D on both, allowing me to sneak through by the thinnest of threads.

Dr. Steve Pasternack

When we spoke at the year-ending journalism picnic, Dr. P told me he was disappointed I didn’t take the class more seriously. He knew I’d been a dedicated student, especially when it came to my work at The Batt. I was contrite while explaining that the hours I spent in the darkroom for photojournalism, the TV studio and the newspaper had made for a brutal semester, but there was no excuse for my blowing off his class the way I had. My level of relief was sky-high, because I truly thought he was going to fail me and I’d be taking another summer school class before graduating.

I’ll always be grateful and was heartbroken when I learned in 2004 that while teaching at New Mexico State, he’d tragically died of sepsis at age 54 after returning from one of his frequent trips to Rwanda, where he was training young reporters to cover the trials of suspects in the recent genocidal slaughter. Thank you for your patience and leniency, Dr. Pasternack.

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