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Coming Home Again

Posted by Kiki Schmitz on September 14, 2008

Journalists, it’s been said, are pretty good at thinking on their feet. If an interview goes sour, a good journalist can lighten the mood and put the subject back at ease. If a headline won’t fit, a good journalist can replace the lengthy line and still set their story apart. If a centennial closing ceremony performance is accidentally interrupted mid-song, well, a good journalist can cover for that too.

Dean Mills is a good journalist.

Still fresh from belting out the National Anthem, and mouths open to begin the Alma Mater, four members of the University of Missouri’s Mizzou Forte a cappella group were cut short, as the announcer introduced Mills before they could sing a note. As the audience, realizing the error, began to boo, the announcer, identified only as “Rod,” said eloquently, “Oh!” (Editor note: He was referring to Rod Gelatt)

Shuffling back to center stage, the quartet sang and the crowd cheered. Mills, taking the stage for the second time in two minutes, quipped “we were just trying to build demand for that wonderful singing group.”

Mills went on to recap the centennial celebration, covering discussion forums and international guests, flying in from France, Denmark, China and elsewhere to make the event. He extended thanks to the alumni, current faculty, and students for their efforts.

“We promised a good time, “ said Mills “and I hope we delivered. I have heard a few complaints about the sessions though—apparently, they were all so good, people couldn’t figure out which one to go to.”

And while the attendees had a hard time picking and choosing, there were still those that couldn’t make the event at all. Alumni Jim Lehrer of PBS sent a video message apologizing for his absence and expressing his “congratulations to the school and all [his] fellow alumni.”

Even the locals came out to show their J-School pride, with Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman addressing the crowd and joking that the city tries “to provide enough fodder to keep the journalists happy.” Hindman welcomed back alumni to what he called their student hometown. “I hope you like what you see.”

Mills returned to honor Suzette Heiman and Ashlee Erwin, who started planning for the centennial over three years ago.

“It was a real honor and a privilege, “ said Heiman, “to be able to do this. Thank you.”

From here, the focus shifted to the Telling the Story, Fair and True program, performed by faculty and students from the University of Missouri School of Music, under Conductor Edward Dolbashian. The orchestra played as more than 200 photos from the Pictures of the Year International competition appeared on screen. In the background, student narrators read from Walter William’s “The Journalist’s Creed.”

Pictures flashed by, images of Mother Theresa and Muhammed Ali flanked by penguins and polar bears and nuns having fun. There were pictures from womb until tomb, little league victories and cheerleaders crying, Albert Einstein with his tongue out, and a baby with spaghetti on his head. The final pictures, a juxtaposition of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising and a similar shot taken at ground zero following 9/11, lingered on screen, as the orchestra rose to an ending.

As the violinists took their bows, Mills returned to introduce poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko penned a tribute to Russian journalists killed in recent years, victimized for reporting the truth.

He spoke passionately, apologizing for his “inevitable Siberian accent,” and began his poem first in Russian, than ending in English. Yevtushenko’s reading grew more and more emotional, as the audience stilled and the orchestra sat silently behind him. His intensity increased, until he was nearly shouting the word “shameful,” used to describe mafia killings. His words still echoing, he finished, nodded slightly, and extended a “thank you,” before leaving the microphone. The crowd rose in standing ovation

As the evening drew to a close, Mills addressed the audience one final time. No need for a quick witted response, Mills opted for a simple, fitting send off.

“We assume you’ll all be back in a 100 years. Thank you very much.”

And with that, a centennial themed slideshow began to play. The background track, written by alumni Jenn Schott and Jack Smith, brought back memories of high school graduations. As the lights went up and the crowed filed out, the lyrics seemed fitting.

“This is where it started, where it all began. Writing my first story, dreaming of the glory out there, somewhere, waiting for me. This is where I come from, this is who I am.”


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