Reality Bites

There’s a spot on the hill above campus where we used to go. Sometimes we’d take a forty, or a fatty. Other times we’d pack a picnic, and sit there in the car with some sandwiches, some songs, and the view.

All of Syracuse sprawled out below us. It wasn’t much of a skyline, really — more smokestacks than skycrapers — but it was a vista. And while we couldn’t quite see forever, we could at least see beyond the immediacy of whatever constituted the problems of a twenty-year-old.

I wrote “Summer’s Gone” about that place, and that feeling: standing at that spot, there on the edge of adolescence and adulthood, overwhelmed by the vast horizon.

Taking in the view
Lying here next to you
One the hill above our town
Lights spread out below
Draw us in an undertow
Dizzy from nothing to lose

With only a few minutes to burn before heading to the airport, I turned into Thorndon Park, and drove up the hill. I paused just a minute, long enough to snap a few photos, and breath in the brittle winter air. The sky was choked with clouds, obscuring the setting sun. The wind was bitter. I spotted some names carved into the lamppost, and remembered that feeling: young, dumb, and in love.

It was a long time ago.

Later, I drove through the neighborhood below, looking for The “Smokehouse,” where Tod, Jamie, Pablo and I once lived. I had a difficult time spotting which house was ours. Just as Mo Hart, the protagonist in my long-since abandoned screenplay of the same name, wandered that same neighborhood, lost, hung over and terrified, just prior to his graduation.

That’s how I left Syracuse way back in 1993: lost, hung over and a little bit terrified. I returned this morning with a far better sense of direction, much more clarity, and a heck of a lot more courage. The campus seemed, not surprisingly, smaller. There were new some buildings, but generally, little had changed. The sky was gray. The architecture clashed. And students criss-crossed The Quad in a rush to class.

I spoke to three classes today, Professor Kaplan’s Advanced News Writing, Professor Elin’s Advanced Graphics Design, and an open seminar of my own design called (what else), “I Want My MTV! Or, How A Newhouse Newspaper Grad Got Stuck In The New Media Bubble.” Between classes, I had lunch with Ed Gorman, Accociate Director of Alumni Relations, and met with Broadcast Journalism Chair Dona Hayes Storm. Kristin Kane of the Newhouse Career Development Office was my charming hostess.

My primary motivation in returning to my alma mater was to give something back. There was a fair portion of “WWMRD” (What Would Mister Rogers Do?) to the whole thing. Can’t change the world? Try a small corner of it. I felt like the university had given me some pretty decent tools. I want to give some back.

For one, I left Syracuse with nary a clue what I’d be once I grew up (short of being on the cover of Rolling Stone). Now that I’ve, apparently, landed on my feet, I wanted to reassure others that they would as well.

My secondary motivation (as I think I’ve written here before) was to plant some professorial seeds. I might want to teach in ernest some day. This was an opportunity to feel that out.

I loved it. I didn’t love hearing my own voice for hours on end (believe it or not). But I loved talking about what I do, and what I believe in. I mean, I know I’m no Walter Cronkite, but we do good work at MTV News. Not the Britney and Beyonce stuff, necessarily — though if people are fans of theirs, there’s no better place to find out what they’re up to. But the good works we do: “Growing Up Black In America,” “The Diary Of Gideon In Pakistan,” “After The Storm.” I mean, if young people are gonna get their news from John Stweart and us, well, that a serious endeavor. I wanna do a good job at it.

Above all, though, I hope I left one or two of those students with the sense that they can make a difference. They can land their dream job. They can love what they do. And their dream job and their dreams aren’t mutually exclusive. Lucky for me, mine aren’t.

At the end of the day, though, with a thin orange band of sunlight fighting through the clouds, I hope both the students and left with the assurance that summer isn’t gone. It’s just around the corner.

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