A Tale of Two Deans

Jun 6, 2003

In this summer break from classes, my mind has been actively scheming, and I’ve concocted ideas for two different events, for subjects with which I’m increasingly becoming more passionate: weblogs, and HIV education for journalism students. My goals: to raise awareness about both on the Carolina campus. I’m inspired by others more talented and prolific than me, bloggers who have unique perspectives and journalists who have excelled in telling stories and educating readers.

Over the last ten years, as my father has trained for his annual Honolulu marathon and also prepared for a few big cases (he’s an attorney who fights for poor, injured workers), he’s told me many a time about how he rehearses his deposition questions while running along the Ala Wai canal. Like him, I think my way ahead.

And so by last week I had pages and pages of ideas for my two events. Some of my ideas were fanciful (I’d invite Bono from U2 to come to Carrboro for a benefit concert, yeah that’s it!), but others were solid (I’ve got a Pulizter Prize-winning health reporter eager to speak to journalism students). I’m an idealist, mostly, and a dreamer always. In college, I worked at a nearby private boys academy as the after-school traffic monitor. On my walk to and from the campuses, I imagined myself so powerful that I could sweep up President George H.W. Bush and Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and whisk these two superpower leaders to a quiet retreat, where they would miraculously wipe away the Cold War animosities and find some calculus for peace. Though I had nothing to do with it, this same formula seemed to work at the Dayton Peace Accords, where leaders from the shattered former Yugoslavia made peace for Bosnia.

With my flight of fancy ideas penciled into an outline, I contacted two individuals to seek their encouragement and support. What happened next taught me a valuable lesson.

My first appointment was about the HIV awareness program. When I handed over a typed outline, this person reacted swiftly and decisively: bad ideas, Anton. I was stunned. A bit offended, I had mostly myself to blame, for I had expected this person to see the grand vision behind the list of possible speakers and seminars, which, in retrospect, did look monolithic. I hadn’t rehearsed this avenue all those times I was biking from home to campus and noodling on yet another idea for the program. After this first meeting, I spent the day reliving all my other seeming failures: a Liro Community Center that my fellow PCV and architect friend Kevin Anderson meticulously sketched; a Cleveland Arts Festival that, as I envisioned it, had all of Cleveland’s arts institutions pulling off a synergistic calendar of culture; and a manuscript by my thirtieth birthday. None of these happened. But in the end, I decided that I hadn’t failed. I just hadn’t yet succeeded. Yet. (Joe Cimperman, Cleveland councilman extraordinaire and best man at my wedding, has the city’s arts organizations banding together to find new ways to grow arts appreciation.)

My friend and mentor John Ettorre pulled off a fantastic event in Cleveland last week; John organized a blogs powwow, and more than a hundred journalists, writers, Internet geeks and computer programmers turned out to learn about blogs. Sounds as if a firestorm of interest was lighted, and John’s success in part inspired my second appointment of the week.

Still smarting from the cold reception to my first proposal, I went about this next presentation, about a weblogs event, more gingerly. I put nothing on paper. I kept my idea short and sweet: please help me generate interest in blogs among UNC graduate students. And the response was edifying: good idea, Anton, now develop it. This person gave me three excellent suggestions, scheduled a follow-up appointment, and promised support. I’ll begin to collaborate with others, and perhaps this group will build upon my ideas. I’m young, yet, and there’s time to build community centers and organize city-wide events. In the words of Johnny Bruce Tomatelu, my Peace Corps counterpart, ‘start slow, start small.’

Anton Zuiker

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