I was an excellent student in college. A nerd you might say. When I got my course syllabus and went to the university bookstore, I purchased the required textbooks and the optional reference materials and suggested readings. I didn’t have much money to spare in those days either. Like many of my peers, I was a ramen-noodle eating, part-time, minimum-wage working student.
Unlike many of my peers, the rest of my tuition and expenses weren’t being paid by federal student loans or Bank Mom and Dad. A $1200 investment plus three years of active duty service had earned me the GI Bill prior to starting school. And my re-enlistment in the Iowa National Guard, training weekends and summers, gave me additional financial aid. I was working too hard to pay my way through college, to not get everything out of it I could.
I had real zeal for education, (which I attribute to my mother, but that’s another story) which is why I think I got along so well with my mentor and faculty advisor, Barbara Mack. Professor Mack had zeal for living life, but most notably French cooking, fast driving, big words, the freedom to use them and the savvy to do it persuasively and legally.
Barbara Mack was my media law professor with a unique teaching style. She called on her students using “Mr.” or “Ms.” and expected each student to stand when responding. She tested only a few times during the semester—by essay. Her class was tough, so passing it gave us a special sense of pride while preparing us for bigger life tests. You see … Barbara Mack didn’t want student robots memorizing facts for filling in multiple-choice bubble sheets. Her hope was much grander: for us to become educated, critically thinking, respectful and responsible young adults.
When I announced my candidacy for the state senate, a former ISU staff member sent me a short note that simply said “Barbara would be proud.” And though she died three summers ago, those classroom lessons live with me always. As I reflect on her life and the legacy she gave those of us who knew her, I find another lesson: we should leave the world a better place than how we came into it.
This is a group assignment that requires everyone’s participation and commitment. We all have something unique and valuable to share that makes a difference in the lives of those around us—in our companies, schools, clubs, daycares and neighborhoods. I understand that most of this happens without receiving gold stars, awards or applause.
While that may discourage us some days, more often we should be encouraged in our purpose by reminding ourselves of the goal of leaving the Urbandale, Johnston, Grimes communities cities we can be proud of and places our children can thrive in and raise their families. Like buying the optional reading material and skipping a football game tailgate party to study it, we will have to make some sacrifices and investments.
But an argument for anything less would never get a passing grade from Barbara Mack. She lived 59 years—a reminder that we never know for sure how much time on earth we’ll have to make our mark. So I choose to hold nothing back. The time for positive change and practical progress is today.