Dad gets fan mail from fifth graders

Sunday, May 18, 2003

It's not easy standing before a class of fifth graders trying to explain the joys of journalism.

They're not sure about this news thing. I mean, it's not a video game.

But, nevertheless, there I was trying to explain my chosen profession to fifth graders at the Cape Girardeau Middle School. Not only did I have to explain it once, I had to explain it to three classes in a row, including daughter Becca's class.

They wanted to know if I had interviewed anybody who was famous. I told them about President Bush, although I wasn't sure if that would really rate with fifth graders who would have been more excited to hear that I had interviewed some pop star.

Still, they listened intently and no one threw gum or anything else at me. I wasn't kicked out of class so I figured it went pretty well.

But I never expected to get fan mail.

However, within a few days Becca brought home a pile of letters from students who told me just what they thought of my little presentation.

One boy observed that being a writer was tougher than he thought. "The thing I liked most was when you got to sit next to George Bush," the student wrote.

Several students thought it was "cool" that I got to interview Bush one-on-one when he campaigned as a presidential candidate in Cape Girardeau in 1999. I was the lone reporter in a car with as-it-turned-out the future leader of the Free World that August morning.

Naturally, I ended up writing about it. It isn't every day you hitch a ride with a presidential candidate.

One student wrote me to say it was "very awesome" that I got to ride with Bush.

Of course, she wouldn't let it go to my head. "Are you just a reporter at SEMO or do you do other things?" she asked in her letter, clearly aware that I did report on happenings at Southeast Missouri State University.

Another girl confided that I made reporting sound like a lot of fun. "I will go home and pretend to be a newspaper reporter and interview my parents," she wrote.

It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to know that you encouraged a fifth grader to question her parents about something besides new clothes.

One boy said he was glad to know that I only work five days a week. "When you said you only work five days a week I knew your job was fun and easy then."

One girl wrote honestly that she didn't expect a talk about the news would be fun, but concluded that it actually was "very interesting."

Another student commented on my Southeast Missourian identification badge that I wear around my neck. "I think it is weird to wear IDs too, but the school makes us," he wrote, clearly auditioning for a job as an editorial writer.

Another boy wrote, "I like your job. It is cool. You have a good hobby. You can go to a crime scene." Short, simple sentences. That student already has a good reporting style.

Becca wrote me a letter too.

"I liked how you talked about you can't be shy if you're a reporter. You know I'm not shy," she wrote.

"You also didn't embarrass me too much," she concluded.

Coming from my daughter, that's high praise.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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