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Author, Editor, Journalist

By Mervyn Kaufman ’59
Author, editor, journalist

I remember it clearly: a critical time in my J-school year. Christmas was coming, the weather was turning dismal, and I wasn’t planning to fly home to California for the holidays. Worse, I was feeling pinched—and pushed. I'd recently sorted through all the assignments I’d turned in and noted all the (mostly negative) comments typed or penciled into the margins. "I’m a flop, a failure," I thought. "They’re telling me I’ll never make the grade. I should just quit school, pack up and fly home—permanently."

Something in me suggested that I try and stick it out, however, but I did feel I needed help—some kind of validation. I sought out a faculty member, not my assigned counselor but Larry Pinkham, a professor I respected and felt I could trust. He was nursing a cold and looked as though he’d rather be home sipping a brandy, but he he said he'd see me. We agreed on the time—a day later, afternoon of the last day before the holiday hiatus.

“Leave all of your papers in my mailbox, so I can look them over first,” he sniffled. I arranged them chronologically, tied them up and delivered them immediately. When we met, he had them spread out neatly on his desk. Without waiting for me to whine or snivel, he jumped right in, pointing out, rather sternly, that the criticism—despite some of its harsh wording—had all been positive and very constructive. “You’re not here for us to tell you what a good boy you are!” he said, as I shrank into my chair. But for the next two-and-a-half hours, he not only took me apart but also put me back together. He underscored and summarized what my critics had been saying to me, urged me to knuckle down, and finally convinced me I was going to do fine.

I left Pinkham’s office as though in a whirlwind. I was completely spun around but by then as determined as I had been on day one: I was going to make it after all. Five months later, the words “With Honors” were attached to my diploma and I almost wept. For me, my memories of the school are colored by my recollections of Professor Pinkham—his lectures, his steely admonishments to lazy students and, most of all, his incisive advice to me—career-shaping, all of it. Thus, it is mainly because of him that this school has meant so much to me, and since he’s passed on there is no way for me to ever repay him—other than with this tribute—for devoting so much time to rebuilding the confidence of a sadly discouraged and unfocused student.

Posted by: AlumniAlumni April 2012

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