Last Word: Jeff Stage ’77

Observer, Absorber in Education Heaven

p48-StageMy fourth-grade teacher had one major criticism during her parent-teacher conference with my parents so many years ago.

“He doesn’t participate enough,” she told Mom and Dad. “I know he understands the material, but he doesn’t raise his hand or participate much. He’s like a sponge.”

I guess I always felt it was more important to learn from the teacher, materials and classmates rather than to demonstrate that I knew something. I was shy. I also feared the label “smarty pants.”

We all change. Today, some folks say I babble too much. But, I have always exhibited a sponge-like ability—absorbing all I can from my environment.

So I was pretty much in education heaven when I attended Oswego State in the 1970s.

The teachers and classes were outstanding. It seemed I was interested in everything, from the familiar to the foreign: geography, statistics, history of the English language, accounting, computers, education, psychology, etc. Was it any surprise that I changed majors six times, beginning and ending with a not-particularly marketable—but very much appreciated—English degree?

About three semesters into my collegiate career, I switched to my fourth major–computer science. At a keyboard on the first floor of Culkin Hall, typing on data processors no one would recognize today, I punched programs onto hundreds of IBM cards that I carried around in a long cardboard box. Because I switched majors and needed to catch up, I took nothing but computer and business-related courses.

I knew we were facing a world where we would have to be more and more connected to computers, but I realized that I did not want to work with their innards. So I returned to English and renewed my interest in becoming a reporter—the perfect job for a sponge.

I spent plenty of time in Sheldon Hall, with its stately columns and clock tower standing firm behind a statue of its namesake, Edward Austin Sheldon. Yes, he’s still holding that apple* and lecturing that young boy. I took every newspaper and journalism course—including two internships at the Oswego Palladium-Times—that I could take from James Brett.

Brett knew his stuff. Following his commonsense approach to the tradition of journalism—then still entrenched in the world of print—led to my career of more than 36 years as a reporter and editor, mostly spent at the dailies in Syracuse. Whenever I had a reporting assignment that I hated, I inevitably remembered Brett’s professional warning: The night you decide to skip out to the bar across the street instead of attending the common council meeting at City Hall is the exact night that something dramatic will happen in the meeting.

For decades, I found that if I listened closely, every routine story offered me plenty of new information, perspectives and insights.

Lessons learned by a sponge. Thanks, Oswego State.

Jeff Stage ’77 worked 36 years as a reporter and editor for the daily Syracuse newspapers. Stage is now an editorial associate for the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte, Pa. His first novel, Chasing Jenny, focused on the theft of a set of rare stamps. Read a snippet on his web site, www.jeffstage.com.

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