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The Deacon Blog

A blog by Maria Henson (‘82) with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson

Tim Duncan (’97): “I like who I am …. “

Any Demon Deacon worth his or her salt knows that if the San Antonio Spurs are winning, you will find an alumnus in the thick of the action. That’s the case this week with the Spurs leading the Western Conference series in the NBA playoffs with Tim Duncan (’97) doing what he was born to do: win. The Spurs had their 20th consecutive victory this week, an NBA record, with Duncan helping them continue a sizzling winning streak.

Tim Duncan holds his retired jersey at his last home game in 1997

The don’t-miss story about him this spring is Chris Ballard’s “21 Shades of Gray” in Sports Illustrated. Ballard calls Duncan the most successful player of his generation, “maybe even its best.” But he’s not flashy, publicity-minded or a fame craver. During his 15 years with the Spurs and in the company of 116 teammates, he has been so skilled and such a leader that Ballard writes “he could coach the team” if necessary.

“Throughout, Duncan has been the center around which all else orbited,” he adds.  In the piece Duncan takes his hits for anonymity in the NBA, with Ballard calling him “one of the squarest players in the League.” But the article pays its respects to the star seeking his fifth championship ring and allows him a clarion endorsement of his own. “I like who am, I like how I do things,” Duncan tells Ballard.

At Wake Forest, we second that emotion.

Quite a coup for a new alumna

If you have a chance today, pick up  The Wall Street Journal and turn to page 3. “Colleges Get Career-Minded: More Liberal-Arts Schools Stress Skills Development, Ruffling Academic Feathers” discusses how some universities are beginning to make career development “a mission-critical” part of college.

While the article includes a large photo of Vice President for Career Development Andy Chan and quotes him extensively, it also includes one of Wake Forest’s newest alumni. Lesley Gustafson (’12) discussed how she graduated Monday with a double major in political science and computer science. “The former gives her the opportunity to enjoy the liberal-arts focus on ‘debating and reading and practicing critical thinking,’ said the 21-year-old, while the latter gives her coveted skills to take into the job market this year,” writes the Journal’s Lauren Weber. It’s nice to see national attention for one of our graduates who barely had a chance to send a mortar board airborne. (Gustafson of Minnetonka, Minn., has nothing to fear in the job market. She starts this summer as an entry-level analyst at Accenture.)

The article points to the emergence of a new model of education, as one educator puts it, that blends liberal and applied learning. Chan said members of his team have met with 150 faculty members to encourage them to link their students to career services and successful alumni. Earlier this year administrators from more than 70 schools attended a conference that Chan hosted at Wake Forest titled “Rethinking Success: From the Liberal Arts to Careers in the 21st Century.”

Still, as the article points out, while there is a shift across the country to blending the rigors of academic inquiry with preparation for an ever-changing job market, it is not an easy transition. There remains resistance. Gustafson’s path in future years, and that of graduates from similar colleges, will help tell the story about whether such resistance is warranted.

Spanish lessons? Put a bird on it

My single biggest regret about my academic life at Wake Forest is that I failed to spend a semester abroad at Casa Artom or Worrell House. Alumni I meet never hesitate to wax nostalgic about their happy days during their semester abroad and, in some cases, will tell you how they fell in love with their spouse during those months across the pond.

You will find a shortage as acute as cheap Facebook stock shares if you look for recent alumni and current students who made my mistake. Study abroad is de rigueur these days at Wake Forest, and abundant choices include Flow House in Vienna and various programs that can be tailored to our students’ aspirations, from Managua to Madrid.

This semester I heard an entirely fresh take on the study-abroad experience that will have our Wake Forest heroine telling tales for the rest of her days. As far as I know, Clare Rizer, a rising senior from Charlotte, N.C., did not meet her future spouse during her semester in Madrid last fall. She did, however, meet one very nosey, sassy parrot.

"Last night was a blast, eh?"

I’ll let Clare tell you her story. (By the way, she  is a rising senior majoring in history with a minor in Spanish and sociology. She’ll be a Wake Forest Magazine intern next fall.):

“While it is common for Wake Forest students to study abroad in a country with a language barrier and experience firsthand the difficulties of grappling with the unfamiliar, it is uncommon, however, to learn a new language from the mouth, no, beak, of a caged, avian amiga. Cuckoo was my sister abroad, my very loud, obnoxious and narcissistic sister. She was an African Grey Parrot with a red tail and, for some inexplicable reason, she chose to pluck herself of all hairs on her breast. Comical appearance aside, Cuckoo had a voice that filled the apartment (and that of our upstairs neighbors) with daily, intermittent cackles, questions … and even catcalls.

“Cuckoo lived in the parlor of my host mother, Elisa’s, apartment. As her husband was living in the southern region of Spain with his ill mother for the majority of the fall, Eliza found in Cuckoo a joy: her pet, companion and child all wrapped into one. I first encountered Cuckoo as I strolled down the apartment entrance hall for the first time. I heard a mysterious voice say “Hola, Guapa” (“Hello, beautiful”) in Spanish. I immediately assumed it was an overzealous male of the household, but then glanced over to see the thing that, in a few short weeks, would become both my teacher and my nemesis.

“Spain is a country that never sleeps. Or, in my opinion, sleeps at the most inconvenient hours of the day (don’t even get me started on the pitfalls of siesta). I experienced this aggravation firsthand. Cuckoo enjoyed the hours between dusk and dawn and used the quiet time to her personal advantage. When all the lights were out and the house was silent, Cuckoo began to coo. She had a whistle that I can still mock perfectly to this day. She made her own music while I simultaneously attempted to drown out her late-night noises. One night, however, she silenced her whistling and instead began to speak Spanish words. It was that night that I realized this bird and I would form a special bond. I removed my headphones, eagerly absorbing her impressive dialogue.

” From that day forward, I embraced Cukoo as my personal tutor, and we gabbed away many afternoons together.

“Cuckoo: ‘Hola, guapa.’ Como estas? (Hi, pretty. How are you?)

“I : ‘Muy bien chica. Y tu?’ (Very well, and you?)

“She taught me Spanish sarcasm and slang — ‘Noche fue una juerga, eh’ (Last night was a blast, eh?)  – and through her guidance as my renegade tutor, I was the most ‘in the know’ study-abroad student at my school. The incessant ‘Hola, guapa’ chants were also an exciting self-esteem boost each day before and after school, and I do selfishly miss that daily comfort and frequent question: ‘Es tu tarea muy muema?’ (Is your homework very dull? I would respond, ‘Obviamente, chica.’ Obviously, girlfriend!)

“At my ‘last supper’ on my final day in Spain, Elisa let Cuckoo out of her cage for the first time since my arrival and, as dignified as ever, my little friend pranced around the living room, accentuating her human qualities in full. Tipsy on Spanish wine, Elisa, my roommate and I laughed until our stomachs hurt, giggling at our pompous and loquacious companion. This semester, bookended by the antics of a small bird, was truly what I would call, ‘unrivaled by any.’”

There you have it. While Cuckoo will remain a singular pal, Clare experienced a study-abroad semester that is typical from what I hear from Wake Foresters everywhere. It was “una juerga” alright — a blast.

Joni James (’89), a Pulitzer finalist

The 2012 Pulitzer Prizes announced this week failed to include a prize for fiction or editorial writing, but for finalists in those categories there is still cause for celebration to be named among the top three contenders for the awards.A Wake Forest alumna was among them. The Pulitzer board cited the work of Tim Nickens, Joni James (’89), John Hill and Robyn Blumner of the Tampa Bay Times as an award finalist “for editorials that examined the policies of a new, inexperienced governor and their impact on the state, using techniques that stretched the typical editorial format and caused the governor to mend some of his ways.”

Here’s an excerpt from an editorial critical of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s record on open government: “The reality is that the administration has a high number of public records requests from the public and the media because it is so secretive in the way it conducts public business. This is not about newspapers. This is about the public’s right to be informed about the business of the state and the importance of transparency as a check on government.”

Joni James ('89)

A native of North Carolina, James is deputy editorial page editor of the Tampa Bay Times. Her list of newspaper stops along her career path includes the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel and The Wall Street Journal. She joined the Tampa Bay Times in 2003 and its editorial board in 2008.

The other Pulitzer finalists in the editorial writing category: journalists from Bloomberg News, who wrote about the European financial crisis, and the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press for an editorial campaign that resulted in the state’s first reform of open government laws in 35 years.