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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson

Seasonal signs: Bedroom slippers and stubble

Today I taught the last class of the semester, my hearty group of students gathered around the big table in the late Dolly McPherson’s classroom in Tribble, the second-floor room papered with posters of Paul Robeson and African-American literary giants. We had come to the end of JOU 278, the History of Journalism, but not to what I hope will be a bond that stretches past graduation day. That’s what Wake Forest did for me when I think of Ed Wilson, Peggy Smith, Howell Smith and a number of professors who have since passed on: Bynum Shaw, Elizabeth Phillips, Wallace Carroll and Bob Knott.  I carried with me their lessons, their acts of concern and, in the case of Bynum, a calling card in case I needed yet another letter of recommendation that he unfailingly tapped out on an old typewriter. Even in 1994, you could tell the letter was typewritten by its smudginess. Despite AOL’s rampant popularity at the time, Bynum’s old-fashioned missives remained as effective as ever. And he never complained about my repeated calls asking for a reference. Such were the requests of a nomadic newspaperwoman. Such was the generous spirit of a Wake Forest professor.

I’m feeling wistful. The semester has magically disappeared. I’m not ready.

I never tire of watching the students and listening to what they have to say. They are sassy and original. I get a kick out of them. The other day I noticed signs of the season. A young woman was walking across the Quad wearing leggings, a baggy sweatshirt and furry bedroom slippers. I recognized them because I have a pair.  I only venture out in them to the front yard to pick up my newspapers. (Yes, a History of Journalism lecturer still counts on a feast of print in the morning alongside iPad fare.) The student shuffled across the grass toward the post office. Another fellow appeared perkier, downright jaunty. He wore a Santa Claus cap. At day’s end cheery holiday lights twinkled on a leafless tree beside the Lambda Chi house. It made a nice backdrop to the parade of students trudging with their backpacks stuffed more appropriately for an expedition to Mongolia than for the library.

A sign of semester's end

My students talked today about how the Pit is going to be open 24/7 because ZSR is overflowing. (It’s worth noting my students tell me that in fashion these days is a T-shirt that says “Rush ZSR.”) The cafeteria turned study hall won’t solve study problems, however, according to my students’ quick assessments. What Wake Forest needs are more electric outlets, not Internet jacks, they said. “I don’t know anyone who studies without a computer,” one said. I foresee a day when a crackerjack Wake Forest entrepreneurial student invents a backpack that powers a computer, anywhere, any Quad, anytime. But it can’t be solar. These students after all are nightwalkers, night-doers and caffeinated study hounds. They come alive at 10 p.m.

My journalism students arrived in class each owing me a 2,500-word final paper. By the looks of them they owed a lot of teachers papers. The young men appeared mostly unshaven. One dropped his head on his arm on the table; he stayed alert if not upright. I know because he managed to contribute thoughtfully to the class discussion even from that position. More than the normal number wore glasses and baseball caps. (All-nighters do not bode well for contact-lens wearers, some of you might remember. Or showers.) One student tripped over my computer cord in the classroom. “I have no depth perception in these glasses!”  We had a good chuckle.

In telling them goodbye I urged them to follow their passion no matter what vocation they choose and to be brave. In life as in final exams, it’s a useful posture.

Good Work: Charlotte recognizes Phillips Bragg (’93)

Wake Forest Magazine is hardly alone now in recognizing the good works of Phillips Bragg (’93), who with his wife, Leslie McLean Bragg (’91), and children, shared a spotlight in the feature story “Lubo’s Dream” in the Summer 2011 issue. They are working with James Lubo Mijak, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who became a cherished family friend, to fulfill Lubo’s dream of building permanent primary schools in the new South Sudan.

The Bragg family and Lubo in Huntersville, N.C.

Yesterday the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals gave Phillips its Outstanding Emerging Philanthropist Award at a luncheon at the Charlotte Convention Center. The award “recognizes an individual 40 and under for exceptional generosity and civic responsibility demonstrated through financial contributions and volunteerism to charitable organizations within the Charlotte/Metrolina Region. The recipient’s personal generosity and community leadership have motivated others to give and to become involved in philanthropy.”

On the run from marauding government militia and wild animals in the bush of Sudan during a civil war, Lubo was one of the 30,000 Lost Boys named after the band of orphans from “Peter Pan.” In 2001 he became one of the 3,800 Lost Boys the U.S. government invited to resettle in the United States. He landed in Charlotte and, eventually, through his church had the good fortune to be assigned the Braggs as his mentors. Of Phillips and Leslie, Lubo told me earlier this year, “I have been a witness to their love and care since I came.”

I can vouch for it. With the Braggs, the Pro Humanitate spirit is abundantly evident. And now Charlotte knows about Phillips’ devotion to his friend and the Raising Sudan project. Congratulations to a Demon Deacon whose generous spirit provides an example for us all.

Parker Bradway (’11), WFU singer/prankster returns

At the counter at the bookstore on The Quad today, I couldn’t help but notice a new stack of CDs. There, on the cover, wearing a WF cap, was Parker Bradway (’11), a president’s aide from Georgia who graduated in May and has landed in Nashville. These CDs were his debut recordings, a fact mentioned proudly by Wake Forest’s religion department in its online updates. (His parents must be proud, too. They are Scott Bradway and Lee Burroughs Bradway, both from the class of 1983.)

Bradway studied religion, psychology and entrepreneurship while he was here. He also made news around Wake Forest when his famous YouTube video went viral on campus in fall 2010. With David Cox (’11) and as part of the Traditions Council efforts, Bradway walked around with his microphone to film  ”Messing with Freshmen,” asking chin-scratching questions about where the forest of Wake might be found, when the Winston-Salem witch trials occurred and what the O stood for in President Nathan Hatch’s middle name. The best scene unfolded on a guys’ freshmen hall. You’ll have to see it to appreciate it. No spoiler alert here.

Twitter is lighting up with news that singer and songwriter Bradway will be back on campus tonight to perform at The Barn at 8 p.m. If you want to hear his CD’s featured song, “Carolina Blue,” listen here. But beware: If you go to the show, during these Halloween days don’t fall for the Winston-Salem witch trials line if Bradway corners you. You’ll be sorry.

Demon Deacon wields plunger. What’s up with that?

The Demon Deacon and his plunger scored a question in today’s Winston-Salem Journal in the “Ask SAM” column. I was glad to see it, because my Homecoming guests on Saturday wondered why our Wake Forest mascot waved around a bathroom plunger. I had no idea. I couldn’t remember seeing the prop in my time at Wake Forest. As we gathered back at the Sues’ tailgate party, I forgot about the unanswered question.

Hands free of plunger for the full-on "Go Deacs!" shout-out

A newspaper reader didn’t forget, however, and decided to ask the answer man at the local newspaper. Here’s what the Journal had to say: “The origin of the plunger seen in some illustrations of the Demon Deacon dates to Bill Shepherd, a 1960 Wake Forest graduate who performed as the Deacon for three years while he was a student.

‘He was known at the University and throughout Winston-Salem for his plunger twirling atop the goal posts in the late 1950s,’ according to The Little Black Book, the Tradition Council’s reference book compiled by students for students to educate them about the University’s history and ‘to embolden the evolution of their own Demon Deacon spirits.’

‘According to newspaper clippings in the University archives, the plunger was the crowd’s favorite Deacon antic. The mascot would twirl the ‘plumber’s friend’ like a baton and swing it to the chants of the crowd.’

Dressed in a scissor-tail coat and a high silk hat, Shepherd would use the plunger as a weapon — especially against the Duke Blue Devil and his pitchfork — and do various stunts, including sticking it to things such as a Carolina license plate. Some of his predecessors had carried walking sticks, umbrellas or canes.”

I looked a bit deeper into our our Wake Forest history and discovered “probably no Deacon ever contributed more than Shepherd (of Linville, N.C.). From answering the Auburn fans’ cry of  ’War Eagle’ with his own of ‘Turkey Buzzard’ to hitting ‘the shot heard around the state,’ Shepherd was a genius at eliciting crowd support for the Wake Forest cause.” The “most notorious plunger event” occurred during a Clemson game. At half-time when the national baton twirling champion was performing, the Demon Deacon mocked her by twirling two plungers. Distracted, the champ dropped her batons. As “The Little Black Book” says, “The crowd went crazy and the plunger tradition was born!”

So in the spirit of Shepherd’s skill with that special baton, it’s time to bring out the plunger again on Saturday to joust with the dreaded pitchfork. Twirl on, Deacs!