Chowan…love her ever more!
Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Fifty years have past since one fateful day in May of 1973 when I heard my name called during a ceremony held in the auditorium of the historic Columns Building.
To be honest, I was sweating bullets that particular day. In my mind I repeatedly went over the number of course credit hours I had completed during my two years of study at what was then known as Chowan College. I knew I was razor close to that magical number….I must have added those numbers several times before becoming satisfied with the final outcome.
However, I went into panic mode when my name wasn’t called when I was next in line to cross the stage. It was the guy behind me….his last name was Bryant as well, but the first letter of my first name was among the first three of the alphabet while his first name was Richard (or Randy, or Rick, or something that began with an “R”).
For a moment frozen in time, I felt the eyes of everyone in the audience – which included my mom, my dad, and my girlfriend – staring at me. They were probably saying, “look at that poor stiff, bet’cha he’s embarrassed.”
But, alas, the person responsible for placing the diplomas in the exact correct order must had mistakenly figured that the initials “RB” went before “CB” because my name was the next one called. I wiped the sweat off my brow and proudly walked across the stage to accept my Associates in Graphic Arts degree from then Chowan President Dr. Bruce Whitaker.
Recently, I was thinking about that special time of my life. I was the first from my family to earn a college diploma…not bad for a teen who really hadn’t pushed himself very hard academically in high school, but only “flunked” one course – Geometry. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t have the grades needed to enroll in the School of Radio and TV Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. My dream job back then was to become a sports announcer. You can ask my childhood friend and cousin Bunky Johnson how I would call the “play-by-play” while we competed one-on-one in every sport, either in his backyard or mine.
With that career pathway blocked, I looked for another door to take. Thanks to the advice of Carl Russell Britt and Mrs. Ellen, respectively the assistant principal and English/Journalism teacher while I was at Northampton County High School, I applied and was accepted into Chowan’s Graphic Arts program beginning in August of 1971.
I had served as the Editor of the “Ram Page” (student newspaper) during my senior year at Northampton, but that was more of a study of journalism. The Graphic Arts program offered instruction into the production end of the printing industry – typesetting, page design, photolithography, and operating printing presses.
Some of my classmates had graduated from high schools that offered similar programs. I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all at first, but thanks to those “seasoned” classmates and a great group of professors at Chowan, I fell head over heels in love with the program.
What I discovered were three professors that loved Graphic Arts as much as I did. I became a sponge and absorbed each and every morsel of knowledge I could squeeze into my tiny brain from the likes of Herman Gatewood, Bill Sowell, and Tommy Nelson. All three of those men have since passed away, but each left a big impression on me and I give them all the credit for providing me with a solid foundation on which I’ve built a career in the newspaper industry.
There were others at Chowan who also impacted my life. The legendary Jim Garrison was my PE teacher and later became a close friend and ally. Dan Surface, my Health Science instructor, was a kind, caring man that offered encouragement when life dealt a bad hand. Ditto for Dr. Hargus “Chap” Taylor, Chowan’s well-respected Chaplain and a true man of God.
Even though I struggled in his class, Warren Sexton taught life’s lessons far beyond a textbook. So did Robert “Bob” Mulder. And Dr. Whitaker’s blood ran “Chowan Blue.”
It’s no telling where life’s path may have led me had I not attended and earned a degree from Chowan. There were many “naysayers” at that time of my life who frowned on me and other graduates, referencing a degree from there as worth no more than the parchment it was printed on. I beg to differ, and so do the thousands of others who are proud grads of Chowan. The college (now university) built its reputation as a place built on God’s love and guidance, and now in its 175th year, Chowan still stands on those powerful principles.
I used my degree to gain employment in 1973 at what was then Parker Brothers Inc. (now Roanoke-Chowan Publications). The printing fundamentals I gained at Chowan led me to initially work as a production technician in the offset camera room, plate room, and on the press for the first 15 years of my career. I was fortunate enough to further my knowledge here under the guiding hands of John Powell (a Chowan grad) and Gilbert Vaughan before shifting my focus to journalism, first as a sports writer, then sports editor before joining the news staff in 2000.
I’m still involved with Chowan, covering news and sports on the campus as well as a member of the Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame Committee. The memories, past and present, of that special place in Murfreesboro still have meaning and I wouldn’t trade them for the opportunity to change my life and career pathway.
“On the plains of Carolina, ‘neath her skies so blue, stands our noble Alma Mater, glorious to view. With her classic walls and columns looks she proudly down, reared against the arch of heaven, with the stars for crown. By Meherrin’s rippling waters where the sunbeams play, we her loyal sons and daughters pledge our love for aye. Praise to her, God grant his blessings, may He give rich store. Chowan we will ever cherish, love her ever more.”
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.