One of my proudest days

Two of my finest journalism students: Emmett Pearlman and Na'il Diggs.

Two of my finest journalism students: Emmett Pearlman and Na’il Diggs.

So I teach a journalism course at Chapman University, a beautiful college out here in nearby Orange, California.

The title is Digital Media Workshop, which is (for me) vague and nebulous enough to bring in a lot of funk and creativity. I’m huge into making the classes interactive and involved. I’m also huge into guest speakers. Even if they have nothing to do, specifically, with forging a career in journalism, there’s a definite value in being able to listen to interesting people and learn from their lives. Thus far I’ve had, among others, Jason Shuman, producer of many films, and Jeanie Buss, owner of the Lakers, come to speak. It’s been killer.

Anyhow, yesterday’s class was, hands down, my all-time favorite. First, we had a guest speaker—Na’il Diggs, former Green Bay Packers linebacker and current San Diego Chargers TV dude. Second, I was holding the class at à la minute, a spectacular ice cream parlor a few blocks off of campus. My plan was to have Na’il speak over ice cream, then make the lesson and class project about writing reviews (specifically, reviewing an ice cream).

The class starts at 4, and I usually get to Orange around 1, just to kick around, do some research, etc. This week, however, my son Emmett is out of elementary school at 12:15 every day. Because of some family situations, the wife couldn’t pick Emmett up yesterday. So I grabbed him and—gleefully—said, “You’re coming to college with me!”

“Can’t I have a play-date with Nick instead?” he asked.

“No.”

“Oh, man.”

He cheered up quickly. First, I told him about Na’il Diggs. Second, I told him about ice cream. “Do you wanna be a student in the class today?” I asked.

“OK!” he said.

So, for one day, my 9-year-old son went from fourth grade to university life. And it was … amazing. I had 11 students in my class. Including myself, Na’il and Emmett, we were 14 total. Before the session began I had everyone pick a number from a hat. The ice cream joint has about 16 flavors, so whoever got No. 1 made the first choice of what ice cream he/she would like to review. Then 2, 3, 4—on and on. The place is absolutely fantastic. Yeah, some of the flavors seem a bit funky (beet? olive oil vanilla?)—but it’s my all-time favorite dessert spot. Anyhow, after we all secured our grub (I paid, happily) Na’il spoke for, oh, 80 minutes. And he couldn’t have been better. Forthright. Detailed. Intelligent. Engaging. Just beyond merely good.

When he wrapped, I gave a small lecture about the art of the review (Two words to never use: “I think”) and then offered the students (Na’il and Emmett included) about 20 minutes to write. I walked around, inspected, assisted. The place went quiet, and I truly thought to myself, “Right now Na’il Diggs, my son and 11 students are reviewing ice cream around a wood table. How amazing is that?”

It got better.

I asked who wanted to read first, and Emmett raised his hand. I loved the confidence, but felt a tad awkward, so told him to wait. After the first student was done, Emmett said, “Dad, can I go?”

“OK, Em,” I said. “Let’s hear what you’ve got.”

He stood and glanced down at a piece of paper (he doesn’t possess a laptop). He has brown wavy hair, and wore a throwback Tampa Bay Bucs jersey. And he read this …

Bitter and sweet, dark but creamy. Tiny little pieces of happiness with a side of sugar.

It’s like dark and light; a perfect combination. Taking dark chocolate with vanilla custard is so genius it is like the Albert Einstein of food. First you taste the tiny little crumbs of bitter dark chocolate, but then lots and lots and lots of sweet vanilla ice cream drown the chocolate to make the ultimate combination.

But why chocolate chip? I could have picked anything, but this is why I picked chocolate chip. I picked it because you don’t expect much from chocolate chip. You just expect chocolate chips. But if it was great you can tell it is quality ice cream because making chocolate chip ice cream amazing is almost impossible.

As he spoke, I felt tears of joy in the corners of my eyes. I couldn’t stop beaming. I … what’s the word? Joyful? Giddy? No … proud. I was proud. But beyond proud. I couldn’t believe that: A. My son had the courage to stand and read; B. That he wrote something so lovely. I’m not trying to be a braggy dad, or suggest my kid is the next Halberstam. It was simply a moment that I’ll never forget and always cherish. My students (who are just terrific) gave him a round of applause. He could have floated out of the building.

And the ice cream was, as always, spectacular.

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4 thoughts on “One of my proudest days”

  1. Amazing story, Jeff. Seriously, that lede was sort of jaw-dropping. Way to go, Emmett and dad. Clearly, there is a writing skills gene, and it’s been passed on in your family. I hope south Orange County is treating you well. I daydream of it often as I try to adjust to life in Hong Kong.

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