Gonzaga Part II: This Time It's Personal by JC Howard

"The sequel was so much better..."

A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other day: “Name a sequel better than the original.” Some responses were widely agreed upon—Godfather Part II, Rush Hour 2, Bad Boys II—while others were hotly contested; apparently some don’t recognize the genius that is Back to the Future Part II. The comments section was filled with comedic hot takes and nostalgia-fueled debate and I just stopped by to watch! Those kinds of posts are great and sort of compel us to just scroll through and agree or disagree either within ourselves or—depending on our level of passion—to our virtual friend list. We often compare the sequel to the original and recently I’ve been thinking about my journey toward a Master’s in the same light.

The story of my educational success is deeply linked to my failure to succeed; the full story is on the About Me page. The long and short of it is that I started attending Gonzaga University in 2009 in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Communication and Leadership, but I bent the “flexibility of an online program” to its breaking point and failed multiple classes. I stepped away from the program only to return 5 years later. When I tell folks the full story they often say, “So great you’re finishing what you started!” I imagine many people say that to be nice and encouraging, but there is a subtext that often underlies that statement: “You are trying again where you failed before.” To which I internally respond, how could I not?

My experience at Gonzaga is a microcosm of what I can only hope my life will be. I’ll admit there is a part driven by ego: I refuse to be beaten; I will finish. But beyond that Gonzaga, for me is a symbol. It represents the ever-present idea that failure is not the end of the story. Failure will come. I’m glad I learned that in my early 20’s. It is okay to fail a lot; as a matter of fact it’s good for you. There’s a quote often attributed to Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb.” I prefer to embrace the failure though. Sure I failed, and in that found a thousand ways not to pass Master’s-level courses!

I’m just about on the final leg of the journey at Gonzaga. I’m mere months away from degree attainment. Partially because I’m older. Partially because I’m wiser. Partially because I took a page out of the book of author Jon Acuff (figuratively, I love my books and I’d never harm a page), and I learned how to say "No." I chose Gonzaga because of its Jesuit tradition; the focus on education, logic, and reflection. I came back, because even after I failed, the tenets of reflections helped me to identify the areas in which I needed—and still need—to grow. And boy am I glad that the sequel’s so much better!

A Scholar by any other name by JC Howard

...but J.C. smells sweeter

When I consider my journey as a communication scholar, I must admit that is wholly straight forward, and yet wholly round-about. That is to say, when I step back and consider my journey, I can see in many ways I was always determined to be on this exact leg of the journey, but there were many times I believed the journey would be completely different. The journey on which I am has had many happy surprises and is leading me toward career pathways that I assume will be as surprising as the journey that led there.

When I was in high school, I played basketball for the school team. I mostly played every intramural sport offered by my school, not because I was good at them, but because the sports teams got to get out of class early on game days. In my junior year of high school though, in between soccer and basketball seasons, I dislocated my knee and was doomed to stay in class all day on game days; or so I thought.

I was taking a nap one afternoon and I got a call from the Director of Athletics at my school. I was half-asleep still when he asked me to “announce the players” at the first game the next day, but of course it got me out of class, so I happily accepted. I sat in the “announcer’s booth” and named the starters for the home and away teams. I started to stand and leave the table but the Director said, “What are you doing? I want you to call the game!” I had no clue that’s what he wanted, though to be fair, he probably told me the day before when I was half-asleep. Our school had never had play-by-play or color commentary for the games, but all at once, I became the play-by play AND color commentator for the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs home games. After that, I fell in love with broadcasting. I decided just then I would major in Communication in college and become a play-by-play commentator for professional wrestling. Oh yeah…did I forget to mention, I’ve always been a huge fan of professional wrestling!

To hit the highlights of college, I majored in Communication. Declared the major on day one and never looked back. I completed hours as an intern at KTVU News in the San Francisco Bay Area. I thought I’d complete the hours, get a job there, and be the next big thing in broadcast, which would lead me to my goal as a play-by-play sports man. The one thing I didn’t account for: the economy. I graduated college in 2009, the height—or rather depth—of the recession. No one was giving up those kind of jobs; not to kids without 7+ years’ experience.

So I hit a dead-end; my plans were derailed. Then I thought, “I should continue my education.” My senior year in college, I started looking into grad schools and found Gonzaga University in Spokane Washington. The Communication and Leadership program is rooted in the Jesuit traditions of logic and self-reflection. The only problem: I was too immature to take MA-level classes online. School was my last priority after work, social life, volunteering etc. I failed a bunch of classes and had to walk away for a few years.

I was afraid of floundering. I was working in a field that would never lead to broadcasting, not in school, and my journey had basically halted. I found determination. Apparently, it had been there all along, but I just hadn’t seen it. I started my own weekly news and current events podcast; started back on the road toward broadcasting, I ran that podcast for just over four years and while doing so, I started a radio apprenticeship training program with KPFA in Berkeley, which led to becoming a reporter with KALW in San Francisco.

Having found determination, I returned to Gonzaga. 7 years all the wiser, I resumed my studies toward a MA in Communication and Leadership. After a few classes back, I realized that what I might want to do is teach communication. Determined not to fail and armed with an abiding interest in my discipline I began looking toward doctoral work.

Will I pursue PhD in the future? I don’t know; the journey is not yet over. But one thing I do know: the path is becoming more and more clear, yet still wholly up in the air. I’d have it no other way!