Every journalism/communications/agricultural communications student at Texas Tech knew there was one class to hurdle before graduation – News Writing with Robert Wernsman.
We quaked in our Chacos and our knees shook under our sweatpants as we sat silently waiting for him to speak on that first day of class. Within moments, we knew he was not a man to cross or doubt.
Survivors of the course would tell you to choose a different lab professor, but I chose Mr. Wernsman’s Monday lab partly because I waited too late to register. Every Monday, I would spend more than three hours with him hanging on his every word – desperate to meet his high expectations. I will never forget the first paper I received back in that class. I earned a whopping ’13’, and I was just relieved it wasn’t the negative grade someone in my lab received after misspelling a source’s name . This was no game. Mr. Wernsman meant everything he said
I consumed myself with News Writing that semester. I wrote and rewrote, and I learned more about commas than I ever expected to. I shed hundreds of tears – both of stress and joy. I put more of myself into that class than any before and received an ‘A’ for my efforts. But the grade was forgotten the moment Mr. Wernsman looked me in the eye and said “you will be a great writer if you allow yourself to be.” I handed him a thank you card to tell him how I admired him and stopped by once before graduation to tell him goodbye. He told me “I hope you’re still writing.”
A long while has passed since I wrote on this blog, and it seemed most fitting to return after receiving the news of Mr. Wernsman’s passing. I hate that I never told him that I became a journalism teacher largely because of his influence in my life. I selfishly want him here so that my students can sit in the same lecture hall as I did and hang on the same words. I want to hear again him explain ethics and watch him drink out of his Whataburger cup.
Once again, I am sitting at a computer and weeping. But this time, they are mourning tears. The world lost a man who burned with a passion for his craft. He was a firework of a person – brilliant to watch and larger than life.
We are all the sum of great teachers. Many of us who had the opportunity to be taught and mentored by Robert Edward Wernsman can attest that a large portion of our sum belongs to him.
Mr. Wernsman, you are already greatly missed, but your legacy will live on. Also, I fully expect to hear about every grammatical error in this piece when I meet you again on the other side of this life.