I was fortunate to be included in a retirement party for Duke Political Science professor, David L. Paletz, one of the foremost scholars of Political Communication and a jury chair for the Full Frame Documentary Festival in Durham, N.C. I’ve written about David before in this column -- an inspiring teacher who introduced me to feminism, media critique and a desire to be a filmmaker.
As I tell my kids, you only need to find one great professor to help you justify tuition costs and figure out your life. At Duke University I was fortunate to find several compelling teachers, but Paletz was certainly one of the most important. Looking around the room at the restaurant in Durham that night, I noted how many other women of various ages had taken the time and money to return to Duke and pay homage to Paletz. (More women than men attended; lots of college professors)
Celeste Wesson, senior editor of American Public Media’s "Marketplace" and an important voice in economic reporting is a noted Paletz grad. She joked about memories of his tough grading and good-humored crankiness. Kimberly West-Faulcon, a fellow who holds an endowed Chair in constitutional law at Loyola Marymount University remembered how Paletz suggested that she apply for a competitive internship and then made a phone call that helped her to get it. (Kim left the busy party weekend to register voters in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.) Several stories detailed how Paletz had gone beyond the classroom to assist with career decisions and life-changing opportunities.
The party was planned for the same weekend as a Duke Arts/Entertainment alumni event, and I was asked to join a panel with Mike Macari, producer of The Ring (Dreamworks, 2002). We laughed a bit about how our first professional jobs both involved opening and delivering mail. (He already had a law degree!) We described the necessary persistence and networking skills (not often taught in college) that young filmmakers need to be successful, whether making a big budget feature or an independent documentary.
At the end of the retirement dinner, the organizers played film excerpts from Paletz’s “Politics & the Media” course—Sergei Eisenstein’s “Strike,” Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will,” Buster Keaton in “Cops.” I recognized how many of these films I now teach in my own film classes to help students better understand the discourses of authority and rebellion. (I vowed to add Keaton to my screening list…)
I returned home with a renewed sense of educational vigor and commitment, arming my teenagers with strategies for how to locate compelling instructors. I told myself—‘If I can have that kind of impact on just a few of the students I’m teaching, then I’ll be satisfied.’
And I hope to have an equally stylish retirement party — perhaps with a band…