Student Research and Scholarship Symposium Keynote Speaker 2003

Steven Criniti Gives Keynote Speech at 2003 Student Research Symposium

The Diary of a Budding Scholar or How to Become a Professional in Just Three Easy Steps

Thank you Dr. Voorhees for that wonderful introduction. Thank you Fr. Lundy, Dr. Raudenbush, and all the faculty for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful event. . . . 

The title of my address is “The Diary of a Budding Scholar or How to Become a Professional in Just Three Easy Steps.” Footnote number one: I didn’t really keep a diary for the past two and a half years that I merely plan to read to you now—I have prepared this address for this particular occasion, and it simply appears in diary form. Also, I’m not sure I really have three easy steps to share with you, but it sounded nice, so here goes. What follows is a quick look at my trials, errors, and at least small successes since I left Wheeling Jesuit in the spring of the year 2000.

April 12, 2000
Today I got the letter—the one I had been waiting for. The University of Dayton was not only going to accept me into the Masters program in English, but I was also going to receive a teaching assistantship. You see, I already had several rejections and acceptances, but none of those, until now, came with a free ride. I remember Dr. Voorhees once telling me, “You should never pay for graduate school. Someone out there will be willing to give you an assistantship.” At least that’s how it works in English programs. And it did work. I got the teaching assistantship. I only received one assistantship, but that only made my decision easier. Since my junior year at WJU, I knew I wanted to be a university professor, and now the University of Dayton was going to give me a chance to try it out and to earn a Masters degree to boot.

August 23, 2000
First day of class. And this time, I was the teacher. ENG 101. I had had visions of Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society—I was going to stand on desks, read poetry to my class as though their very lives depended on it, and alter the course of 23 18-year old lives. So I thought. I walked down to room 112 of the Humanities building, my new classroom, but there was one problem—room 112 of the Humanities building is the women’s restroom. My class had been assigned to meet in the women’s restroom! I didn’t see a swarm of students in the hallway, though. Had they all already gone into the restroom? Should I go in after them? I ran back upstairs to the English office where the secretary calmly told me that my class was meeting in 110. I had been told to report to the wrong room. Thank God. I made it to room 110 of the Humanities building at about five minutes to 8 a.m. and . . . the lights were not yet turned on. The trembling little freshmen hadn’t even bothered to turn on the lights; they sat quietly in the dark. As nervous as I was, they must have been petrified. I turned on the lights, walked to the front of the room, and chanted my new mantra in my head: “Surely, you know more than they do. Surely, you know more than they do. Are you sure you know more than they do? Surely, you know more than they do.” And I did. The class went fine, and continued along rather smoothly for the rest of the semester. I simply relied on all of the lessons I had been taught at WJU. As I taught my students how not to plagiarize, I was continually plagiarizing all my old teachers’ lesson plans. All of those seemingly silly little exercises we used to do finally made sense to me. In my teaching I also relied heavily on all the little mini-lessons I used to spew out at tutees when I worked for the ARC—most of which I undoubtedly ripped of off my own professors. Thanks guys.

August 24, 2000
First day of class . . . again. Only now I was the student. It was a class called “Research and Bibliography.” The course should have been called “Welcome to the hell that is grad school; let’s see if you can survive” and it was taught by a young, overzealous Yale grad. Trust me, the rest of grad school isn’t nearly as scary as that introductory course is. At any rate, I sat looking around a seminar table at all of the Kent State, Ohio University, University of Cincinnati, and University of Dayton grads. I was up against the big boys, now. I became very self-conscious about my small-school background—none of them had to explain where their undergraduate university was. Needless to say, one can’t survive very long in any situation while holding onto an inferiority complex. I simply did what I knew how to do, and I hoped it would be enough. It turns out, it would be more than enough. I earned straight “A”s that semester. In fact, I earned straight “A”s for every semester of my entire Masters program—something I was unable to do in any one semester while at WJU. My small-school background had proven to be more than enough. In fact, it seems it was easier to get an “A” from the overzealous Yaley than from Dr. Brumble. So, for all you “B-givers” in the room—and you know who you are—I’m convinced that your unwillingness to be satisfied with anything other than my best led to my unwillingness to be satisfied with anything other than my best. 

October 12, 2000
Wayne C. Booth, a very important scholar in the field of English, visited Dayton’s campus for a lecture. I happened to be in a meeting with the chair of the department when Dr. Booth arrived. The chair wasn’t quite ready for him, so he asked if I would give Dr. Booth an hour-long tour of campus. Absolutely. This was big. It’s as if you chemistry majors gave a campus tour to Mendeleev, or if you psychology majors gave a campus tour to Freud. O.K. it wasn’t quite that big, but it was big. So we took a walk—just me and Wayne Booth. As we walked around campus we made small talk. It was very exciting to have a personal talk with a scholar whose work I had read and studied. Little did I know this kind of thing would happen often throughout graduate school. Nonetheless, this first time was very exciting. I told Dr. Booth that I went to WJU for my Bachelors degree. He promptly asked me if I knew about casuistry. I had never heard the word before; I could barely even pronounce it. Apparently, it’s some ethical theory that is attributed to the Jesuits, and Wayne Booth was dumbfounded that I hadn’t heard of it. For the rest of our tour, he seemed to be fixated on it; he rambled on and on about casuistry. There’s one piece of advice I can give you—before you leave this school, corner a Jesuit and ask him what casuistry is. You never know when you might come across Wayne Booth.

February 17, 2001
Rejection day. A few months earlier, I had sent out a paper I had written for consideration for publication. This is a big thing in the academy. I’m sure you’ve heard the motto: “Publish or perish.” Well, I wasn’t about to start perishing. So, I sent out a paper. I wrote the paper during my senior year at WJU for Dr. Burgess’s Chaucer class. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best paper I had ever written, but I was on a roll. I had newly befriended Wayne Booth and was scheduled to present a paper at an academic conference. Footnote number two: see next entry for discussion of academic conference. In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t even think I got an “A” on the paper from Dr. Burgess. Why did I think that someone would want to publish an essay that I didn’t even get an “A” on? I didn’t ask this crucial question; I just sent it out. Needless to say, the Chaucer paper wasn’t a very big hit. The reviewer from the journal, which shall remain nameless, wrote a pretty scathing evaluation of my paper. Let me read you a few snippets of those remarks: “Only with the loosest generosity can one see an article in the manuscript.” “The author does not say anything even remotely original—this has been done a dozen times before.” “The style is jejune and gauche.” Footnote number three: Jejune: devoid of significance or interest; dull. Gauche: crudely made; lacking social grace. And the reviewer’s final remark, “It puts one in mind of an undergraduate senior’s essay.” Yep. He had me pegged. After I looked up what jejune meant, I resented that comment, but overall, he was right on. Self-righteous, but right on. 

April 11-14, 2001
As I mentioned in the previous entry, I had sent out an abstract of a paper—my senior thesis which I delivered at the inaugural WJU research symposium—to the organizers of an academic conference—the Annual meeting of the National Popular Culture Association to be held in Philadelphia. This, of course, was before I found out just how jejune I was. Nonetheless, the conference organizers wanted me to come and present my paper. Someone actually wanted to hear what I had to say on scholarly matters. When it arrived in the mail, I noticed that the conference program was 250 pages long! This was big time. So, I got my plane ticket and hotel reservation and flew off to Philly. I was on an early morning flight—just me and a bunch of Wall Street Journal-reading suits. I felt so professional. At my presentation session, there were about 15 people in attendance (I am told this is a good number for a conference this size). They were all art history professors. You see, my paper was an interdisciplinary look at both poetry and visual art. I read the paper just as I had at the WJU symposium, and the audience really seemed to respond. Turns out that WJU symposium was pretty good prep for the real world. The audience didn’t ask me any very hard questions which was quite a relief. As a matter of fact, this contingent of art history professors invited me to a wine and cheese social that evening. Wow—I didn’t know people actually had wine and cheese socials outside of the movies, and now I was going to one. All in all, the conference was a lot of fun and a great experience. I attended a lot of sessions. I remained fairly quiet and kept to myself most of the trip—I wasn’t entirely confident in my ability to “join the conversation.” I was a wall-fly for now. When I attend the Pop Culture Association conference the following year in Toronto, I did a lot more talking, participating, and networking. Footnote number four: If you’re not already good at networking (a.k.a. schmoozing), practice. It’s one of those American Express skills—don’t leave home without it.

October 19-20, 2001
So, now I’ve attended a conference. How about planning one? The chair of the department of English at Dayton invited me to be his personal assistant in the planning of a conference. Dayton was to host the Midwest Regional Conference on Christianity and Literature. Among my duties were the following: advertise the conference, collect abstracts, read abstracts, put together a program, find rooms for all the sessions, find meals and lodging for the guests, and overall make sure everyone has a nice time. Needless to say, all of this took up most of my summer and early fall, but it was such a rewarding experience. Many participants told me how much they enjoyed their stay and how they were planning to return to the conference the following year. It was really enjoyable for me to get the chance to connect with so many positive, encouraging scholars. The Conference on Christianity and Literature turned out to be a wonderful little community of professionals who seem to defy the stereotype set forth by the likes of Mr. Jejune back there. Footnote number five: among the participants at the conference was our very own Dr. Hammond, who, by the way, is quite the celebrity at the University of Dayton. They love this guy out there. 

June 15, 2002
All summer I had been shopping around for a Ph.D. program. I had also been sending resumes out to high schools. I did have a couple of interviews at a few high schools. However, my, then wife-to-be Mary Beth (we were married in July) got an amazing job offer in Cincinnati, OH. There was just one problem: my only high school job offer came from a school in Baltimore, and my only Ph.D. acceptance came from Duquesne in Pittsburgh. Neither Baltimore nor Pittsburgh seemed like feasible commutes from Cincinnati. Keeping in mind that most Ph.D. programs make their decisions in April or May, I got on the phone in the first week of June with the University of Cincinnati. Basically, I begged for a spot. I must have sent the department chair six emails over eight days. He finally called me and told me that one of his Ph.D. students dropped out, and I could have her spot. It was truly a miracle. Only by the grace of God did my future and my wife’s future come together in the same city just one short month before our wedding. Since then, things have been going great. I have continued to learn and teach. I have continued to send out abstracts to conferences and papers to journals. One such paper was recently accepted for publication—another very big step in my professional journey.

April 15, 2003
That’s today. I stand before you realizing just how far I have come as a professional. I tell you these things not out of pride or self-congratulation, but perhaps to inspire. If someone had told me two and a half years ago that I would be making a difference in the lives of students, joining the scholarly conversation with conference presentations and publications, and making key connections with important scholars and colleagues, I would have laughed. I’m not sure, but I might have laughed when Dr. Voorhees suggested that I had something of import to say to you all today. To me, I’m still just a kid who hasn’t finished school. At the very least, I hope I have shown you just how far your WJU education can take you in a very short time. You know, when I began drafting this address, I didn’t really have 3 easy steps to becoming a professional in mind—it was just a catchy title. But now that I am at the end of this address, maybe I do have a few steps I can offer you. Most of you are well on your way to completing Step 1 which is: Get a quality (preferably Jesuit) education. When I first told one of the Marianist brothers at the University of Dayton that I graduated from Wheeling Jesuit, he responded “Ah yes, Jesuits [salute].” Right now, you have no idea how much you really know. You know more than you think about your chosen field of study. You know more than you think about hard work and dedication. You know more than you think about people and the human condition. And you know more than you think about yourself. Be aware of what you have, and be sure to put it to good use. That’s the value of a Jesuit education, and like Brother Alex Tuss of Dayton, I salute you. Step 2: Don’t wait around for someone to tell you what to do. Take initiative. I was the only graduate student from my class at the University of Dayton who sent papers to journals, attended conferences, and planned a conference. I am one of just a handful of graduate students at the University of Cincinnati who has a pending publication. I’m really not sure how I got the idea that I could accomplish some of these things, but I tried, and the experience has been invaluable. I didn’t wait around for someone to tell me that it was time; I just started doing it. At risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, just do it. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, make them. Step 3: Find or form a supportive community. Right now you have a lot of ready made communities at your disposal: friends, suitemates, professors, Jesuits, and mentors. Both graduate school and the professional world, however, can be pretty lonely at times. Actively seek out people with whom you can surround yourself and from whom you can receive spiritual and emotional nourishment. For instance, at Dayton, I became friends with a house-full of Marianist priests and brothers. I’m not even sure how it happened, but I began to join the Marianists of Trinity Avenue (fitting street name) for dinner once a week. They truly helped me grow spiritually and emotionally. They helped me continue the development started here by the Jesuits, my professors, friends, and mentors. I now count some of those Marianists brothers among my closest friends. Also, work to continue building the communities you formed here. I still call John Whitehead for advice on just about anything—including who best to draft for my fantasy baseball team. The point is: because you will be growing professionally after you leave WJU, does not mean that you can allow yourself to stop growing emotionally and spiritually. Those communities and supports will just be harder to find. Be active in your pursuit of them. To recap, the 3 steps to becoming a professional are: 1. Get a quality education and understand the value of it. 2. Don’t wait around for someone to tell you what to do—take initiative. And 3. Actively build a supportive community that will nourish you emotionally and spiritually. If you want to throw in an optional 4th step here it is: Step 4: ask Fr. O’Brien what casuistry is. There you have it: how to become a professional in just three easy steps. I can only hope you haven’t found this address to be jejune or gauche. Footnote number six: When being scholarly, be sure to use plenty of footnotes. Thank you.