Letters for September 28, 2017

Jake Highton

Re “Jake” (cover story, Aug 17):

I was a student of Professor Highton’s more than a decade ago. He tore my writing apart, gave me a very bad grade in his course, but I was grateful because of how much I learned from him. He loved to teach, loved to write, loved history, and was passionate in every sense of the word.

He recommended me for a writing job after graduation, regardless of my poor grade in his course, saying, “He’s a political science major, but there’s a catch: He can write.” Praise from Professor Highton was one of the absolute highlights of my life as a writer. Better still, he offered sound professional guidance: “You should read Reporter,” (his book) to learn mechanics. Then, he touched me more personally: “If you can’t afford it, I will give you the money.” Touched doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. He was genuine. Many of his students probably never got to see past the stern and rigorous teacher to the kind and considerate man beneath the surface. Many probably learned for the first time that they weren’t as smart as they thought they were when Professor Highton got ahold of their writing. His grading probably sent many a millennial crying to a parent that they didn’t get their “A.” Few did. This alone was a great service to our society, given the growing sense of self-importance among college students.

After moving away and staying in touch, I found that he had included one of our conversations about literature in a Sparks Tribune article, which I read in one of his books that he continued to send me over the years. What an honor that was. Even more so that he would inscribe them (as I’m sure he did to many others): “To my friend.”

Thank you for the cover story, RN&R. What a joy it was to see the photo of the office-bound Highton which I remember so vividly, always ready to grab one of those books off the shelf behind him to quote a passage from Dante or Shakespeare, connecting the classics to modern political or other issues with the ease of a master himself. He was proud to tell students, “I take a book with me everywhere I go,” as if to say, “and you should too.” I have since tried to imitate him in this and other ways.

Memories of my discussions with him about writing, style, Ward Churchill, Robert Pirsig, and the world of politics and history will stay with me forever. I hope to find a shred of the passion he had for his work. … Teachers don’t teach like he did; writers don’t write like he did.

I remember him saying, “All writers,” no matter their style or specialty, “should experiment with poetry,” an expression of his love of and dedication to his craft.

And what a beautiful image to close the Highton chapter of our local history, on which I believe he has had a marvelous impact with his writing and his spirit: the photo in RN&R’s cover story of the Journalism Department’s lunch meeting at a restaurant where everyone has a soft drink or a water, and Professor Highton has a glass of wine. Cheers to you, Professor Highton. Thank you for your service to our community as a champion of reason and truth and for setting the bar so high for the journalism, writing, and teaching professions.

Jonathan M Cummins


Don’t rewrite history

Re “Rewriting history,” (editorial, Sept. 14):

So, should Mount Rushmore be demolished or covered with a tarp? Perhaps just a posted sign to tell visitors sculptor Gutzon Borglum was a KKK member. Might as well remove Thomas Jefferson from the nickel, since he was a slave owner. Oh, and change the names of all towns and counties named “Davis.” That means you, Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi. Quick, hide the Robert E Lee chess piece from the Civil War chess set, lest an easily offended guest arrives. I’m so afraid to play Dean Martin singing “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” on my iPod. Someone might overhear it and deem me a racist. Perhaps even Lake Tahoe’s MS Dixie II is a threat to one’s principles.

Hmm. While the overly sensitive are at it, Martin Luther King Day should be deleted as a holiday, since the reverend was allegedly an adulterer.

April Pedersen