Joey Bunch ‘85 is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics magazine and ColoradoPolitics.com. Photo courtesy of Joey Bunch
I pressed the ball of my foot against the sole of my black Cole Hahns into the depression in the bricks by the Tower. Thirty-four years disappeared in my mind. I was asked to speak that warm afternoon in September to future Montevallo communication graduates, and I felt very proud to do that.
But in that strange instance, it was a damp, freezing February night in 1984, and I was one of the last people to leave the Caf. The street lamps put out a foggy glow that gave the night the gray tint of a black-and-white movie. It wasn’t a good time for me. I was in over my head and my make-or-break scholarship was on the line. Intramural basketball was a bust. I wasn’t making enough money from my part-time jobs, and the girl I fell in love with in September had a new boyfriend that wasn’t me. And lately my hair wasn’t looking right.
My basketball shorts had pockets, so I jammed in my fists beneath my sweat pants and began to trot toward Napier to escape the cold. I stepped in that dip by the Tower and lost my balance. I flopped from my waist to the right and left like an airborne swordfish pirouetting above the deck of a boat. I plopped onto the uneven bricks and the groaned a sound that could come only from both a man and a boy. You’ll have to trust me on that.
I rolled over and laid there just a few seconds, but sometimes your mind moves fast on decisions when you’ve hit the bottom. I decided instantly it was best that I not stay there. I wobbled to my feet and wobbled once more to my third-floor dorm room: bruised, bleeding and resigned.
It was a painful and memorable start to a long journey that led me back to the same spot recently, the first time back in many years, one wobbly step after another.
I wish that for my fellow December graduates this year and to all the Montevallo graduates who follow them. I wish each of you a good hard thump on those sharp bricks. You might hate it now, but you’ll thank me later.
What I learned in that instance that’s carried me since is that you just can’t lay there and freeze. Whatever the setback is, get up and go on. Every step is one step farther away from your last humiliation. Shame is a dog that will die under your porch, if you let it, so just keep moving.
Success, whatever your definition, is as simple as that. Every time you trip and fall, you’ll be that much better at getting up and going on the next time. Embrace it while you’re young and the bruises heal faster.
I’ve seen this over and over, so I know it’s true. The people who amount to something in this world usually aren’t the smartest ones, or even the talented jerks, and only rarely is it the good-looking or the popular people.
It’s way more often the people who won’t quit. If they don’t know how to do it, they’ll learn. If they’re not the best, they’ll figure out what the best do, and they’ll work until they do it better, one wobbly step at a time.
That’s all it is. If your parents had asked me, I could have saved them a lot of money on tuition. Set your course and just keep going.
Montevallo isn’t just teaching you facts and equations. That’s not enough to build a career on. That’s just a few of the bricks. What you’re building at UM is the ability to figure out who you are and what you’ll do when things aren’t going your way. UM will help you learn you how to treat others and how you expect to be treated in return. It gives you lifetime friendships and allows you to become the kind of person you’re proud to see in the mirror every morning. That opportunity is waiting for you out among those brick streets.
If you’re not lucky enough to take a tumble, do this for me. Drink in every moment. Don’t take a second of it for granted. You don’t always immediately recognize the moments that will change your life. You don’t know how the person you work alongside at the school paper will shape who you become. You don’t know the lifetime of smiles a random joke said late at night over bad food will bless you with memories as precious to you as gold.
You just don’t know, so keep your heart open and your mind sharp. Your time at Montevallo is short, but it spills like a fountain over your lifetime.
Thirty-four years later that dip in the bricks is still there. I’m thankful God and poor craftsmanship left it. I’m glad I was smart enough to come to Montevallo to find it.
Joey Bunch ‘85 is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics magazine and ColoradoPolitics.com. He is a five-time Pulitzer nominee, two-time finalist and part of a team that won the Pulitzer for the Denver Post in 2013. He is a former assistant editor of The Alabamian and wrote two columns, “On Campus with Joey Bunch” and “Bunch on the Bench.”