How I found my home in SMU’s J-School

I was sitting in a ballroom with a bunch of strangers.

It was the summer of 2013. It was the day of my student orientation luncheon during AARO.

It was also the day I was told something, that at the time, I thought was completely absurd:

“Southern Methodist University is the greatest university in the world.”

These words, spoken by former Student Body President Ramon Trespalacios, sounded hollow to me. They sounded dishonest. They sounded like the same, cookie-cutter brochure speak that sold me on going to boarding school – where I created some of my best, but also my worst memories.

Now, to be fair, I felt that Ramon — and I call him by his first name because that’s how everyone knows him — believed in that brochure speak. Little did I know that four years later, I would believe in it too.

Few people know this about me: I’m also a theatre major. After I quit playing baseball as a kid, I dove whole-heartedly into acting. My boarding school was an arts boarding school, supposedly designed to help cultivate me into a cultured, worldly person. I also received the best pre-professional acting training that tax dollars could buy.

Instead, it killed my love for acting. Again, to be fair, that was more a “me” problem than a “boarding school” problem. I just didn’t love it anymore.

When I came to SMU, I found myself in a dark and scary place. I felt directionless, no longer wanting to do the thing I received an arts merit scholarship for. Attending school on The Hilltop was a last minute decision, and my heart most certainly wasn’t in Texas. Behind the facade of the spirited boy wearing body paint to SMU football games, I sleepwalked through my first years at SMU in a cloud of depression.

Ironically, it was an early morning shift on SMU-TV’s daily news show that awoke me from this trance. In fact, it was my first shift.

Pam Harris Hackett, SMU’s Broadcast Executive-In-Residence, knew I didn’t know what I was doing. She treated me the same as every other student in the Journalism Division’s basic audio and video production class from day one. Pam welcomed me, a random kid off the street who one day decided, “hey, reporting sounds fun,” into the family — the J-School family — a great, talented, wonderful family.

I’ve had the time of my life learning from those in the east wing of the Umphrey Lee Building, professors and students alike. This family knew I had a love of sports and they gave me the skills that will hopefully allow me to have a long, fruitful career as a reporter on the sidelines. More importantly, they gave me a place to call home.

I don’t have the column inches necessary to express gratitude to everyone I need to thank. I hope you know who you are.

Reece Kelley Graham (left) with Professor Pam Harris Hackett and Patrick Engel.

To the J-School professors: thank you for your wisdom, your experience, your knowledge, your time, and for answering panicked emails and text messages after 11 p.m.

To the J-School students: thank you for rebuilding my confidence in good people. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for reminding me not to take myself too seriously.

Is SMU the greatest university in the world? That depends on who you ask.

Ramon’s words weren’t literal, I’ve come to realize. He meant that SMU can be the greatest, to us individually, but that finding that truth might require finding a home in the city on The Hilltop. I undoubtedly found mine.

SMU, thank you for teaching me. Thank you for healing me. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for giving me a home, forever.

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