Bye-bye Grady, from a student, staffer and teacher

After 11 years, two months and 16 days, I said goodbye to the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia.

It was a bittersweet farewell. Sweet, because I am starting a new path on my professional career that allows me to focus on what I love most: teaching. Bitter, because Grady is where my new professional aspirations took root, and because the halls of Grady are filled with some of the most influential people in my life. I was perhaps the only person in history to have the fortune of simultaneously fulfilling three roles at Grady: full-time staff member, student and teacher. Each role allowed me a different viewpoint of Grady. And combining all those viewpoints showed me that Grady is truly a special place.

The highly functional, dysfunctional family. From left, Dean Charles Davis, Cecil Bentley, Diane Murray, Stephanie Moreno, Karen Andrews, Joe Dennis, Sarah Freeman, Ryan Cary, Clare Wall and Hannah Bause.

Joe: The staff member

The Grady College has been an incredible place to work. In the past decade, I can’t think of one person that willingly left Grady for a lateral move somewhere else. And it’s certainly not because Grady pays well. It’s the people. The term family is often used lightly to describe cultural environments, but at Grady, there truly is a sense of family. If you’re willing to invest in the Grady family, the Grady family will invest back in you.

Of course, within the Grady family tree there are several smaller families. I was fortunate to work with the external relations team. We were a highly-functional, dysfunctional family. We all had such unique personalities and jobs that often didn’t relate to each other, but we were always there for each other: definitely in work, but also in life. And when we all got in the same room, fireworks happened — sometimes bad, but usually good. My years at Grady will likely be the only time in my life I looked forward to staff meetings.

For most of my years, Cecil Bentley served as our team leader and supervisor. Always level-headed, Cecil was the calming voice when tempers flared, the voice of encouragement when egos were hurt, and the voice of silence when one needed just to vent. Forward focus. Positive attitude. And a wicked move to the basket (though he rarely makes the shot).

With a strong institutional knowledge and a strong grasp of reality, Diane Murray is the devil’s advocate. Diane has a passion for Grady that many share, but this passion is balanced with a healthy dose of common sense. This can be quite frustrating when you’re aiming for the moon, only for Diane to tell you that you have no rocket ship. But in the end, you know she is just keeping it real.

Karen Andrews is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with. Whether it’s a $150/plate gala or a picnic for high school students, Karen knows how to make every person feel special. Seemingly always smiling and a laugh that echoes throughout the building, Karen embodies the “Southern Hospitality” mentality I heard so much about when I moved South. Don’t get me wrong, Karen is human and has another side, but you’ll have to get real close to her to see it. I consider myself lucky that my “sister-from-another-mister” felt comfortable enough with me to show me that side.

The four of us were the mainstays of the external team for several years, through some lean budget times. But when we finally had the opportunity to grow, Sarah Freeman was brought on board. The ultimate professional, Sarah somehow maintains her professionalism while navigating the rocky waters of the external team, dishing out ideas and compliments when needed. She is definitely the sane member of the family. But just when you’re about to feel sorry for her, she unloads a joke that cracks everyone up. And you remember, she’s one of us.

Stephanie Moreno joined the team next. Sweet, sweet Stephanie — one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. A journalist at heart, her passion for learning is evident in her work. I’ve never met another professional who continuously seeks criticism for her work. She was the baby of the family (in age and newness) for about a year, and perhaps because of this, or more likely because of her sweetness, made a concerted effort to get to know every member of the team.

Ryan Carty took the rattle from Stephanie, and certain members of the family consistently rattled their new little brother (sorry, Ryan!). But it’s his passion for Grady and incredible work ethic that define him, even if he gets a little star-struck by Ryan Cameron and forgets to take back my parking tag from the radio star. When the door locks are activated and the hallway lights shut off, Ryan is still in the building, planning new opportunities for our students.

The most recent member of the family is Clare Wall. Knowing I was leaving, I vowed on the first day I met her not to get to know her, but you can’t escape family. And dammit, I like her too. Although new to the team, Clare is not afraid to bring out the snark that has so defined our family.

There have been multiple interns that have come and gone, but Hannah Bause seemingly worked full-time during the Centennial months and became a de facto family member. Please be warned Hannah, our staff meetings are not typical. Don’t crack jokes while your boss is talking.

Speaking of boss, the functional dysfunction is certainly top-down, starting with the “My Dean is cooler than your Dean” Charles Davis. He lives and breathes Grady, and his passion is infectious. And his relaxed nature creates an environment for creativity to thrive, and maybe a little mischief to occur.

That’s my dysfunctional Grady family. But when we all get together, it works. For instance, last April in a torrential downpour after a highly successful farm party to kick off the Centennial, it was this team that went literally ankle-deep in the mud to load six cars with various items ranging from kegs to centerpieces. We were all angry, cranky, smelly and disgusting. But instead of bowing out leaving the job to another person, we stuck with it, together. Because that’s what families do.

Joe: The student

As a student, both at the master’s and doctoral level, so many faculty members have enriched and inspired me.

I had the fortune — or misfortune — of taking two theory courses with Dr. Jay Hamilton. Although I blame his courses for the doubling of my vision prescription (three course-packs … seriously?), it was his classes that showed me how to take control of my brain and grasp complex ideas.

Dr. Joe Dominick taught statistics to a group of numbers-challenged students, including myself, kicking off the semester by making us repeat the phrase: “Numbers are our friends.”

Dr. Lou Benjamin and later Dean Dr. Cully Clark showed me how to critically study, appreciate and recognize the importance of history.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru taught me how to parlay my interviewing and reporting skills into critical and cultural analysis … even though I still don’t understand telenovelas.

Dr. Kent Middleton stoked my fascination in law and government and how it applies to the media, while helping me understand a second language: legalese.

Dr. Leara Rhodes helped me understand other cultures and how mass communication plays different roles around the world.

The late Professor Conrad Fink lifted the layer of journalism that was always foreign to me — the business side — teaching me the fundamentals of the industry, and also how to read an annual report to investors.

Picking up where Fink left off, Dr. Keith Herndon uncovered the incredible potential for journalism’s future in an age of digital and social media.

Mark Johnson taught me the critical role visual plays in journalistic storytelling, and he also stoked my interest in all things Apple.

And just when I felt confident in my journalistic writing abilities, Professor Pat Thomas taught me that there is always room for improvement, and reinforced in me the importance of using journalism to positively impact social change.

The danger in any list is leaving off people. For a complete list of every faculty member who influenced me, visit

Yes, that’s the directory of ALL Grady faculty. Whether in a class, a conversation or a presentation, every single Grady faculty member has shaped who I am. They taught me to think critically, the importance of research, how to teach and of course, a lot about mass communication.

Joe: The teacher

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to teach at Grady, home to the best students on campus (literally … check the GPAs). I never thought I would feel pride in the accomplishments of someone who is not a family member or friend, but over the years, several students have proved otherwise.

I’m in a unique position at Grady, because I meet many students when they are in high school, and get to see them through graduation. Also, as adviser of UGAzine, I’ve worked with some of the “best of the best” at Grady. Finally, as director of GSPA, I’ve worked with many students at our annual events. Nothing impacts me more than when a student offers words of appreciation long after graduation, or seeks you out for a visit or cup of coffee when in town.

Thanks for reinforcing in me my desire to teach, and for making me feel special.

I started to make a list, but then kept realizing I forgot someone. You know who you are …