Baxter says goodbye (for now)

I ALREADY KNOW I WANT TO STICK AROUND Fresno State; great things are afoot here. Once I realized how much Fresno State had grown on me over the last few years, I realized also that I don’t want to leave. Graduate school has never seemed so far away, or so certain.

But with the semester nearly over, this sentiment is too little and too late — the fierce urgency of inertia propels me forward. Fellow Fresno State students: Finality is upon us.

Once Prof. Kathryn Biacindo’s CI 285 class gets out 10 minutes before the lively hour of 10 p.m., our instructional year is officially over. Most of you readers will return to Fresno State’s uncomfortable left-handed desks this August, and a hypothetically luckier few move on next week. I sure don’t feel lucky.

Other graduates must feel some twinge of satisfaction from getting their degree, and have some burning desire to leave Fresno once and for all. I envy them, because I don’t feel that way. I wish I did, because it would make leaving Fresno once and for all that much easier.

Though it’s easy to discredit Fresno State as a diploma mill for society’s lowest common denominator, it’s just as easy to get attached to the often-horrible bands in The Pit, the flavors of our Student Union, that leathery texture of Fresno air and the choking sounds that accompany all three.

Blame it on preemptive nostalgia, but I already think there’s plenty to get excited about. There’s that almost-done library of ours — non-bibliophiles will at least appreciate the end of major construction in the middle of campus — and both our football team and their Rutgers-tastic schedule looks pretty good. Message to Ryan Mathews: Screw up, and everyone will hate you, including the estimated 5,000 members of a local, vicious street gang named after your team. No pressure.

On those basic levels, I can say with a straight face that things are looking up for Fresno State. I can also say that we should be looking up higher.

In the next few years, today’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors could work towards making a name for Fresno State as more than the local school. My challenge: help make Fresno State a haven for academia.

It won’t be easy, but it needs to be done. It’s telling when The Fresno Bee’s albeit-long-ago-published profiles of Fresno State’s most popular classes included sex-ed and a certain Drama 62 section whose professor would give out test answers in advance. Embarrassing.

Funnily enough, a humanities course on the legacy of ancient Greek and Roman cultures rounded out this triumvirate. I’m betting that Fresno’s slacker vote had nothing to do with this nomination. Taught by the always-excellent Honora Chapman — if she ever teaches second-semester Latin, I will sign up for it twice — that course apparently remained an interesting and engaging class without skimping on rigor or content. It validates my one of my favorite touchstones: Fresno State students don’t need to be pandered to.

Fresno State students: these years are your opportunity to galvanize yourself and your work ethic. If you have trouble mounting this yourself, I immediately recall two former professors who can help.

Dr. Gary Rice taught me what I know of writing, and Dr. Gary Gilroy taught me the merits of anal-retentive attention to detail. Both also modeled dedication into the candlelit hours of o’-dark hundred; each had a work ethic up the wazoo; both kept up to their achievable, unerringly high standards.

This is not without precedent. When Bulldogs succeed on the gridiron, in the pitcher’s circle or during stoppage time, it is because of that work ethic.

When musicians blow the minds of one-and-a-half thousand high school students in Bulldog Stadium one Saturday night in October, it is because of that attention to detail. When Fresno State journalists win high honors in the Gruner Awards, what Dr. Rice called “the Pulitzer of the Central Valley,” it is because of those high standards.

That I can, off the top of my head, name two professors named Gary who model this work ethic, this attention to detail and such high standards, I’m certain that there are dozens of professors not named Gary who are just as ready and capable to mentor you.

Decades of wizened insight are already here at Fresno State in each of our professors, and they are all ready to be harnessed. Fresno State students: Harness it.

Even as I type that, I know that I ask too much. Fresno State, despite the hopes of Dr. John Welty and the efforts of Pat Hill, probably won’t amount to more than a convenient diploma outlet for all those second-best graduates of Fresno Unified, the laziest graduates of Clovis Unified and the on-paper eminently qualified Smittcamp scholars.

There’s a possibility, however slim, that Fresno State could be one of the many great California schools rather than just one of the many California schools.

Give yourself the time, the effort and a few sober weekends here and there, and the right professors can help you the rest of the way.

Keep that left-handed desk warm for me until next spring, when I hope to return. Even if I don’t, I ask that you help me turn a new, more auspicious page for our Alma Mater.

My cynical side tells me even asking overworked and apathetic Fresno State students to aspire to greatness is an exercise in folly. I sure hope it isn’t.

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