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Essays and posts exploring the state of journalism, teaching and nonfiction storytelling.

  • Writer's pictureTracy Dahlby

Teaching Is Hardwired to a Mystery

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

A recent Moody College commencement, this one in spring of 2018.

Here are brief remarks I made after being the lucky recipient of the Moody College of Communication Teaching Excellence Award at the college's fall commencement ceremony on Dec. 9, 2018. Also viewable here via Youtube.

Thank you, Dean Bernhardt. This is such a tremendous honor. Thank you to Moody College, faculty and friends. And thanks especially to tonight’s graduates for making Moody such a wonderful place to work.

Being at Moody reminds me of how lucky I’ve been in my career. I started as a newsperson, a foreign correspondent, reporting on Asia.

I always loved the way each story, big or small, presented some kind of mystery to solve … a puzzle to crack. I’d gladly have done the work for free. And I was absolutely sure I’d never love any job more than being a journalist.

But I was wrong.

Twelve years ago I came to UT-Austin for my late-breaking teaching career. I’ve loved every minute of it. And yes, I’d do it for free. (Although, you don’t have share that part with Dean Bernhardt.)

But here’s the thing …

Just like the work of a reporter, the joy of teaching is hardwired to a mystery. What I mean is this: My colleagues and I watched all of you come ashore at UT just a few years ago … total mysteries, names on a class roster.

Antonio Machado: “Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”

And then something miraculous happened: We watched as your individual stories took shape. We watched you frame the questions and fuel the efforts that have moved your lives forward in such purposeful, productive and, yes, often unpredictable ways.

And to witness that transformation, to feel part of it … that’s what makes teaching the best job ever.

So I thank you for teaching this teacher about the mysteries of teaching, and in return let me just say this:

Let’s all of us go forward and continue to find purpose in our work.

Let’s find stuff to do that we’d do free … but that we get paid for, too. (That last part was for the parents in the audience.)

Let’s remember that looking at the world and seeing what’s really there means being willing to pull on someone else’s shoes (not social media shoes but the real kind) and to walk around in them for while.

In one of my favorite poems (which, as my students know, I inflict on all my classes), the Spanish poet Antonio Machado says this:

“Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”

Travelers of the class of 2018, best of luck. And thanks again to Moody College for this wonderful honor.

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