The day started with an opening address by Roland Allnach, President of LIAG (Long Island Authors Group). After Roland gave information about his group, Patty Blount from Long Island Romance Writers and Linda Maria Frank from Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators each spoke about their associations. The keynote speaker, author Steve Israel, a former Congressman who grew up on Long island, told of his experiences as an author and representative. He compared writing to politics, pointing out several similarities. Regarding rejection, he noted a difference between the two, saying that a writer’s rejection is much more personal than someone running for office. He also gave some humorous but true anecdotes about participating in book fairs that the authors who were present were able to identify with.
After the opening speeches, authors returned to their tables and took turns speaking in the Founder’s Lounge. Some also participated in panels and readings in the Patriot’s Lounge. My turn to talk was at 4:40 p.m. I hadn’t viewed the Founders Lounge before and expected it to be a more formal room. I was surprised and pleased to see that, instead, it was set up with comfortable chairs and provided a casual atmosphere to discuss my writing and books.
For me, attending this event was like a homecoming to Post, my alma mater, where I earned a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Library Science in 1989. It was also where I worked as a Features Editor on the Pioneer, the student newspaper. That’s why I was especially glad to meet Carolyn Schurr Levin, Assistant Journalism Professor at C. W. Post, who dropped by my table to introduce herself. Her students had interviewed Roland Allnach for a story, and she said some would come by to also meet me.
It was also great to see many familiar faces of fellow LIAG members and those who I’ve met at various local book fairs and author talks. My friend Lisa Diaz Meyer was seated in back of me. We took a few breaks to step outside into the beautiful spring day to view the campus and get some fresh air. This brought back many happy memories of my time at Post.
I came up with the idea for this post after I was asked to submit some memories of my time on Long Island University’s C.W. Post College newspaper, the Pioneer, for an article their current advisor, Carolyn Schurr Levin is writing. It was a pleasure to speak to Ms. Levin who is helping arrange a 60th anniversary for the student paper. While collecting my thoughts for this project, I felt it would be helpful to write a blog post about the process of recalling events from over 30 years ago and why some of you might also want to reminisce about your own school days and even plan a reunion with fellow classmates or club members.
I was involved on the Pioneer from 1983 until I graduated C.W. Post in 1989. I came to Post as a slightly “older” student who returned to college after working a year as a secretary. I enrolled part-time as an English major to test the waters before I made the full-time commitment.
One of the first things I did was to seek a way to familiarize myself with and participate in campus activities. I remember that September day when I walked down the second-floor corridor of Hillwood Commons to the activity wing where the newspaper office was located. Adam Pardonek, the Editor-in-Chief at that time, spoke to me in his office about my interests in working for the student paper. I explained my situation as a new student who had prior experience as a secretary and also enjoyed writing. He suggested that my skills could be put to good use on the Pioneer. Many of the writers and editors could use help in having their stories typed. There was also an opening for a Features writer on that year’s paper. I accepted both positions.
My part-time job as a secretary was approved by the administration, and I was paid a small wage. The workload sometimes became intense, especially close to deadlines. At that time, I used WordPerfect to input the stories into a computer.
Unlike today’s technology, the paper’s layout was done in-house in a production room and brought to a printer for copying. My memories of Production night dinners on Wednesdays are still clear after all these years. The advertising manager had an agreement with the local Fireside restaurant where the editors could have dinner each week in exchange for advertising copy in the paper. We all looked forward to these meals. Thinking back about eating with the editors as we discussed our stories, I can still taste the fried mozzarella sticks and recall the comradery and some of the jokes that were told. We also celebrated birthdays and special occasions of staff members.
I still have my desk plaque that reads “Debbie Smiloff” and fond memories of my time on the Pioneer. I also received a special award for my feature writing my first year on the paper, the Lawrence C. Lobaugh, jr. Memorial Award in Journalism. Along with a plaque that is displayed in the Great Hall, I was given an engraved medal. I was the last Pioneer person to receive this award because the donor passed away that year. The award had been given in memory of his son who had served on the Pioneer and died much too young. It was quite an honor to receive this award, and I have treasured the medal for 32 years.
I saw many editor-in-chiefs come and go after Adam who graduated that year. I remained staff secretary but also advanced to Features editor with my own group of writers. Through my interviews for feature articles, I also met professors, students, and school administrators. The experience I gained from working on the paper led me to publish articles in magazines and, after I married, a few books, as well. My first published novel, Cloudy Rainbow, actually features some chapters that take place at the Pioneer. My current book, A Stone’s Throw, includes a librarian, like myself, who is a Post graduate from the Palmer School. One of the book’s settings is Brookville where C.W. Post is located.
Many people say that college is the best years of one’s life. I agree. Even though classes can be tough and there are many additional stresses as one faces impending adulthood, the opportunity for friendships and extracurricular experiences such as those I gained from the Pioneer, can’t be duplicated. I look back on those days and the person I once was and realize how much my participation at the paper made a difference in my life. I am also happy that, as the Internet and social media has developed ways of staying in touch, that I’ve been able to reconnect with some of my fellow Pioneer friends. Over the summer, I did a book signing at the Levittown Library and was pleasantly surprised when Mike Gannon, a previous Sports Editor on the Pioneer, dropped by. He saw my Facebook post about the event and wanted to surprise me. It was the highlight of my day. I hadn’t seen Mike since he attended a Pioneer reunion during Homecoming in 2000, 16 years ago.
I believe the bond formed among Pioneer people remains strong despite time and distance because of the special experiences we shared on the paper. Not all the times were happy or fun, but we were all in them together. We worked to create a product that served the entire campus body. We were proud of our individual achievements but also realized it was a team effort. I imagine that those who belonged to other campus clubs, sports teams, or sororities/fraternities feel a similar bond.
As I complete my notes for Ms. Levin, I’ve formed a Facebook group for previous Pioneer staff to keep in touch. I’ve also scanned some old photos from those days. As people grow older, they realize the importance of preserving these memories. There are also more opportunities to locate old friends and schoolmates today.
I know some people avoid reunions for fear that don’t look as attractive as they did in their twenties or because they’ve put on weight or simply because they are uncomfortable in social situations. However, as people age, they realize that these are not the important things to care about. Since college, I’ve had many changes in my life. I’ve married, had a daughter, lost my father, mother-in-law, and a close friend. No one knows how long he or she will be around, in good health, and with clear memories. My father had Alzheimers and my 89-year old mother has poor short-term memory. While it’s important to consider the future and live in the present, it’s also nice to look back and find your past and the people who were in it. Homecomings, reunions, and social media are great ways to do this.