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The East Texan

Got ’til it’s Gone

Andrew Burnes, Editor

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There is a somber, heavy air lingering over the atmosphere of the Texas A&M University-Commerce campus today. It’s not just the incredibly humid weather; the happy smiles are removed, the jaunt in the steps of the university students is more subdued. That’s what happens when we lose excellent human beings like Dan Jones.

 

As I come ever-closer to the end of my 4-year college experience at A&M-Commerce, many of my life’s annoyances and hangups have been amplified. I’m frustrated with having to complete a thesis that will likely never matter to me again. I’m annoyed that, after three years working as the editor of our campus newspaper The East Texan (the longest of anyone in history) that I haven’t received much of a sendoff from my peers. I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that in a few months, not only will I no longer be a student at this institution, I’ll be starting virtually a completely new life in a new part of the country, almost like I’m dying and starting over.

 

But one of the things I’ve been most looking forward to is shaking President Jones’ hand as I received my diploma. Now I never will. In a world with many acquaintances and others that we have to put up with as we go through our lives as members of a social society, there are a lot of things we grit our teeth and bear, a lot of people that we interact with that are mere passerby in the context of our personal lives rather than those that leave a meaningful footprint. Though I can’t say that President Jones was a particularly large part of my college experience, at least not directly, there can be no mistaking the impact that he has left on my life. Gone will be the pep in the man’s steps as he strides across campus with his trademark cheeky grin, taking some of the joy out of the college as he departs.

 

But when I think of Dan Jones, I don’t think about what I’ve lost, I think about what I experienced with the man when he was here. I think about the first time I ever saw him as a freshman, walking across campus happily greeting everyone he passed. I think about interviewing him in his office last February where we discussed everything from college economics to his love of old-school country musician Guy Clark. I think of the warm handshakes and mutually beneficial laughs. President Jones shared these kinds of experiences with far more people than the average man, not because he was better than the rest of us, but because he had a way of relating to everybody, no matter their background.

 

One day toward the middle of last semester, President Jones visited my Community Journalism class. We all took turns asking him questions about where he saw the university in 20 years, but at one point the conversation turned to The East Texan. Every week when Sean, Kyria and I would deliver the new edition of the paper, I always ran five copies up to his office out of respect. It was my favorite flight of stairs. However, the president began recalling how our first Front Page of the semester had been a picture of the bunk beds temporarily implemented in Phase II thanks to the overcrowding of the campus. “I know The East Texan made it look like we were packing students in like sardines…” he said before glancing at me. We both laughed. There’s no telling how many things I’ve published over the last three years that have annoyed the man; as a journalist it was my job to question his authority, his actions. But when you’re around a guy like President Jones, you don’t think about the things that separate you, your focus turns to the things that bring you together. Because you wanted to be around him.

 

President Jones was one of the most personable people I’ve ever met, but he knew not to take everything personally. Even so, I couldn’t help but take it personally when last month President Jones showed up at the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. TIPA always stressed me out, but I was having a particularly hard time on this trip. That changed when I saw President Jones stride through the door unannounced and greet our table among a sea of over 500 students from across the state’s many universities. I took it personally. All of the stress and fear and heartbreak and whatever else I was feeling melted away in an instant. Most touching of all, it was what would become the man’s last birthday. While many of the students and higher-ups across the campus were working on making and releasing a birthday video for him, he chose to spend at least a portion of that day with me. I stood up, shook his hand, and hugged him. It’s something I’ll never forget.

 

As students, we didn’t really know President Jones that well. The vast majority of us didn’t see him on a daily basis. But we always knew he was there, and believed that on some level, he was looking out for us. We weren’t aware of what his schedule was like, or who his favorite people were. We were ignorant to the many accomplishments that he assuredly achieved over the course of his life. But we loved Dan Jones because to us, he was a cheerful, beautiful, genuinely good person. That was enough.

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