As I followed news coverage of Constitution Week '14 at the University of Kentucky, a raspy voice from nearly 35 years ago came back to me.
An old-timer at the Chicago Tribune turned to the new kid in the newsroom and explained, "98 percent of what you read in the Tribune is true, except the 2 percent you have personal knowledge of."
So as the late great Paul Harvey would say, "And now, the rest of the story ..."
Twenty-five students, mostly fall freshmen in an Honors Program class, worked with me for 21 straight days to deliver six hours of programming for Constitution Week.
On Monday, Sept. 15, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr explained constitutional issues surrounding gay marriage to my Journalism 101 class and others in a call-in from Washington, D.C. We had billed the event, open to the public, as a conversation with Barr before the president's speech called Congress back to work on terrorism. Two visitors to the class were a prospective student from Ohio and her dad, who said he was impressed that the congressman would take time to call.
On Tuesday, Mayor Jim Gray and challenger Anthany Beatty, UK's assistant vice president for public safety, explained to my Honors students their positions on jobs, Rupp Arena, sexual assault, sales taxes and going green. Also, that day David Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, told the crowd why the Constitution is important to him and why young voters need to get into the game of democracy.
On Wednesday, Cpl. Matthew Bradford opened our official Constitution Day celebration. Bradford enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 19 years old after Sept. 11, 2001. He ended up in Iraq on the wrong side of an explosion that would cost him both legs and his eyesight. He would recover and become the first blind double amputee to re-enlist in the Marines. He now is a journalism student aspiring to a radio career.
Bradford delivered an inspiring speech on the meaning of the Constitution and the role of the military ,starting with the American Revolution, saying, "They fought to the death for a country, united and for our own rights." He added that young voters need to pay attention to the election of a president who may send them to war someday. After the applause, dozens of high school students lined up to shake his hand and thank him for his service to our country. One of my students' goals for Constitution Day was to make people feel more patriotic. They succeeded.
After a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate unexpectedly turned the lectern radioactive and a high school teacher jumped on stage to denounce him, I looked at Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famer Al Cross and said, "You're next."
Without hesitation, Cross, former president of the national Society of Professional Journalists, ambled across the stage and headed for the lectern to deliver an impromptu and impassioned defense of the First Amendment.
"You just witnessed in this hall a laboratory experiment about the extent and nature of free speech," said Cross, director of UK's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
Then Kentucky Treasurer Todd Hollenbach stepped up to the podium, denounced the write-in candidate for spewing a "bunch of hooey." He then returned to the mic for one last word: He explained that he had picked up a voter registration card to hand to his 18-year-old son, a freshman at UK.
No better way to end Constitution Day, as another goal for the student organizers was to empower young voters.
Two students from Bethlehem High School in Bardstown thanked me for inviting them. Asked to reflect on the experience, the Honors students wrote with impressive maturity. One said the high school students "probably had a much better discussion on the ride home about the freedom of speech than if some boring, typical politician spoke."
Thank you for listening. I write as a citizen eyewitness to history that has been lost in news coverage. This message has been brought to you by the First Amendment.
Reach Buck Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.