As I sit in Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., my recent experiences in Washington, D.C. at the National Communication Association Convention (NCA) and as a citizen in America’s capital city overwhelm me with reflections about my professional career; my students and professional colleagues; and the opportunities I have been given as a citizen to participate and serve.
I have been attending the NCA conventions since 1981; it is the gateway to the academic community that has nurtured my career. This year, over 5,000 participants were in Washington, D.C.–from Wednesday through Sunday–presenting short courses, programs, panels, and conducting the business of the various interest groups and divisions making up the association. The two papers I presented as lead author were designated as being among the best in their respective interest areas. These papers focusing on risk and crisis communication and experiential learning through service were the collaborative efforts of graduate students and professional colleagues across the country and I was so pleased our work could be recognized on the “top papers” panels. Another exciting happening included the national launch of the book I co-authored with Michael Bartanen from Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA) entitled, Forensics in America: A History, and a special reception hosted by Pi Kappa Delta and my NDSU departmental colleagues to celebrate the occasion.
One of the benefits of a national convention is the opportunity to learn and grow. For me, this opportunity came when I served as chair of a special panel exploring how crises are memorialized. Our particular focus was on the Pentagon attack on 9/11 and the resulting Pentagon Memorial, dedicated on September 11, 2008. Our panel began with James Laychak, Chairman of the Pentagon Memorial Board of Directors, who provided how the Memorial was conceived and created as a memorial to honor the 184 people who died either on board the aircraft or within the Pentagon building on 9/11. Two of my former students were among the young scholars presenting papers on the meaning of crisis memorials, symbolically and as a source of understanding and healing for those affected. After the panel, we left the convention site and toured the memorial. The experience was very moving as the youngest victim was just 3 years old, traveling with her parents and sister to Australia. The oldest was 71. There are too many symbolic elements to describe here. However, most meaningful to me was walking along the edge of the memorial and stopping on my birth year to see the number of victims who should have been enjoying life at my age. How can one express the sorrow of that loss; and the thankfulness of being where I am in my life today?