By Brian Smith

The Southern Regional Press held its 57th institute last week at Savannah State University (SSU). Everyyear, student media groups from elementary, middle and high schools and colleges show up to learn, win, eat and, interestingly enough, pray. The function focused on media ethics and featured relevant speakersof ranging importance. I went and experienced more emotions — realization, joy, introspection, pensiveness and amusement — than any time I’ve ever gone to church. And I didn’t even participate in the pre-luncheon invocation.

I went to two workshops and one awards ceremony luncheon during the two-day event. The firstworkshop was a surreal panel discussion about ethics. Local news anchor Sonny Dixon spoke in that voice I’m so used to hearing at 11 nightly in my living room. Thankfully, he was wearing pants, in person.

Alderman Van Johnson and “Connect Savannah” editor Jim Morekis perpetuated their Loco’s-related nightclub vs. restaurant argument (see cover story, issue 269). Dr. John English looked, acted and spoke like my high school guidance counselor. The following workshop was more interesting.

Nicholas Silberg is a SCAD graduate. Now he’s professing about printmaking at SSU. He has a big, reddish-brown beard and wears a tweed fedora. A Hank Williams CD played in his classroom. He presented a hands-on workshop about the letterpress revival. I threw prints on a late-19th century Gordon press and left with inked hands and a smile.

Day two rolled around, and I showed up for the awards and food with three other District members. We were almost the only white people there, aside from the letter presser and the keynote speaker, Ken Paulson, editor of “USA Today.” I was underdressed in black pants and a polo. Even the elementary schoolers wore Sunday suits with gold crosses on chains outside their collars. The speaker asked us all to bow our heads in prayer, to thank God for ourmeal waiting across the room in silver buffet cases, and to ask for His assistance in our impending journalism careers. Then an SSU student sang us to the buffet table with “’Til There Was You” from the podium.

Ranch salad, green beans, yellow rice, fried chicken, carrot cake and sweet tea. This place stunk of the South. There was enough sugar in the tea and cake icing to force my face into my palms and my elbows to the table. Paulson was speaking about true patriotism, superheroes and the American dream of the press, and I was feeling more ill with each camera flash.

Under the daze of my 10-minute sugar coma, I saw the light. The editor of “USA Today” is looking me in the eyes, telling me that I’m where I belong. I’m a journalist — a writer with a purpose. I flash back to high school. I’m the editor of “The Vertical,” hearing the same thing at the Florida Times-Union Press Institute. I’m excited about writing and reporting. I looked around the room at the high school journalists I once was. Now I’m a college journalist and I feel that same excitement. What happens in two years, or 10? I’ve found what I live for. When the awards were given and the luncheon let out, I took a second piece of cake for the road.