As a former public relations professional now teaching the next generations of PR pros at Curry College, I’m often asked why I devote so much time and energy to helping my young charges get a firm grip on “life after college.”
Part of my response is “because that’s what teachers do.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole story behind the real reason.
As I tell my students, when I started out in my public relations career, their parents probably weren’t born yet…or were still in diapers! But the memory of an encounter with one man has stayed me all those years.
Following graduation from college and an eight-year stint in the Air Force, I chose to pursue other opportunities. One that caught my attention was an internship with the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Public Affairs Office at Fort Monroe, VA.
The gentleman…and he truly merits this appellation…in charge of TRADOC’s internship program was Clinton Parks, and Clint put his heart and soul into the nurturing of each and every young man and woman who came under his supervision. He knew us; he knew our backgrounds and aspirations; and he instinctively knew our capabilities.
After a 12-month intensive learning experience at Fort Monroe and several other Army installations, we were given our first permanent assignments…“real” jobs that, if we showed that we had learned our lessons as “trainees,” could mark the beginning of a career as a PR pro.
As luck would have it, I was offered a starting assignment as Public Affairs Officer for the US Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, MA. After persuading my wife that the job was located (as I cleverly phrased it) “close to Boston,” we packed our bags and headed off on what promised to be an exciting adventure.
I also thought that would be the last that I saw of or heard from Clint. Not the case…at all.
I settled into my new position and launched myself enthusiastically into a whirlwind of PR activities. Then one day my phone rang. “Public Affairs…Kirk Hazlett speaking,” rolled easily off my tongue.
A quietly-familiar voice responded, “Good morning, Kirk. This is Clinton Parks.”
My first reaction was “Oh, boy. What have I done wrong?”
He continued, “I just wanted to check in to see how you were doing and to see if there was anything I could do for you.”
Very quiet. Very calm. And very much appreciated…I was feeling kind of “do-I-actually-know-what-I’m-doing?”-ish. After chatting for a few minutes, I was reassured.
This routine continued for the next year-and-a-half…long after my formal internship had been completed and I was officially a “Department of the Army civilian employee.” My phone would ring every three months or so, and it would be Clint calling “just to see how things were going and if there was anything I could do for you.”
This kindness and caring has since become an integral part of my own interactions with younger up-and-coming professionals. My belief is, thanks to a gentleman who understood completely how lonely it can feel when one is starting out on one’s career and what a difference a simple phone call can make, that I must continue that tradition.
My own students, both current and former, have learned that I’m always there, quietly listening and ready at any time to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Social media has amplified my ability to reach out, and I take advantage of a variety of platforms to maintain the connections.
The going phrase these days is “paying it forward,” and I firmly support the concept. I also, with equal conviction, am committed to “paying it back” in memory of a man who took what was, on paper, a simple job of supervising young wannabe Army public affairs professionals and turned it into a genuinely caring and nurturing routine of “just checking in.”