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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Farewell to Readers

“It all begins, and ends, with language”

“After 26 years and 1,000 columns,
columnist begins a new chapter”


Published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune: October 2, 2017

It all begins, and ends, with language

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere


We were paddling out of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a summer-like day in mid-September. The lake was as smooth as glass, the pines on the distant shore were tinted white, and the rising sun was brownish orange from the haze of countless wildfires raging in Montana, California, and Canada. One of my companions wondered if his mobile home on Florida’s east coast had been destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Having severed our connection to the civilized world five days earlier amidst omens of natural, nuclear, and political apocalypse, we were anxious about the news that awaited us.


The times are more than a changin’. The times are downright frightening. And yet I have hope for the future.


Whenever I meet with the graduate students in my communication course at the University of Minnesota – some of whom are managers, some of whom are busy parents of young children, and some of whom are both – I’m impressed by how much they have accomplished in their lives, and I’m inspired by their promise to accomplish so much more. More than anything, I am moved by the respect with which they engage one another as we work to develop their natural talents and abilities and to address their flaws and shortcomings.


If I said I’m teaching them how to write and speak more effectively, I would be misstating what is happenng. No one can teach you how to communicate, no more than anyone can teach you how to be a good person. But I can show them the way by sharing my knowledge and experience and by striking the right balance between nurture and challenge.


At the center of our undertaking – and the human experience – is language. It all begins there. Our words are how we connect, how we express our differences, share our joys and sorrows, and articulate our hopes and dreams. Our words, by some measure, are who we are.


My book club meets monthly. I’m the only guy. The women are better read, smarter, and more articulate than I. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say. When one member suggested we need to do more than send “our thoughts and prayers” to hurricane victims, I agreed. But I also said our words matter.


I offer these personal reflections to you today as a two-part farewell. After 26 years and 999 columns, I’ve decided to make my next column my last. I’ll miss talking with you. It has been such a privilege and pleasure.


Nearly every morning, traumatized by the news in my beloved newspaper, I take a walk with my wife of 41 years. As we pass the yard signs declaring love for our Muslim neighbors and proclaiming that black lives matter, I find comfort and hope. Our words frame the narrative of our lives. They shape our vision for how we want the world to be. Whether at home or in the workplace or on the world stage, we mustn’t allow the language of hatred and racism to go unchallenged. Our words help determine our future.



Published by the Minneapolis Star Tribune: October 16, 2017

After 26 years and 1,000 columns, columnist begins a new chapter

By Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

When I was little, I dreamed of being Davy Crocket. I dreamed of owning a black stallion, of playing bass fiddle in a jazz band, and of being a college professor. But I never dreamed of being a newspaper columnist.


I never dreamed so many people would share their love of language with me. I never dreamed that in April 2016 David would send a message like this one about his grandfather, a Northfield high school English teacher:


“My grandfather . . . sensed my interest in writing before I had the faintest idea of subject-verb agreement and serial commas.


“Gene Fox saw the faint spark in my eye as a child and kindled it. He lent me copies of books by Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and his favorite, Burgess. He gave me his tattered copy of The Elements of Style (which sits on my desk today). He saw my interest grow in writing, and so he began sending me your column in the hopes that I might sharpen my writing skills and become a strong and efficient writer. I relished every letter of his, and your column was always a wonderful topic that he and I could discuss over phone calls.


“I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism, which made him proud. I’m five years into a career in which writing has been integral.


“Gene Fox passed away yesterday. He was a devoted reader of your column, and he was always eager to share your column with me. Your writing brought us closer together and further strengthened our bond.


“Thank you, Stephen. I will be in Northfield, Minnesota, next weekend for my grandfather’s funeral. I’ll be thinking of your columns and of the wonderful conversations they fostered between my grandfather and me.”


I feel so honored, David. Thank you for sharing your story with me.


I never dreamed so many things that have come to pass. I never dreamed that I would enjoy writing this column as much as I do, nor that it would be so hard to stop writing it. I never dreamed Kathy would write this message to me in response to my Oct. 2 column:


“In a world of chaos, you always provided a calming article. In a world where language and communication has degenerated, you reminded us of why it is important. You helped us improve our skills. I have saved so many of your articles and keep them in a reference folder labeled ‘Stephen Wilbers.’ I will keep that folder for as long as I write.”


Although I will continue teaching and writing, I’ve decided to make this, my 1,000th column, my last. Thank you, Star Tribune. What a privilege it has been to appear in this wonderful newspaper for 26 years. Thank you, my editors. Most of all, thank you, my readers, for your support when the Star Tribune dropped my column (not once, but twice), only to reinstate me at your urging. Most of all, thank you for sharing your commitment to clear, precise writing.




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