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Home | Episode #82
Bang! Goes the Start of a Semester and a Career
January 26, 2022 | Student Producer:

Lily Yates
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Bang! Goes the Start of a Semester and a Career
Dr. Esteban Del Rio remembers his first days teaching at USD... and the event that turned one inside out for America. (8 minutes)

Bang. I'm 27 years old. Somehow, I found myself back in San Diego, back at the University of San Diego, where I went to undergrad, back living with my parents. I was by myself, away from my girlfriend who was still in Massachusetts but I came back to San Diego, back to the University of San Diego, because I wanted the chance to come back to California. I took a visiting assistant professor job in the Department of Communication Studies. I was gonna be making $36,000 a year, which was a lot more than the $12,000 a year I had been making as a graduate student. I jumped at the chance, but I'd only defended my dissertation prospectus the April before. And so here I am, starting to teach full time and trying to write my dissertation. 

Bang, but you know what I could do with that money? I could buy a diamond for my college girlfriend and propose. So it was all worthwhile, living with my parents, taking up a teaching job, not telling my students I lived with my parents and making a little money for the first time in my life. 

Bang, the alarm clock went off at 6:00 AM. Here I am at 27, a month and a half away from my 28th birthday, and my clock goes off at 6:00 AM. I have it to the radio, but I hit snooze. Bang. Snooze is over and NPR comes on and I'm about ready to hit it again when there's a little news item that comes over the radio that says an airplane had an accident in New York City and hit a building. Bang, I hit snooze. 10 minutes later, or it's nine minutes, sometimes. And this wasn't just an accident. There's a little bit more information. And I listen and I get up and sit on the side of my bed. And I'm hearing a little bit more about this story about what's going on in New York City. 

I run into my parents' room. My dad's asleep. Um, my mom was downstairs and I, I say, "Hey, turn on the TV." And we turn on the TV. And there we are looking at pictures of the World Trade Center on fire. One of the buildings. Bang. The spring before I was, spent time in New York City, I was living in Massachusetts. I remember walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and kind of marveling at these two square modernist buildings. And one of the things that I remember when I would go fly up and down the Eastern seaboard when I was living back east was that those two buildings you could see in 3D from above. That's how big they were. If you're flying over New York City, everything kind of looks like, two dimensional, but these two buildings, you could see their, the truth of their three dimensionality. Bang. There we were in my parents' room, watching another plane hit the second building. I'm getting ready to teach my first, actually second class for the morning, but it's, it's the first full week at USD. I'm getting ready. The second plane hits. I tell my parents, "Mom and Dad, tens, and tens of thousands of people are gonna die." 

I say, "Those buildings, there's 40, 50,000 people who, who work in those buildings. This is unbelievable." Bang. I ride my bike to USD. I have a 7:45 AM Introduction to Media Studies course. I don't go to my office. I park my bike outside. I go into the room. It's like the start of any semester, 18, 19, 20 year olds milling into the room. My classroom is in the back of Camino Hall in the music rooms. I walk into the room there, and there's my students. I set my materials down and I walk over to the board and start with this outline that I have. And I go to speak to my students. There's no spit in my mouth. 

I don't quite know what to tell them. I tell them, "Here's something that's happening." A few of the students nod. A few, few of the students had heard; others didn't know what was going on. I explain what I know. I get back to teaching. Bang. Turna Uyar, an international student from Turkey is sitting in the front row. She's now, uh, works for, Sotheby's, a very glamorous life in New York city and the Hamptons where she decamps for the weekends. But at the time, she's 19 and from Turkey, she has a phone that can get text messages. She interrupts me. "I just heard that the second building fell down." Bang. 

As the day progresses, I walk around campus, USD doesn't close. I look at my email. I learn that UMass, where I'm still a graduate student at, and that they're having, you know, the beginning of their semester, UMass closes. Many schools on the east coast close. The proximity is, nobody knows what's happening. I don't know what's happening. I worry, and I hate to admit this 'cause it's a little embarrassing, I worry, is this brand new Peace and Justice Center a target? It seems silly that USD would be a target, but I don't know anything that's going on and nobody knows. 

USD sets up TVs all around the campus. These are the cathode ray tube TVs. These aren't, this is amazing. USD puts them all around. I'm walking around campus and I'm, I'm, I'm watching the news as the, through the day, as events unfold. Students are gathering around the televisions to find out what happened, is happening. Bang. 2:30 in the Media Center downstairs, which used to have a couple cool classrooms with great cushioned chairs with the seats that went up and down like a theater, my Media and Conflict class is meeting. The summer before, I received syllabi from the professors who taught Media and Conflict before I did. And I got these syllabi, I read them, a lot of it was about nineties scandal, like Clinton's sex scandals, and um, missing persons kind of stories. 

And I remember getting these syllabi the summer before this day, wondering what is Media and Conflict? How do I teach this? But like anyone else who has a job and has got a syllabus, I planned the semester. Bang, 2:30, Media Conflict meets. We start talking about what's happening that day. I can close my eyes and see the students in that room. Right? One is working at Boeing. One works at Nike now. One is a photographer, but I know these students. We spent the time talking about what was happening from the perspective of Media and Conflict of my class, of communication. Bang. Since that day I never ever asked, what is this class about? Because my students showed me. Thank you.