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Volume 68, Issue 69, Wednesday, December 4, 2002


Columnist offers final farewell

Ken Fountain
Opinion Columnist

A wistfully melancholy tune, if you please, maestro. With the exception of a movie review, these are the last words I will write for The Daily Cougar.

Yes, that long-anticipated, much-doubted, nearly mythical event my graduation is finally at hand. I began here at UH many, many years ago. Several false starts, dropped classes, semesters off and a hitch in the Navy later, the long national nightmare is coming to an end. Go ahead try placing a call to Hell. I can guarantee you that it's frozen over.

So this column may get a little sentimental. If you're not in the mood for that, skip on over to Matthew Caster.

Much like my tenure at UH, I've been writing for The Daily Cougar for much longer than I anticipated. In fact, when I returned to UH to finish my degree, I didn't expect to work for the Cougar at all. See, I'd been a journalist in the Navy, and had worked for a small paper in California, so I was a bit of a snob about writing for a mere school paper.

But as time went on (and on), I came to the realization that my old writing samples were getting stale. In order to improve my odds in the extremely tight journalism job market, I needed fresh "clips" to add to my resumé.

So one day in early 1999, I walked into the office of the Cougar and pitched a story idea, covering a speech by Sister Helen Prejean, the real-life nun and death penalty opponent of Dead Man Walking fame.

It felt good to be in print again. But I didn't start writing regularly for the Cougar until later that year, when I took the News II writing class in the School of Communication. And I didn't officially join the staff I remained a "contributing writer." My idea was to just write a few stories about issues I cared about, and leave no fuss, no bother.

And that strategy paid off, as I started doing more and more stories. By a strange twist of fate, my Cougar career and my "real" job, working as a correspondent for a legal news service, became intertwined, as I started writing about a plethora of civil lawsuits filed against UH.

Those stories led to even bigger stories, as I became introduced to the ever-simmering kettle that is UH academic politics.

And then something funny happened. I started to care about The Daily Cougar itself, not just my own work. I joined the staff, and took assignments. I went to meetings early in the morning because my editors needed stories.

I wrote some stories late at night, most memorably on Election Night 2000, when I wrote the story prematurely (but still accurately) headlined "Bush takes Fla. for late win."

When people attacked the credibility of the paper (which always seems to happen at the same time of year, from the same people), I took it personally. Later, when I became news editor, if the Houston Chronicle or the Houston Press scooped us on UH-related stories (which thankfully didn't happen often), I took it personally.

Through the Cougar, I've made a lot of friends, and perhaps even an enemy or two. Such is life.

It was here at the Cougar where I rediscovered my love for journalism, which had waned somewhat. From the beginning, what attracted me to this field is that it provides the opportunity to keep learning new things about how the world works. While I've only learned a fraction of how the small world of UH works in my time here, it's been extremely, shall we say, educational.

So now, at long last, I'm about to embark into the "real world." Although there's quite a bit of trepidation, I'm actually pretty confident. In my time at the Cougar, my skills at writing, and especially reporting, have been vastly sharpened.

So, friends and enemies alike, both in and out of the Cougar, I bid you adieu. I know incoming editor in chief Cara Sarelli and the rest of the great staff will carry on the fine tradition this paper has been setting since 1934.

I leave you with a final thought, the greatest bit of wisdom I've picked up in my time at UH: Watch out for the squirrels.

Fountain, a graduating (Can you believe it?) senior 
communication major, can be reached at


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