Smart Quotes - Y Magazine
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After All

Smart Quotes

By Edward L. Carter

I couldn’t tell you much I learned about calculus as a BYU freshman, nor what light was shed on news editing for me as a senior. But I can’t forget the instructors of those classes: after all, their pithy quotes earned for Lynn E. Garner and JoLynne Van Valkenburg—along with dozens of other BYU professors and students—entries in my personal Great Quotes file.

To this day I haven’t told a single one of them (oops, too late now) that they were being quoted. But then, what should they expect from a journalism major?

I’m still not sure what prompted me to start, but it must have been inspired. In the years since graduation, I have rifled through the old box of 3-by-5 quotation cards looking for ideas or laughs many more times than I have gone to the bottom of my bookshelf for help from the Biology 100 text or marriage preparation notes.

I mean, wouldn’t all BYU grads like to remember the brilliance and wry humor of professors like Garner, whom I still admire for writing our textbook and for saying, “Anything greater than five is essentially infinite”?

I can’t count the times I’ve followed Van Valkenburg’s counsel, which was intended only for grammar but may just as well have been meant for life: “You learn the rules and then you break them—but not on tests.”

Some real whoppers come from journalism instructors like John S. Gholdston, who once dazzled my class after a student reporter asked him what to do if a spokesperson said something stupid. “At the risk of sounding crass about it,” Gholdston mused, “you burn him.”

I could just about re-create my entire undergraduate experience from a few dozen sayings scribbled on scraps of paper. Once I got a lively response from then-university president Rex E. Lee after I asked him if his salary was too low compared to that of football coach LaVell Edwards. Lee cited baseball great Babe Ruth, who said, after being asked about earning more than the U.S. president, “I had a better year.”

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about Spanish professor Russell M. Cluff’s pearl of wisdom. It sounded much more romantic as it rolled off Cluff’s tongue in Spanish, but here’s my best translation: “It’s more important to have friends than lovers, and it’s much more important to have friends than enemies.”

The Great Quotes file provides mostly laughs and a few pieces of advice. But there’s a more serious side, too. Those sayings give me the only remaining link to people like J. Douglas Gibb, my public speaking instructor who died tragically near the end of summer term 1994.

Ironically, for most of the course I thought Gibb was the most difficult-to-understand professor that I ever had. As was my habit, I jotted down his quotes anyway. He made off-the-wall statements like “Silence is nice in love” and “The best speaking is holding someone in silence.”

Only after Gibb’s death did I begin to understand him. Four days after he died, students in the public speaking class gave impromptu speeches for a final exam. All of us talked about Gibb.

As I delivered my speech, I understood for the first time Gibb’s speaking tips (“Read yourself full, think yourself straight, pray yourself hot, and let yourself go”). For some reason, it didn’t fully hit me until I began speaking about Gibb himself that what he meant was to choose quality material, organize it, seek inspiration, and then let the creative juices flow. Now I treasure Gibb’s advice not just when preparing to speak, but also when preparing to write.

In fact, my all-time quotes leader probably is Gibb, who offered such sage advice as, “To be self-conscious is to be conscious of the wrong person.”

I regret not having the chance to tell Gibb the impact his wisdom has had on me. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m now acknowledging some of the people whose quotes affected me. For students like me, the examples, personalities, and words of instructors are remembered long after math calculations, grammar tips, and even grades are forgotten.

Some of the words in my quote file were passed to another generation of BYU students this year. And perhaps somewhere in the back of the room of the journalism class I taught, there was a student writing down my quirky sayings. Someday I’ll probably have to answer to a student (who I didn’t think cared) for a quote I won’t remember giving. But I’ll take that risk because I know those students won’t retain much of what I said about interviewing sources or writing news stories.

I do hope, though, that one thing sticks in the minds of BYU alumni like Joshua Deere. (He’s the student who said, after I handed out yet another set of graded papers, “I get the same score on every one!”) So for anyone out there writing things down, here’s the lesson I learned from Sue Laing in English 115. When we walked into class one day, we found that Laing had written on the board, “Be accurate in quoting. Do not do this, ‘Thou shalt . . . commit adultery.'”