Glen Finland receives the Dean's Medal for Leadership Excellence in Communication from faculty members in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Standing left to right are E. Culpepper "Cully" Clark, dean of the Grady College; Finland; Cynthia Tucker, associate visiting professor of journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence; Valerie Boyd, associate professor of journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence; Kent Middleton, UGA Grady College journalism department head and professor.
Alumnus and Author Glen Finland Receives Dean’s Medal Honor
Date: September 05, 2012
Author: Suzanne Rutledge
Contact: Parker Middleton, email@example.com
Author, journalist and autism advocate, Glen Finland, was awarded the Dean's Medal for Communication Leadership from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Decatur Book Festival on September 2nd.
Finland, A.B.J. 1974, is the sixth recipient of the medal.
The college's highest honor, the Dean's Medal was established in 2007 to honor alumni who play a significant role in a communications event that rises to the status of a case study in one of the journalism and mass communication disciplines. The medal recognizes singular achievement and leadership.
Finland, a former news and TV journalist, has dedicated her life to autism awareness through the life of her son, David. Her family memoir, Next Stop, details Finland's experiences with her son, who is "tall, dark, and autistic," as she taught him to ride the subway alone. Based on a piece she wrote for the Washington Post Magazine in 2009, Finland was inspired to write the memoir after the feedback she received from her initial story.
"There was a strong response from readers who emailed me to say, 'I know a David.' And 'Your story is our story, too,'" Finland said. "There is no one size fits all poster child for autism because the spectrum runs so wide and deep, but somehow I hit a vein with many readers who connected with our family's story."
Finland's honoring comes during Grady College's "Year of the Story," an opportunity for Grady faculty and students to pay homage to the strongest tradition in human culture. Dean Cully Clark views the year and Finland's receipt of the Dean's Medal as a great celebration to the world's oldest cultural bond.
"Storytelling is central to human experience and communication across our disciplines, from advertising and public relations to journalism and media arts," Clark said. "We are proud to honor the tradition in this academic year, and Glen's story exemplifies the power and influence of the story to advance thought and understanding."
Along with the many accolades for Next Stop, the memoir was recently named the Penguin Book Club pick for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is recognized in October.
Below is an interview with Finland about her experiences writing her first full-length book, her receipt of the Dean's Medal and her transition from a Grady College student to a full time journalist.
Q: Was it difficult transitioning from a reporter to writing a full-length book? They seem like two very different disciplines.
A: I suppose writing Next Stop was my way of making sense of a confusing world. And hasn't that always been what good stories can do for us — help us define our messy and flawed lives? For me, the challenge was how to connect the reader with no knowledge of autism to a delightfully quirky young man whose signature calling card is his lack of empathy. How do I make you care about him? Well, everybody is part of a messy family. Like it or not, that's a real part of being human — just like autism is another part of being human. So using my own messy family was a straightforward bridge to bring the reader on board. Early on, my reporter's observation skills provided a comforting bit of distance once the story took off. So I decided not to whitewash anything from our adventures in autism, and one thing simply led to another. But I tried hard to let history be history. This is no fairy tale. The result is what is remembered.
Q: Congratulations on receiving the Dean's Medal for Communication Leadership. What does winning an award like that mean to you?
A: First of all, it is a remarkable thing to be recognized for doing something that one loves to do. That said, the bigger opportunity for me here is to promote general public awareness about autism. I hope Next Stop might push people to start paying attention to the wide range of individuals on the autism spectrum, in all their rich variations. I'd also like to think I have pulled a few readers into a different world and given them a connection they'll want to keep to better understand individuals with any type of cognitive disability. Maybe then we could start to change the conversation about autism, to move away from causes and cures, blessings and blame. But first we need to stop seeing people with autism as targets for pity or therapy and make room for a different kind of employee heading into the workforce with the legal rights he or she deserves. The real lives of autistic young adults are very nuanced, like yours and mine. And these kids will grow up to face real-world problems just like ours — they'll need jobs and affordable housing in order to create meaningful and independent lives.
Q: How did Grady College help you shape your career and further your interest in journalism?
A: Two weeks after graduating from the Grady School, I hit the ground running with my first job: writing news copy for WBML Radio in Macon. I wrote quick local stories about all the random things that happen in our messy lives: car crashes, City Hall battles, murders, ribbon-cuttings — whatever happened on any given day to absolute strangers. I loved the job because I felt prepared to go out there and get it done. The takeaway message from the J-School was: Keep your eyes and ears open — be alert as to how the world around you informs your writing every day. I still use that standard in everything I write.
Q: Just out of curiosity, what brought you to UGA in the first place?
A: I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, and, as a teenager, I loved to read and write. I was never any good in science or math classes, I just wanted to write stories. The first piece I ever had published was in the DeKalb New Era when I was 13 or 14. I was also a big fan of Brenda Starr-Star Reporter in the funny pages of the Atlanta Journal. She inspired me (and probably a whole lot of other women in my generation) to become a reporter. The Grady School seemed like a sure thing to me-my ticket to get out there and taste the world.
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