Ryan Chartrand

I was a real good student during my four-plus years at Cal Poly. The only thing that kept me from making the Dean’s List each quarter was my work on El Mustang and Mustang Daily.

Honest.

In my first quarter here in the fall of 1965, I was full of energy and enthusiasm. When I learned that El Mustang – then a two-day-a-week paper – needed a sports editor, I volunteered for the job. A losing football season was easy to cover. I loved every minute because I was already on my way to my dream job of being a newspaper reporter.

But in December, when fall grades were posted, I found out that I had earned a 1.9 GPA. I can still picture how I had to explain to my father why I had done so poorly. El Mustang was to blame, I told him. Dad readily accepted the excuse.

And so went my grades during the quarters I severed on the paper as a reporter, the city editor, the sports editor for three separate quarters.

Actually, my grades were pretty good until February of 1969 when I was appointed editor in chief for the then three-day-a-week paper. Predictably, my grades fell, but I didn’t care. I was now working 12 hours a day answering phone calls, fielding angry letters to the editor over left-leaning editorials, arguing with the student body president who was a journalism major and occasionally making forays into then Cal Poly President Robert Kennedy’s office to surreptitiously read his daily calendar to figure out who would be the next football coach.

Perhaps the biggest story we covered in 1969 was the campaign of two students – a liberal technical printing major and a conservative senior from agriculture – who ran against each other for ASI president. In many ways, it mirrored the times: left versus right, a pro-Vietnam War supporter against an anti-war activist, rural versus urban.

The aggie, Paul Kresge, won the election. But I was astonished to learn that Mustang Daily’s coverage spurred voter turnout. About half of the 8,000-member student body voted in that election. That’s hard to imagine a voter turnout like that these days.

And, yes, my grades nosedived in 1969. I tell today’s Mustang Daily editors NOT to follow my example. Get good grades, I tell them. But for me, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Before becoming Cal Poly journalism department chair in 2003, Ramos wrote for the Los Angeles Times and won three Pulitzer prizes.

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