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Rowan University: Graduation Day, And One Memorable TV History Essay
May 14, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment

Last year, when I was completing my first year as a full-time faculty member at New Jersey's Rowan University, I also was crashing on the final month of writing my Smothers Brothers book, so I passed on attending, and participating in, what would have been my first graduation ceremony as an associate professor.

rowan-top.jpgFriday, with the book done and published and the school year over again, I happily attended -- and was so glad I did. The day was about the graduates -- the 2,477 students who were walking away with diplomas -- but on this site, at this time, I can admit I got a lot out of it as well.

Some students from elsewhere in the College of Communication had taken one or more of my classes and it always felt good to see a familiar face beaming as he or she walked across the stage. But when it came time for the Radio-Television/Film students -- the ones from my department -- to get their diplomas, I was allowed to join other teachers from the department in a post-diploma gauntlet, congratulating them as they exited the stage.

And I must admit, it was an unexpected, unforgettable delight to be warmly and enthusiastically embraced by so many attractive young students. Even some female ones. And for me, the delight was in realizing how, in only two years as a full-timer, I actually had gotten to know, like, and many even connect with a lot of these young adults. I knew which ones were the computer wizards, which ones were the jokesters, which ones the best writers, and which ones I had advised, about their final schedules and their professional internships, on their way to graduation.


What I enjoyed the most, maybe, was how many of them kidded me about wearing a cap and gown with no trace of my trademark Hawaiian shirts. Maybe next year. Meanwhile, to all of them, I happily say "Aloha" -- which, of course, is Hawaiian for both hello and goodbye.

And to salute this year's graduates, I'd like to end by sharing one of the graduates' essay assignments from TV History & Appreciation, the required media course I co-teach with Professors Mike Donovan and George Back. Lisa Pontelandolfo, a bit older than most of her classmates, was able to reach back to the 1970s when asked to write about her earliest favorite prime-time TV series, and the circumstances under which she watched it.

It may be about a slightly more dated show than most of the essays we read these days -- but the content and tone are indicative of what makes the assignment, and the course, so special. Lisa's essay should make you smile. For me, the whole graduation day did.

Here's the essay of Lisa Pontelandolfo, now awarded a B.A. in Communication Studies, with a specialty in Rhetoric/Cultural Criticism. (She got an A.)


"I grew up with a mother and father who were devoted to family life. It was mom who was in charge of worrying about the eating of vegetables, the studying for tests, and the sitting too close to the television screen. In fact, mom would often scold us to turn off the afternoon television programs and go outside to play.

"The evenings were a different story. When dad came home from work, the television went on and stayed on, long after he fell asleep to the flickering image of Johnny Carson. Of all the days I have loved my father, the day he brought home a television for our kitchen was one of the best.


"As the owner-operator of an auto salvage business, my dad often worked late. The table would be set, oven turned to warm, ice melting in the glasses, while we waited for dad. It used to drive my mother crazy when he would allow us to watch television while we ate supper. However, there was one program that could lighten the mood. Little House on the Prairie was the kind of show the entire family could enjoy, none more than my mother back in the early 1970s.

"I was still young enough to idolize the family I saw portrayed in Walnut Grove. I idealized they were similar to my own family. The mother was patient and thoughtful. The father was hard-working and good-hearted. Just like the television family, the head of the household was a handsome shaggy-haired dad surrounded by daughters. I had an older sister, who was popular and pretty like Mary Ingalls.


"In my mind, I was the Laura Ingalls character, complete with dirty fingernails and enough spunk to stand up to my schoolyard nemesis, Karen Grear, who just so happened to be as bossy as Nellie Oleson.

"Little House on the Prairie often portrayed characters that made do with very little. Every member of the Ingalls clan had chores and responsibilities. My parents would assign chores to us as well. My sister would pull weeds, while I raked our garden. She watered the plants, while I filled wooden bushels with tomatoes. One of us would fold the clothes while the other put them away.


"Much like Little House on the Prairie at the end of the meal, Charles Ingalls would tell stories and smoke his pipe, occasionally playing his fiddle. My dad would relate interesting stories of his day at work while his girls scooted past him to put items in the refrigerator, or fetch the broom from the corner near the door.

"Most nights were filled with banter, except for the ones we turned back the clock from the 1970s to the 1870s on NBC. When Little House came on, one of us would inevitably say, 'Ooh, I love this show,' and the sounds of a family struggling on the plains of Minnesota would replace those of my own hard working Italian-American one.

"These days, Little House on the Prairie reruns can be seen on TV Land. Merely hearing the opening strains of the theme music has an ability to transport me back to a simpler time in my life, when my dad would call me 'Lee' instead of 'Lisa,' and Charles would almost always refer to 'Laura' as 'Half-Pint.'

"The everyday chatter of a real dad and his girls would halt as we listened to the fictional 'Pa and Ma' raise their young family. We did not yet own a dishwasher. My mom or my sister would quickly wash the plates, pots, and pans during the commercials so that we would not miss a word of the show. I was allowed to dry them during the show, but I had to remember to not cross in front of our little 13" screen.


"Often, the meal would be completely cleaned up and the strawberry-shaped cookie jar that matched the strawberry curtains and wallpaper would be back in the center of our freshly wiped table while the family remained in the kitchen, with two larger screened televisions just a few footsteps away. Maybe it was the aroma of mom's wonderful cooking that made us linger. It could have been the soothing warmth of the oven. More than likely, it was the comforting feeling of family love that kept us clustered together in that humble kitchen.

"Neither my own family nor the Ingalls on the TV screen had much money, but love and devotion we had in abundance. A lot of delicious memories surround Little House on the Prairie and that kitchen television."




Congratulations Lisa on all of your Achievements as well as with your excellent essay.
I know this Family and well know where Lisa gets her Strength and Character, but she has also developed her own Strength and Character.
I am Proud to be her Cousin.
Love, Cousin Anthony

Comment posted on May 16, 2010 6:09 AM

Eileen said:

Congratulations, Lisa. Beautifully written, and so nice to read about real "family values". How proud they all must be.

Comment posted on May 17, 2010 8:36 AM

just wonderful story. well written and hope you've enjoyed good luck in your career !

Comment posted on March 8, 2011 5:30 PM
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Tina Murray
GReat Job Lisa!!! Loved it!!!!
Jul 12, 2012   |  Reply
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