The color of hope

Instructor John Kupetz gives feedback to his students. He is famous for his green Paper Mate pens. Photo by Annie Rubinson

On my first day of cherubs, I glanced down at the roster and saw that my instructor was John Kupetz, who was rumored to be the harshest critic at the Institute.

“He is legendary,” one of the community associates told me. “I just hope your favorite color is green.”

Incidentally, it was! While I didn’t like the color green for any particular reason, my five weeks at Medill gave me one.

Two days and 12 articles later, I sat on the bottom floor of Fisk Hall, mentally preparing myself for my first critique from Kupetz. When he entered the room with his three Paper Mate green pens protruding from his shirt pocket, I felt utter terror.

As promised, my article looked like it had been dunked in a bucket of green ink and hung out to dry. Nearly every line was decorated with copy edits I hadn’t yet learned how to translate, and he had written a novel of criticisms on the back page in handwriting I couldn’t read. But I wasn’t upset.

“Green is the color of hope,” he said to us.

He told us he wanted us to look at our articles and feel empowered to improve. He wanted us to view his comments not as discouraging but as the green light in “The Great Gatsby” or Allie’s baseball glove in “The Catcher in the Rye.” I knew then and there that I would work as hard as I could to get the Kupetz Stamp of Approval™.

I’d like to think I achieved that goal – you’d have to ask him to be sure. But more than that, for every one of our 20-minute meetings that turned into 40-minute ones, I walked away with a deeper understanding of journalism, Northwestern and the world.

Three days ago, Kupetz returned my final article. Yes, it was still scribbled in green ink and no, I still can’t decipher any of it without assistance from my classmates. Only this time, aside from some line edits here and there, his comments mostly detailed my vast improvements over the five weeks I spent at Medill. The green ink filled me with hope that I would keep improving forever.

Kupetz’s former students refer to themselves as members of “the cult of the green pen,” and I can see why. I look forward to returning in 20 years, holding up my green trend story (a piece I’m quite proud of now but am sure I’ll be embarrassed by in the future) and telling a future class of cherubs about how the ink inspires me to that day – because I know it will.