A story of a lifetime and an encouragement to students
By Mollie Warrington
Many years of experience allow a person to gain great knowledge to impact people around them. Curtis Wilkie has been influencing people for many years through writing, reporting and teaching.
“No matter what your profession is,” said Wilkie, a University of Mississippi alumni award winner, “people will be watching you, looking up to you, and it’s how you act where you are planted that shapes the person you become.”
After graduating from the University of Mississippi, he worked in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He also travels the world as a reporter. He worked for Boston Globe, and then he came back home to the South. He was not sure how long he would remain in the South, for he was just remotely working and reporting on issues in Southern states.
However, he knew Mississippi was his home, so he permanently moved back. He worked at the University of Mississippi for 18 years in the school of journalism. After retirement, he decided to return for one more semester to teach a class on James Meredith and other Southern issues. Throughout his career, he has written numerous books. His best-selling book is The Fall of the House of Zeus: The Rise and Ruin of America’s Most Powerful Trial Lawyer.
Looking back, Wilkie said, “I wish I would have applied myself more vigorously to my school work at the University of Mississippi.” Little did he know then the impact he would have on students and people around the world.
He started his career as a reporter in Clarksdale in 1963 after graduating from Ole Miss. He said, “This was the turning point in my career. I had the opportunity to report on such a large movement—the civil rights movement.”
“It was a great story unfolding right where I was working in the South. I was honored to be able to cover a small portion of it, and I was grateful to interview famous people in the movement such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.”
After working in the Delta, Wilkie spent time as a traveling reporter. He said he wishes he would have become bilingual because he spent so much time in Jerusalem, Europe, Africa and other countries.
After a bit of traveling, he spent some time working for the Boston Globe. He recalls, “The North was just not the same as the South. The people were different.” Since his job could be done from anywhere in the world, he chose to return home for six months, but this is when he made his decision to retire and move home.
Once returning home, he was approached about teaching for a semester. However, one semester suddenly turned into nearly 20 years. Despite his journalistic achievements, Wilkie says, “the most gratifying years of my life were the ones I taught at my alma mater.”
Wilkie has taught in the school of journalism and the Sally Mcdonnell Barksdale Honors College. This past semester he has come back to teach at the honors college.
After retiring in 2020, he was approached by Dr. John Samonds about teaching for this fall semester. “I was bored,” Wilkie said. “I missed the campus, the people, and my students, so I agreed to come back for the semester.”
The class is discussion-based. It focuses on discussing topics about issues and events at the University of Mississippi and in the state of Mississippi.
Wilkie’s teachings encourage students to always stand up for what they believe in and what is fair. Wilkie hopes he has influenced his students so that the future generation will be bright and successful and be the change the world needs.
Through writing and teaching, he has been able to give back to so many people. He has made students want to make a difference in the world with their use of wisdom and by gaining experience.
While Wilkie’s one-semester return to teaching may be brief, his years of teaching have made a great impact on many generations. He has shown the honors class a vision of Mississippi and has helped them create a vision of the place our state could become again.
He wants this generation of students to focus on what they can give back to the world.
“People must be good, smart and wise,” explained Wilkie. “Wisdom is better than raw intelligence. There are a lot of smart people who lack wisdom. Really smart people are really wise people. Wisdom comes with experience, and you must learn from your mistakes.”