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Humorist Dave Barry delivers Baird Lecture

Winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize, Dave Barry, who once annoyed North Dakota, visited Elon for Fall Convocation and the 2011 Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture.

"It's really bad out there!" humorist Dave Barry told Elon students at Fall Convocation and the 2011 Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture. "Keep changing majors. And when they run out of majors, hide in the shrubbery! Don't let them make you leave!"

If there’s anything Dave Barry wants you to know - and he’ll be the first to admit that in an hour’s talk, there isn’t a high bar to clear - it’s that any challenge you confront in life, it shouldn’t be with the help of the Oregon State Highway Division.

No, that could create an even bigger mess of things.

Barry, a retired Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated humor columnist from The Miami Herald, visited Elon University on Oct. 11 for the university’s Fall Convocation and Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture. He spent more than an hour on stage telling stories of college, parenthood, his home city of Miami and how the highway department in Oregon resorted to dynamite for removing an eight ton dead whale from a beach, much to the dismay of those who saw the animal’s remains quickly rain down.

The witty writer entertained a crowded Alumni Gym on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, sharing views of Miami, "the only place I've ever lived where driver's manuals show you how to give the finger" and where the city motto should be, "'Come back to Miami. We weren't shooting at you.'"

In a monologue on his career, the Haverford College alumnus told of getting a job as a small town Pennsylvania newspaper reporter shortly after college, only to find that while he loved writing, "I was terrible at the part where you had to ask people questions." After a brief break from newspapers, he resumed writing as a columnist for the Herald.

Barry entertained his audience in Alumni Gym for more than an hour.

Other topics included child rearing. Barry recommended to his audience that parents use embarrassment as a tool in their arsenal against adolescent rebellion. "Don't say 'you've disappointed me' or 'you're going to be grounded,' just start singing, 'there she was, just a walkin' down the street...!" he suggested, citing lyrics from the song "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" made popular in 1964 by the band Manfred Mann. Barry then proceeded to share how he arrived one day at his son's middle school driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile.

Citing one of his most popular columns of all time, Barry shared how he poked fun at the state of North Dakota years back when the state was bandying the idea of dropping "North" from its name as a way to re-brand itself in the face of a declining population. The column led the town of Grand Forks, N.D., to dedicate a sewer treatment facility in Barry's name.

"Do not mess with North Dakota," he joked.

Barry, 64, also was quick to offer advice to current Elon students. "Don't let them trick you into graduating," he said. "It's really bad out there! Keep changing majors. And when they run out of majors, hide in the shrubbery! Don't let them make you leave!"

Barry was introduced by Elon associate professor Drew Perry, author of This is Just Exactly Like You and a writer who was inspired to pursue a career with the written word in large part because of Dave Barry's newspaper columns. The only humor writer to win journalism’s top award, Barry won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988 “for his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.”

A native of Armonk, N.Y., Barry began his journalistic career as a reporter for the West Chester, Pa., Daily Local News shortly after his 1969 graduation from Haverford College. He once wrote that he decided to go into the newspaper business because as an English major he had experience “writing long, authoritative-sounding essays without any knowledge of my topic, which is of course the essence of journalism.”

A guest column he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer caught the eye of an editor in Miami, and in 1983, Barry relocated to South Florida to work as a humor columnist for The Miami Herald. He soon captured readers’ attention with his funny, yet insightful, life observations. By the time he ended the weekly feature in 2005, more than 500 newspapers carried his column. In retirement, Barry continues to blog for the Herald and write occasional articles, including his popular annual holiday gift guide and year-in-review columns.

Associate professor of English Drew Perry introduced Barry.

Barry has written or contributed to dozens of books and compilations. His first novel, Big Trouble, was made into a 2002 major motion picture, and the CBS comedy “Dave’s World” in the mid-1990s was based on two of his books. His latest book, I’ll Mature When I’m Dead, provides a candid exploration of adulthood from Barry’s perspective and covers topics like becoming a new father, self-image, dealing with celebrities, the battle of the sexes, vampires and social media.

Barry was the 10th guest in a series made possible in 2001 with an endowed gift from James H. and Jane M. Baird of Burlington, N.C., who were the first presidents of the Elon Parents Council. Their son, Macon, is a 1987 Elon graduate and their son-in-law, Michael Hill, earned his Elon degree in 1989.

Pulitzer Prize speakers in past years have included two-time guest David McCullough, Jon Meachem, George Will, Anna Quindlen, Thomas Friedman and David Halberstam. The Pulitzer Prizes, awarded each year since 1917, are the nation’s most prestigious awards in journalism and the liberal arts.

Eric Townsend,
10/12/2011 8:31 AM