Michael Sweeney, a professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University, died Saturday after an eight-year fight with cancer. He taught at OU for 12 years and touched the lives of countless students. Four students at The Post wanted to share their experiences with Sweeney, who made the Scripps School truly feel like home.
Bre Offenberger: I had Professor Sweeney for two classes: ethics and magazine feature writing. He amazed me in both.
Every class, I looked forward to his introductory slide, on which he would display one of his paintings while playing an older song that no one knew but should. His paintings, especially, always brought me this inexplicable joy. He didn't show them to class to humbly brag or flaunt how incredible he was at all the arts, but he did it to create this tranquil aura before we'd dive into hard-hitting topics. It was a lovely juxtaposition that never got old.
He was a professor who wasn't afraid to admit when he was wrong, who meant every word he ever said, who didn't belittle his students and genuinely wanted them to succeed, who checked all the boxes. He embodied that respectable and caring nature every day, even when it was evident he didn't feel well. Anyone who can teach through cancer, especially for that long, and still bring an unbelievable amount of infectious energy to every lecture deserves the world. I hope he knew we all appreciated him for doing that when he didn't have to.
Waking up Sunday morning to news of Sweeney's death felt like a blow to the chest. I never spoke to him outside of class, but he still made me feel special. My last interaction was when I emailed him my feature writing final to him, and he sent back comments with this message: "Here you go, Bre. I enjoyed this class immensely, and you are one of the reasons why. Thank you." I'll never forget that, and I'll never forget him and his overwhelming kindness.
Riley Runnells: There are hardly any human beings as incredible as Professor Sweeney.
His compassion for others, drive for learning and overwhelming smarts were present in every classroom, conversation and even every email. He was always so supportive of his students and did what most professors can’t do: went beyond classroom learning to act as a mentor.
I was fortunate enough to have Sweeney as a professor twice: once for the journalism ethics class and once for the magazine feature writing class. In both classes, he always took the time to answer every question, engage in every conversation (no matter how uncomfortable or difficult) and instill the importance of what we were learning to each and every student.
Apart from his intellect and passion for the subjects, Sweeney also shared with us the music he loves (especially Joni Mitchell, whom I can’t listen to now without thinking of him) and the art he loves, which were mostly paintings he had done on his own. He showcased vulnerability and the importance of it through this, inspiring students to be confident and proud of their own work and have the courage to publicly share it. Though I am still unsure whether or not this lesson in vulnerability and confidence was intended, I have a feeling Sweeney took every opportunity to impart wisdom and encouragement to his students — a tactic that both subconsciously and consciously impacted each student greatly.
But he was much more than just encouraging notes or inspiring conversations: Sweeney was one of the strongest people I have ever met. Though he was going through an immensely difficult battle with cancer that lasted over eight years, he never let it impact his positive attitude or dedication to his students. I remember when he told his students that he was going to stop teaching to focus on his cancer treatment and just how devastated he was to have to put the brakes on something he loved so much. Because if it were up to Sweeney, I can almost guarantee he would’ve kept teaching until the day he died.
The news of his death was nothing short of heartbreaking. To hear that this incredible man who had such a strong impact on me and everyone he met during his life was no longer alive makes us realize the reality of just how short life is, how important it is to show appreciation to those you love and what you’ll leave behind when you go.
Sweeney left behind a legacy of passion and kindness. Though he isn’t here anymore to inspire his students and colleagues to be kinder, work harder and emphasize empathy, those who he touched while alive will surely carry on that legacy and inspire others to always remember Sweeney and his one-of-a-kind, golden heart.
Noah Wright: Professor Sweeney had a positive impact in a terrible time.
I only had Professor Sweeney for one course, magazine feature writing. While I wouldn’t expect Sweeney to remember me or my work, I will certainly remember him for a long time.
I took his class in what was likely the worst semester most OU students have endured, fall 2020. While I had some incredible instructors during the online semester, it was hard to get excited or engaged. As the days spent in my room staring at blue light piled up, I found there was only one aspect of my education I was looking forward to on a daily basis, Professor Sweeney’s class.
Professor Sweeney approached the course with a combination of enthusiasm and compassion that was sorely needed in the midst of remote learning. Every second of the class was spent doing something beneficial, productive and usually interesting. He had a level of insight and knowledge in his field that you only encounter a few times in your years at Ohio University.
In the three semesters since, every time I went through the task of registering for the upcoming semester, I made sure to double and triple check the names of instructors in hopes I could again take a class taught by Professor Sweeney.
Like most of his students, I was aware of the situation, but hearing of his death still came as a heavy blow. Professor Sweeney is a man who has made a tremendous impact on countless students, and even though I only had a passing relationship with him, his impact will stick with me for a very long time.
Colin Mayr: While my time with Dr. Sweeney was brief, his impact on me was enormous.
As a photojournalism major, I don’t often interact with writing outside of the two sentences I will write when captioning my photos. I couldn’t tell you half of the AP Style rules. So, when it came time to pick feature writing as my junior composition course, I was a little nervous that I would be in way over my head. I chose Dr. Sweeney’s class because I had heard some good things about him from friends who took his class in the past. He lived up to and surpassed all expectations I had for the class.
Immediately from day one, I knew this would be a class that I would truly love. His attitude and passion for writing was infectious, and it immediately left an impact on me. He made writing fun. I left each class with a satisfaction I rarely have had at OU.
Outside of papers I would write for other classes, the only time I would write would be in weekly emails to my grandpa, where I would send photos from sporting events that I worked and write up all my thoughts of what happened. When it came to the first article we had to write for the class, I had no idea what style I had, so I just pretended the article I wrote was a weekly email to my grandpa. And Dr. Sweeney loved it. Granted, there were some critiques, but the positive reinforcement Dr. Sweeney would give would motivate me to write more and more.
As I said before, Dr. Sweeney’s feature writing class was one of a few classes at OU that I truly loved. The camaraderie of the class made for a fun environment. It felt like an open-floor discussion rather than a lecture which, for a writing-noob like me, made for a great environment.
Dr. Sweeney will truly be missed, and I’m thankful I was able to take his journalism class. When he announced his retirement to our class, I was truly heartbroken, as he was that great of a teacher, writer and person. Thank you for everything.
Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post.