Lowe’s Last Class

2017-18 editors commemorate the man behind The Evanstonian.


Witt, Barbato, Lowe, Colton and Donati (from left) in 2017.

In the fall of 2017, Lowe and The Evanstonian staff published six issues together prior to Lowe’s early retirement in December of that year. Though Lowe was often absent due to recurring health issues, the staff was able to produce more issues than in a typical year as Lowe continued to push his students to create the best product possible, just like he had for the 30 years prior.

‘It was a true honor to be a part of the legacy he left’

By Harrison Witt

The Evanstonian, and journalism class in general, was composed of students who were of varied voices, backgrounds, perspectives, all sharing a communal allegiance and love for our leader: Rodney Lowe. 

Mr. Lowe’s contagious passion for journalism cultivated a classroom and newsroom community that was loyal and prideful.  He had a unique blend of leadership styles: leading by example through his dedication to students and being a vocal leader, striking a balance between wise, authority figure, and a compassionate supporter of his students. Walking into the layout room on Friday mornings, when the issue was released, brought me so much joy.  Mr. Lowe would sit in one of the black chairs, spinning side to side, with a wide smile on his face, deeply chuckling about some sort of conflict we ignited, or even just purely elated from holding a product that truly was his. 

His title on the masthead was “adviser,” but Mr. Lowe held roles that exceeded professional titles; he embodied The Evanstonian, complemented by a rotating crew of students who somehow produced quality newspaper after quality newspaper. I’m sure Evanston students are talented, but that consistency of high-quality journalism was no coincidence. 

Mr. Lowe blended the art of writing and his personal science of it (precise, consistency in his criticisms and style he expected from us). This method, incorporating his own personal flair, contributed to his defined success as an adviser. Mr. Lowe loved his accolades; he was competitive, and this brought the best out of us. Never in my life did I imagine my competitive streak arising from writing headlines, an activity he took me aside to practice like it was the World Series. On our journey to state together, which has a novel’s worth of stories pertaining to Mr. Lowe including driving the bus on the highway with the doors open (“Folks! I drive four hours a day; I can handle this!”), my desire to win was permeated by a will to impress and fulfill Mr. Lowe’s goals. Though I didn’t win (causing a brief  side-eye, silent treatment — Jordan-esque, fitting with his classic Bulls jacket), he bettered us with his practices and high expectations. 

Along with his earnestness towards his craft, came a sense of humor, bellowing laugh that often reached tears, and eccentricity that made class so enjoyable. We had joke-telling on Friday’s; he enjoyed jokes at his expense, and would even laugh hysterically under his desk from jokes that would be impermissible on network TV.  He was an absolute joy to be around and exuded an energy, fueled by his belly laugh, that maintained a vibrancy in his classroom. Mr. Lowe did things big: he loved his large trophies, he often donned pastel vests and shirts, his powerpoints and emails featured enormous, bolded words and transitions to accentuate his points, he spoke loudly and with vigor, his personality filled the entire room. 

The magnitude of all these paled in comparison to the impact he had on me as a person. Vital lessons I learned from Mr. Lowe that transcend writing is to be an advocate, is to fight for what you believe in, and never hesitate to question authority. Through a turbulent senior year with The Evanstonian, Mr. Lowe did just that, and it was a true honor to be a part of the legacy he left.

Rodney Lowe, Superhero

By Michael Colton

It’s 10 pm on a Thursday. You’re careening down I-55 in a pouring rainstorm in an ETHS mini-bus driven by Mr. Rodney Lowe. The back exit door won’t close, nor will the roof-latch. You, the whole Evanstonian IHSA state-competition team, and all your luggage are sitting in 3 inches of water. You watched Mr. Lowe earn permission to drive this bus just five hours ago. And you’re having the time of your life.

That true story from a couple of years ago captures all I could hope to put to words about Mr. Lowe. It’s all there: his sometimes haphazard planning, his determined direction of The Evanstonian staff, his insistence on turning a crisis into a lifelong lesson. That treacherous trip down to Charleston, IL, first taught me the necessity of checking the functionality of your vehicle before leading it through a thunderstorm. More importantly, more simply, it taught me the most valuable lesson I learned as a high school student: trust Mr. Lowe, and he’ll take you anywhere you can make it. 

Trust, to Mr. Lowe, was paramount. Trust your editor. Trust yourself. Trust the fundamentals. Trust your right to speak. Offer your full faith to these things, to your own improvement as a writer and person, and Mr. Lowe would reciprocate with nothing less than his full-fledged support for your words, your ideas, and your battles. Trust in his concern for your best option, in his dedication to journalistic professionalism and ethics, and you’d be backed at all times by an unwavering, unmoveable ally. 

The lesson in trust, ethics, and style came in early fall for all of Mr. Lowe’s classes. The AP style-powerpoints, journalistic ethics case-studies, and team-building clipart, and the class’s open commentary on their goofiness, were a requisite part of Journalism as taught by Mr. Lowe. For all of the laughs in those moments, however, the lesson of their importance always arrived, either through accolades and celebration or hard-fought justice. 

I landed at that moment of recognition in my senior year, as a co-executive editor for the paper. In our third issue of the year, our In-Depth staff published a series of articles and infographics relating to marijuana use by ETHS students. In the weeks leading up to the issue, the entire team worked closely with Mr. Lowe to research, fact-check, and create pieces with zero bias or editorializing. As the issue came out, the whole staff proudly anticipated the school’s reaction to our diligent, creative reporting. The whole staff trusted our In-Depth writers, trusted the value of their work and the truth in their reporting. So when the issue was taken out of distribution by the administration on the same day it was released, the whole staff fought back. 

That day, our entire class periods were spent sidelined with the issue confiscation. By instinct, Mr. Lowe’s writers and students knew that we had been wronged by the administration, that a pre-approved selection of articles can’t be revoked after our hard work had gone into them. That’s not how journalism worked, not how Mr. Lowe had taught us. So, over the next three weeks, in Mr. Lowe’s absence due to his health, we all behaved as if our chief mission was to right the wrongs done onto our writers. We contacted the school board, spoke to civil rights attornies, and met with the school administration all without Mr. Lowe being in the office, all because he taught us to believe we deserved better. No other teacher or person I’ve ever known could have inspired a group of teenagers into a civil-rights debate without even telling them it was necessary. No other teacher so thoroughly instilled his principles into his students as to prepare them for a fight against the school. Nobody but Mr. Lowe could push you to write the hard truth, inspire you to defend it, and coach you through the process all without being in the same room as you. Trust in Mr. Lowe’s operation, by those within it, gave me my proudest moment as a journalist and student. 

I’m sure we could count thousands of moments, across hundreds of students, that have reinforced Evanston’s trust in the Rodney Lowe project. However, the very persistence of his project over the final years of his career ought to have been all the reinforcement we needed. Throughout health difficulties and family responsibility, through a move to Central Indiana and through years of 2-hour commutes, Rodney Lowe never wavered in his dedication to his students and his staff, in his drive to inspire trust and dauntlessness in all those around him. The herculean task of building The Evanstonian was undertaken by a man with the strength of a superhero. Under no other conditions could our paper have emerged as an enduring, unifying staple of Evanston. We trusted Mr. Lowe with our student’s voices, and he built a stage for generations to come. 

Mr. Lowe, you can ask any of his students from any generation, was certifiably himself. There’s no other way to frame his dedication — obsession — with coaxing the very maximum out of his newspaper and, more dramatically, his students. For decades, Mr. Lowe commuted 2+ hours to school each day and still breathed life into every classroom and newsroom he occupied. Mr. Lowe, for 30+ years, WAS The Evanstonian. But to say that The Evanstonian defined Mr. Lowe would be a gross understatement. He was, if nothing else, unbreakably committed to the principles of journalistic ethics and honesty; those values, while a good blueprint for his absolute dedication to rightness, only scratch the surface of Mr. Lowe’s lifelong pursuit of excellence and happiness for those around him. What so firmly imprints his presence in the mind of all his former students and colleagues, is the undeniable feeling that, at all times, Mr. Lowe wanted nothing but the best for you and your work. Dr. Campbell and the rest of the ETHS administration will be the first to remember his willingness to stand and fight on behalf of his students. I will be the last to forget it, the last to lose trust in his mission. 

Rest in peace Mr. Rodney Lowe, a mentor, and so much more, to countless Evanstonians. He once told me his favorite song was “Loveland” by Charles Wright and the 103rd Street Rhythm Band; I recommend giving it a listen in his name, it sums up pretty well the overwhelming sense of purpose and pride that one would take on in Mr. Lowe’s presence.

By Katy Donati and Matt Barbato

Mr. Lowe was an amazing educator, mentor, and friend. He had a larger than life personality and an unmatched passion for teaching. A true journalist, Mr. Lowe taught us to ask difficult questions and to bravely face the truth head-on, even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. He stood by us. His door was always open, and he was always there to listen and support.

The best thing about Mr. Lowe? The way he fostered creativity and growth. He often walked into class exuding energy, frantically waving his arms and pacing around the room, talking faster than anyone could comprehend. He often proposed seemingly outrageous ideas, questioning the status quo and challenging us to keep up. And, somewhere along the way, those crazy ideas took hold. They spurred each of us to think differently and consider the possibilities. Mr. Lowe and his ideas put each one of us on a path to grow into someone we hoped would make him proud.

‘Thank you, Rodney Lowe. The world is not the same without you.’

By Katy Donati

As I think about Mr. Lowe’s impact on my life, I can’t believe that I was in his class for just three years. I joined the paper on a whim. I was an ok writer and thought it might balance out my other classes and sports. By the end of my senior year, the paper had become my biggest extracurricular commitment. Mr. Lowe unlocked the journalist in me, made me a much better writer and person, and brought me into a community I can’t imagine not being a part of.

It wasn’t an easy journey. That’s not how Mr. Lowe rolled. I still remember my first draft article covering the “Boy’s Golf Season Opener” (an assignment I would learn that I got because I didn’t know how to write). It came back from Mr. Lowe covered in red pen, messy scribbling all over the page, paragraphs crossed out. I had maybe one sentence of my own left to work with. I was discouraged and ready to quit. Mr. Lowe knew that. He was ready for me, and he wasn’t going to let me give up that easy. With the blunt, sassy positivity I came to know and love, Mr. Lowe sat with me to help me edit that piece into a passable story. He did that piece after piece, pushing me to dig deeper, helping me find what I didn’t know was in me. He pushed and prodded me from sports to features and in-depth.

And, he didn’t stop there. He connected me with other students who could serve as mentors and invited me to attend layout sessions where he taught me in-design and how to edit other student’s stories. There were so many frantic afternoons and weekends rushing to get the paper in under the deadline. I’m sure that having me and other inexperienced writers in the room slowed us down and ate into his evening and weekend time, but he never let that stop him from giving us opportunities. It was Mr. Lowe who saw potential I didn’t and whose belief in me landed me the role of executive editor, one of my most rewarding high school experiences.

That’s the thing about Rodney Lowe. He doesn’t give up. He was so courageous and outspoken, so sure that anything was possible. He taught me to see the world differently, to separate fake news from facts, and to recognize and set aside personal biases in pursuit of solutions and truth. He gave me the confidence to lead, the courage to speak up and out, and to live every day to the fullest. Thank you, Rodney Lowe. The world is not the same without you.

Donati and Lowe in 2017.

‘His wise words will continue to guide me for the rest of my days’

By Matt Barbato

I met Mr. Lowe for the first time in our 3rd period Journalism class on the first day of my freshman year. I took the class reluctantly, having no idea whether journalism would be something I enjoyed. By the end of that first semester, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a part of The Evanstonian, and work alongside Uncle Rodney as much as I possibly could.

As sophomores, Katy and I were Sports Editors. We both played multiple sports at ETHS, so this was a very comfortable and enjoyable position for us. We were hoping to hold that same position again junior year, but Mr. Lowe had a different idea. He pulled us into his office before the end of the year, and I’ll never forget the conversation that followed. He unexpectedly suggested that we each write for a different section. He explained how important it was for us to get out of our comfort zones and diversify our abilities as journalists, which he knew would help us become more dynamic leaders and, more importantly, more dynamic people. In one conversation, Mr. Lowe taught me that I needed to invest in myself and make choices that would help me to grow as a person, not just have fun or get by. It is a conversation he had with many students in many different ways. Mr. Lowe was unwavering in his dedication to pushing every single one of his students to their highest potential.

Mr. Lowe’s passion for The Evanstonian was unmatched and contagious, but he was SO much more than the newspaper. There was truly never a dull moment. Rodney made me laugh every single day, even when he was in a crabby mood. He made every student feel safe, welcomed, challenged, and above all else appreciated. Mr. Lowe ensured that there was no hierarchy in his classroom and that every idea was welcomed with open arms. I will never forget current events quizzes on Fridays, getting my drafts torn apart by his iconic red pen, or the legendary candy jar in the middle drawer of his file cabinet.

RIP to the most incredible educator I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths with. Mr. Lowe was truly larger than life. His wise words will continue to guide me for the rest of my days, and I know that the Evanston community will find ways to keep his name alive forever.

‘His work planted the seeds for my work to grow, and for that, I am grateful’

By Carrington “Onyx” York 

When I first met Mr. Lowe, I was a high school freshman entering the ominous waters that is the first semester. Soon I’d realize that my attempt to fulfill the elective requirement with what I thought would be an easy journalism class would, under his advisership, change the course of my whole life.

That first year of class, I had entered a new kind of class environment. Each class period was held with industry standards in mind. I remember thinking to myself, “Who is this passionate about news?” As I reflect, I can now understand that his passion was not reserved exclusively for the publication but for uplifting his students’ voices. He was passionate about us and what we had to say. He would remind us that we’re not writing for ourselves, we are writing because “people are going to read this!” signifying that if we were going to have an impact on the community, we had better put our best foot forward or not put one forth at all.

Lowe made sure that we were prepared to not only pitch our ideas but defend our vision, no matter how unconventional. At the time, my vision was simply to pass class and but he saw something greater for me. By my junior year, I found my voice in opinion writing. Lowe reminded me to be unapologetic yet responsible with my writing. As a Black woman, I would learn to apply this delicate balance to almost everything in life. 

Presently, as a B.A. Journalism candidate and mentor to first-generation college students, I can honestly say that I have never understood Mr. Lowe’s vison more than I do now. His work planted the seeds for my work to grow, and for that, I am grateful. 

Rodney Lowe’s legacy lies not only within the archives of The Evanstonian but within the work ethic, integrity and hearts of his former students. His rejection of mediocrity is what made him a great teacher. His energy is what made him unforgettable.

‘His classroom provided me with a feeling of belonging’

By Margo Levitan

“Mr. Lowe passed away.” When I received the message, I could not believe it. For some reason, the words felt impossible. How could the world keep existing without the one and only Rodney Lowe? His presence was still so clear in my memory. Newspaper clippings still fluttered around the classroom, highlighting everything from Obama being elected president to a cartoon clipping he found humorous. The numerous state trophies earned under his direction were still proudly displayed, a physical reminder of the love and passion that Mr. Lowe had for his craft. I could feel the material of the worn office couch he would sometimes sleep on, the two-hour drive home across state lines proving too much after yet another long night editing. I still hear him calling the newspaper publisher to announce that our issue would be late this month (“it won’t happen again,” he said every issue), and feel his loud infectious laugh as it reverberated around the room.   

When I moved to Evanston the summer before high school, my counselor suggested joining the paper to get to explore the school and get to meet staff and students alike. Little did I know, the next four years would prove to be so much more than that. Although labeled an elective, The Evanstonian was more like a family than a class. Our long hours at layout and endless group coffee runs created a bond stronger than any other, with our bickering sounding more like siblings than peers, and inside jokes that stay with me to this day (Scott Jones, anyone?). Although my enrollment in the course forced me to attend summer school to fulfill graduation requirements, I did not care. The paper, and the experience that Mr. Lowe helped foster, was just too much fun to ever give up.

Despite all of this, this family could not have been possible without Rodney Lowe. Although impossibly cheesy, he was somewhat of a father figure for all of us. While he did not shy away from dishing out some necessary tough love, he still ensured that every single one of us felt unique and cared for. He would take note of every staff member’s birthday, making sure to place an envelope with a specialized card and small gift on our desk on the special day. I still warmly remember a CD that he gave me, paired with an especially kind card. Although long-shelved away, something tells me that the candy jar on his desk is still warm from our hands reaching in every Friday to pick out a goodie that Mr. Lowe would pick up earlier that week. Ranging from Hershey’s to Kit Kats to lollipops, these snacks provided comfort during the hardest of weeks. While it might not seem like much, that classroom provided me with a feeling of belonging that I could seldom find anywhere else as a new student. 

Nevertheless, it was Rodney Lowe’s bravery that struck me the most. No matter if he was facing the highest level of administration, a diminishing budget, or edgy article topics that most other teachers would stray from, Mr. Lowe was never afraid. He encouraged us to stay curious, keep digging and follow our intuition and investigative spirit through any roadblock. Although The Evanstonian may have been labeled a lot of things throughout the years, “fluff piece” was not one of them. 

Mr. Lowe inspired us to produce the best works that we could, accepting nothing but the highest quality. He believed in us more than we believed in ourselves, and it allowed us to unlock potential that would not have been otherwise possible. His passion and enthusiasm about the paper was infectious, igniting a fire within all of his students to keep on pushing. The paper was not just a job for him, as it was not just a class for us. He made us feel like the paper was not just something to fill with meaningless content and mindlessly put out every three weeks. It was a piece of art, a collaborative effort where everyone had a place to explore, voice their opinions and scope out news from every corner of the school. It was impactful.

However, at the end of the day, Rodney Lowe is so much more than a teacher to all of us. He is an anchor. He represents the neverending plight for truth, no matter the consequences. Although it’s easy to cry when such a light is lost, that’s not what Uncle Rodney would have wanted. No matter where he is, I am sure that he is still humming along to his favorite soul music, finding impossibly small mistakes in the newspaper copy, and providing a hug on a really hard day. He is one of a kind, a truly unique and special man that is not afraid to be unequivocally himself. Anyone who ever had the pleasure of spending time with Rodney Lowe was sure to never forget it.

While no longer physically with us, a man like that lives within any and every single person that he came into contact with. As an educator of over 30 years, he changed hundreds of student lives, including mine. Whether it be in a slightly inappropriate joke, an impossibly moving newspaper article, or a Hershey kiss, Mr. Lowe’s spirit continues to live on, causing healthy mischief along the way. Rest in peace. Wherever you are, thank you so much, Rodney Lowe. We miss and appreciate you.