Cooper Adams • Staff Writer
Derrick White walks through the Tyler Junior College art department with a quick, confident stride. Wearing worn jeans and a plaid button-up shirt, his appearance is simple. To outsiders, he could be anyone. To those in the art department, they know him as the department chair and a life ruiner.
White’s Converse sneakers pad against the painted concrete floor as he continues his mission. Students lounge on sofas in the lobby, and White makes sure to visit each one. Without a word, he hands them a sticker before walking away. Reactions to the stickers vary from student to student once they are read. White leaves laughter and confusion in his wake as some students chuckle and others raise eyebrows.
Weaving through the rooms, he gives everyone he meets at least one sticker from his stack. White makes his way into the painting studio, where he approaches art major Makayla Mahloch.
“Would you like a sticker?” he asks, holding one out.
Mahloch looks up from her painting and reviews White’s offer. She lets loose a warm laugh that fills the room.
The sticker, which is approximately 1-by-3 inches, is solid black with bold, white letters running across its face.
“DERRICK WHITE RUINED MY LIFE,” the sticker reads.
The walls of White’s office are lined with artwork, splashing color across an otherwise colorless room. Derrick White sits across from his daughter, UT Tyler student Jerri White, who perches on her stool in a cross-legged position. Another stack of stickers sits on his desk. A rack of T-shirts also proclaiming “DERRICK WHITE RUINED MY LIFE” stands in the corner of the room.
“The inside joke with students is that pursuing art has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Derrick said. “Aside from the birth of my children and my wife, that is.”
“Nice save,” Jerri said. She and her father share a knowing smile. Jokes like this are commonplace between them.
“He does everything he can to embarrass me,” Jerri said. “At one of my elementary awards ceremonies, he stood up when everybody was quiet, and he started to scream my name at the top of his lungs until I just ducked down and hid myself.”
Upon inspection, Derrick White seems to be an earnest man. Despite a serious demeanor, the wrinkles around his eyes show a history of laughter. His deadpan behavior is to be taken with a grain of salt.
“‘Derrick White ruined my life’ became a catch phrase when students would change their major to art because they got inspired,” Derrick said. “It’s what they really wanted to do as opposed to a different major for economic or practical reasons.”
In the painting studio, Mahloch focuses on her artwork. Small, meticulous lines of black ink are painted across white paper with care.
“When I became an art major, I found out that there was a lobby with a TV and a couch that you can hang out in,” Mahloch said. “Derrick and I would pass each other every day. I would just sit on the couch, and he would see me, but we never spoke to each other because I never spoke to him first.”
Mahloch now finds the awkward interactions funny and laughs at the memory. Her “Derrick White ruined my life” sticker lies on the table next to her.
“He has completely changed a lot of people’s lives and perspectives on art,” she said. “I love how there’s this joke that he made everybody’s life horrible.”
Derrick says he preaches the mantra of passion over profit because he too has faced the dilemma.
“It comes with pitfalls,” White said. “It can be financially precarious. [My family] has definitely had financial struggles, but I’ve never regretted the decision.”
Originally from the Texas panhandle, White studied advertising art at the University of North Texas.
“It was ingrained by society and [my] parents, that [I] had to make a living,” Derrick said.
After failing every category of his two-year advertising portfolio review, he changed his major to fine arts.
“I never looked back,” Derrick said. “I loved it ever since. After school and after I got married, we had Jerri. I started looking for a full-time teaching gig and eventually got the job here, so that’s why we moved to Tyler.”
Jerri holds one of her father’s stickers, running her thumb over the letters.
“He’s always been supportive about doing what you love and to not think about the money,” she said. “He went into an art career, so he kind of has to have that motto. “I think it’s neat that all of these students care about him so much and see him as an influence on their lives, but it’s done in a funny way.”
Derrick collects the stack of stickers on his desk.
“What I tell students when I ruin their lives, and they have to explain it to their parents is that they’re pursuing their own lives and dreams and goals,” he said. “If that’s what you really want to do with your life, then you can succeed in art just as easily or as challengingly as you could in anything else. It just takes perseverance and hard work.”
Derrick White stands from his chair and leaves his office, stickers in hand. There are still more lives to ruin.