Interestingly, after I just wrote about one of my main drives to start the blog yesterday — my desire to preserve my older writings by “digitizing” them here because I was worried about websites no longer hosting them — I realized, I ought to start preserving some of my college newspaper columns, and what better one to start with than the final one? In fact, my only access to it now is through the Wayback Machine, which shows you why I’ve been wanting to get my “clips” to my website.
Long story short, my first fascination with newspapers came not through news or sports, but through the opinion section (and the comics!). I was an avid reader of economist Walter Williams in my local Hamilton Journal every Sunday. From there, eventually, I carried that interest over into writing my own opinion column, first for the high school newspaper, then for the regional college campus, and finally, for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I was quite fortunate to write a column for all of those years, especially on the main campus, with quite a bit of latitude on what I wrote about — sort of like this blog! Interestingly, thanks to one of my fabulous Opinion Editors, the last year or so of my column, I began writing more personal columns instead of the usual political/cultural musings. I think that pivot proved fruitful then, and into the future. The last column is a product of that.
This last column was published on May 6, 2016, and titled, “An old couch, an unfinished novel, and a few editors: Integral pieces of an ongoing journey.” For the record, like most writers, I did not create the title, and I would not normally do one that long.
I cringe at reading anything I’ve previously written, even if it was five weeks ago, much less somehow six years ago. Goodness. That’s a whole blog post in and of itself. For the longest time, I truly never thought I’d finish college, and now, I’ve been out of college for six years.
And yes, six years later, the “unfinished novel” part still holds, albeit misleadingly so: Unfinished implies that it was started, just not finished, whereas I have not even started.
Ugh, okay, I read the column. I would like to add: I would change a lot about this not just stylistically and grammatically, but content-wise, but alas, I could say that about anything I’ve written. But more importantly, I still greatly admire all of the people mentioned in here, and all of them have gone on to continue to do badass journalism, or other ventures. I’m lucky to have known them, and occasionally, still interact with them.
I miss those days in the dungeon, as much as they heightened my social anxiety, because they ended up being a formative experience that I believe in hindsight helped me with the years that followed up to the present. I was lucky to be surrounded by incredibly bright, ambitious peers.
In the fall of 2009, I wrote my dad a letter saying I wasn’t going straight to college after high school.
Instead, I needed time to “find myself” and write a novel. I had grandiose plans to be on the New York Times best-seller list before I was 18.
But I underestimated how infantile my writing was then and how much growing up I needed.
The book never materialized and so, just as Barack Obama was getting sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, I started at Miami on the Hamilton campus.
My first first three years at Miami are hazy and difficult to remember, — like that bit of brain fog I get before coffee sweeps it aside, but there are moments that penetrate the fog.
That time I debated my political science professor in my first semester of college about Social Security, — I was a fresh libertarian. And that time shortly after where she told me to be quiet in front of the class. I never did take a political science class again.
That time the nursing department used one of my columns from the now-defunct Hamilton campus student newspaper, The Hamilton Harrier, as a final exam. I wrote a column comparing voters to schizophrenics.
That time I wrote a story in my fiction class about a school shooting, which, in hindsight, seems like poor judgment.
In March 2012, I started taking classes on the Oxford campus and working for The Miami Student as the Online Editor, under the stipulation that I didn’t need to know how to code.
These last four years with The Student are when I believe I shed my shy teenage skin for my still-shy adult skin.
Back when I first started, The Student was in the basement of MacMillan.
The small room, despite the long table in the middle, had a grungy vibe to it.
Past editions of the paper were strewn everywhere, and there was an old couch in the left corner that looked like it had seen some stuff that would make the most grizzled reporter’s neck hair fray.
On the back wall, we kept notes of all the crazy things editors would say in our closed-off dungeon. It didn’t take long for me to pine to have my words christened on that wall.
However, the most beautiful sight to me, but also the most intimidating, was the scores of computers curling around the long table with students — journalists — click-clacking away, excitedly writing up a story or discussing it.
I was hooked immediately by the journalism-y bug permeating the room and by these fellow students who just seemed so adult to me.
They were running a newspaper, after all!
Lauren Ceronie was the first editor I worked under and the one who hired me.
She had a trait I would come to see in the editors who followed her: the ability to command the newsroom and the people within it.
Lauren also set the trend for giving me great latitude, which I was somehow fortunate to receive under every editor after her.
You see, even though I loved the newsroom vibe and the chatter, I was also competing with the social anxiety part of my brain. And that part of my brain was terrified of large groups. As such, I often came into the newsroom at 11 p.m. or later to do my online duties.
This meant I tended to be closer with the higher-ranking editors who stayed in the office until the early hours of the morning. It also meant I would awkwardly not recognize other reporters, the designers and so forth.
What I miss about Lauren is what I dubbed the “vagina monologues.”
She and the other female editors would often talk about such things in these early hours without any thought to my presence. Often this would then allow me the opportunity to chime in with a zinger and an attempt to get on the wall.
After Lauren was Katie Taylor.
Katie has said that she started the position of editor unsure of herself.
Even so, it didn’t take her long to appear confident in the role and assume the ability to command the newsroom.
And in time, she, as all new editors do, shifted the Student to reflect her image of it and her direction for it, vying for a better online presence and going after more hard-hitting stories.
When I think of Katie, I think of someone with the ability to apply nuanced, unconventional thinking to journalism and who isn’t afraid to go against the crowd, meaning sometimes her fellow journalists.
I also fondly remember her passion and interest in craft beers. Her campus apartment had a beautiful mosaic of craft beer cases.
Continuing in Katie’s tradition, but somehow taking the Student to even gutsier places, Reis Thebault came in as editor next. Although, I must include Emily Tate within that dynamic, as I always viewed them as a badass duo.
Reis and Tate pushed more out of scouring records and taking on the Greek system — something perpetually unpopular.
With Reis, I mostly think of how unassuming he is when you talk to him. In other words, he has that perfect journalist trait of getting people to talk to him.
Oh, and his man bun. It’s hard to think of Reis without picturing it.
Emily is fearless and subtly fierce in her reporting and writing. When I did newswriting, I’d still get a little nervous about her editing my articles and thinking they were crap.
Now the Student is under James Steinbaurer’s leadership and, as with the previous editors I’ve had the privilege of working under, I’m excited to see the new direction he takes The Student.
From what I know of him, as one of the most earnest and genuine people I’ve met, he’s going to continue the Student’s push for hard-hitting journalism established by his predecessors.
While I enjoyed my role as Online Editor and as the occasional reporter, I love this right here: opinion writing.
I’m going to miss having a weekly or twice-weekly space and platform to say whatever I want. As with the Online Editor position, my opinion editors over the years have given me great latitude.
This is especially the case when it comes to my inability for brevity. I remember when 750 words was the ceiling.
But when I first started as a columnist four years ago, I had little self-awareness.
My thought process in writing this column was that I lay down the ink and the ink somehow gets transmitted to readers’ eyeballs. It was a one-way relationship and I was the facilitator.
It took former Opinion Editor Amanda Hancock to help me to realize this was the wrong path to take.
That, as it turns out, I should care what my readers think and are interested in reading, and one way of doing that was to get more personal.
Instead of being the isolated, unreachable Cormac McCarthy-type of writer, I could open up my writing, like a vein, to the world.
Which ultimately made sense to me, as I’ve always viewed writing as Hemingway did: coming to the typewriter to bleed.
In fact, if you look back at my ink trail, you can see at the precise moment Hancock’s influence entered (a September, 2014 column about my fear of public speaking).
Hancock’s influence made me more self-aware, which I believe made my column-writing better. I’m grateful to her for that.
Granted, it could be the case that people are just as disinterested in my fear of public speaking, as they are that President Obama droned 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in 2011.
But at least the writing would be more honest and real and at times, hopefully reflect the experiences fellow students were going through.
There are always going to be detractors of what the Student does. To be certain, some of the constructive criticism I’ve heard over the years I understand.
I also understand that it’s difficult to write a piece from inside The Student praising the work of The Student, as it seems like sanctimonious back-patting and like I’m delivering the perspective from my journalism perch.
But what I don’t understand is the people that tell us in comment sections they regret having written for The Student or that they are taking The Student off of their resumes.
I’m thankful for the Student.
Without The Student, I’m not sure what my Miami experience — that elusive, vague yearning for meaning beyond learning — would have been like.
In my time as Online Editor under Lauren, Katie, Reis, Emily and James’ leadership, and the other section editors, I looked up to them, even though — because I’ve been at Miami since the Harding administration — I was typically a few years older than them.
Through them and The Student, I think I also “found myself.”
And that is someone who aspires to be the journalists they are, as I move on from Miami and set my musings down somewhere else.