"I'm flying high over Tupelo, Miss., with America's hottest band -- and we're all about to die."
Actually, not quite, but I've wanted to start an article like that since the first time I saw "Almost Famous." And with this being my final column, I figured I wouldn't have the unparalleled freedom I have enjoyed on these pages any time soon, if ever. And neither will you.
It has been an honor and a privilege to hold this position -- which is ironic because the first opinion article I ever penned was not by my own volition. It was spring of my freshman year, and the head of the journalism department where I worked, professor Steve Nash, asked me when I was going to write something for The Collegian.
"When I'm actually on staff?" I said.
He shook his head and smiled. "Anyone can write for The Collegian," he said, "in the opinion section."
I immediately did not like where this conversation was headed. My stomach practically knit itself a baby blanket as he set a business card in front of me. He said to send him an opinion article about climate change, and to start my research by calling the man on the card.
My opinion. Written by me. With my name and picture on it. How. Incredibly. Embarrassing.
I dreaded calling the man on the card. I dreaded writing the article. I dreaded receiving Professor Nash's comments. I dreaded submitting it to the opinion editor. I dreaded seeing it in print. I dreaded my peers reading it.
The most dreadful moment surfaced in CORE class -- shocker -- when my professor mentioned something she recently had read by one of our classmates. I felt sick as I saw her produce The Collegian from beneath her books.
Time slowed as she caught my eye while she raised my article in front of the class. Heart pounding, I tried to give her the oh-my-god-no-please-put-that-down-and-never-speak-of-it-again hand gesture, but apparently that hasn't taken off like the peace sign yet, nor been marketed on clothes, bags, jewelry and every other imaginable surface.
At the time, there was something so vulnerable about revealing my opinion; I felt much cooler when no one knew what I was thinking. Now, my editors can't keep me under 1,000 words, and I thank Professor Nash for challenging me in a direction I didn't even know I wanted to go.
My path to the University of Richmond followed a similar trajectory. When my sister suggested I apply here, I recoiled in disgust. "But I'm arachnophobic," I said.
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When I found out it was the only school I got into, I sobbed for days, the regrettable product of our society's silly quest for the Ivy League, obsession with reputation and impossible standards we hold ourselves and others to.
But, as I told the high school seniors who had the misfortune of encountering my roommate and me after The Cellar on St. Patrick's Day as we tried to barter our knowledge for the mountains of ice cream at their prospective scholars function, you'll do more work and have more dedicated faculty and staff at Richmond than at any Ivies you're considering. And probably a lot more fun too.
But I'll never forget my Dad's perspective before I knew all this: "Don't be upset that the other schools wait-listed or rejected you. As the most indecisive person I know, you should be grateful the choice was made for you. Richmond has presented itself as where you're supposed to be."
And indeed, it has been. Considering these two anecdotes, the most valuable lesson I have learned from the opinion section and Richmond is that everything happens how it's supposed to. We don't always, or even usually, know what's best for us. The faster we realize this, the faster we'll get on the path we need to explore.
At the same time, we can't live life lying down. When we sincerely believe in, want or agree/disagree with something, we owe it to ourselves and others to speak up and not be afraid to stand by our opinions. But the prerequisites are paying attention and asking questions -- not merely accepting that how things are is the way they should be.
Luckily, I know just the lovely little pasture in which to practice this participation: The Collegian opinion section. As I wrote in my first column as opinion editor:
"What you write has the chance to be printed 4,000 times. It will never be easier to be published than here in college, and, as alarmists cry, newspapers might be dead before you get another shot. And with The Collegian online, your opinion can spread faster than campus gossip of whom you'll hook up with tonight or 'who got fat while abroad.' ... Detect what makes you tick, or what ticks you off ... and respond."
I used the wrong e-word when recounting my freshman encounter with the opinion section. Expressing your opinion is not embarrassing -- it's empowering.
We are fortunate to have a legitimate forum independent from the school in which we can express ourselves in a paper that people actually read. I'll never forget my friend from home's response when I was fretting about how nervous I was to go back to school this year and have to think of something to write about every week, "Don't worry, no one reads the paper anyway."
From that moment, I was grateful that our school does, so thank you for picking up The Collegian every week or reading it online to make that true. To the readers who make it to this point every week in my excessively long columns, thank you for validating the 24 weeks this year's staff and I have spent on The Collegian. To anyone who has approached me, e-mailed me, texted me, commented online, etc., thank you for giving me the confidence to continue. Our staff can work as much as we want, but it is those actions and interactions that kindle any meaning.
For example, it was only after a classmate stopped me in D-Hall to say she liked that first article freshman year that I was able to overcome my naive embarrassment. I didn't want to leave my room after my first column last year until a former opinion staffer e-mailed me that he liked it. Special thanks since then to Leigh Ann West, my quasi-Mel from "Flight of the Conchords," except I've never met you and actually appreciate your continuous support.
Thank you to my family for cultivating my interest in what's going on around me and putting up with any details I have exposed, my godmother for always encouraging my writing and my grandparents for being my biggest fans.
Thank you to my journalism professors -- Spear for getting me on staff by passing on your penchant for copy editing, Mullen for making my first three classes worthwhile and your paternal mercy in Colloquium, Nash for sparking my opinions and counseling me on conscionable decision-making and Hodierne for demanding clear writing.
Most of all, thank you to The Collegian staff. I felt unsatisfied with the "work-hard-play-hard" Richmond way of life until finding my niche within a group with the perfect balance of both. I have considered myself inordinately lucky to be surrounded by people who similarly see the thrill in debating the subtle intricacies between "as," "since" and "because" during Wednesday's wee hours.
Barrett Neale and Emily Baltz, thank you for giving me free reign and supporting all my decisions. My assistant opinion editors, Liz Monahan and Kiara Lee, thank you for every hour of hard work. Design editors, thank you for luring readers to the section with your stunning graphics.
Copy assistants, thank you for making my columns readable and putting up with the length and awkward constructions I can't seem to escape. My No. 1 copy editors, Barrett, Jacki and Jill, thank you for the extreme care and impressive dedication you've shown in your constant willingness to give my columns another read, work with me to clarify my writing, and unearth the movie quote and quote of the week when all you want to do is go to bed.
To my personal copy editor, Molly Peter English, thank you for giving me the confidence to execute my ideas by previewing my columns every week and committing your unwavering support and wise suggestions. Your approval has mitigated my insecurities, and your excitement for my position has made even my mistakes feel like successes. Because you pointed out that I was the first female opinion editor in some time, I hope you and everyone will congratulate Liz and Kristy Burkhardt, our new opinion duo.
Liz, thank you for starting and ending with me. You accomplish what I try to in a third of the space, and knowing the section is in good hands will assuage my Collegian separation anxiety. New staff, thank you for staying on or joining The Collegian -- enjoy every painstaking minute.
Last but not least, thank you, columnists and guest contributors, for doing what I hope everyone will have the confidence to do throughout their lives, no matter what their chosen medium: expressing their opinions. Please embrace the unparalleled chance you have here to start.
GPAs, Greek affiliations, clothes and jobs are the unfortunate things the Richmond culture has appraised as important. But without our own opinions, who cares?
To keep with "Almost Famous": "The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool. Listen, my advice to you -- and I know you think these guys are your friends -- if you want to be a true friend to them, be honest and unmerciful."
Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at firstname.lastname@example.org
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