When I sat down to write my final piece of the year, I had a couple goals in mind: thank my editors, thank my staff, thank my advisor, talk about how journalism taught me so much more than how to be a better writer (“it made me a better thinker”), throw in a couple of convoluted inside jokes that even the recipients don’t quite understand, et cetera. And don’t worry; that part is coming up.
But first I want to talk about toxic waste and Dougherty, and since I still am Editor-in-Chief at this point (Hi, Veronica) I’ve got the space to do it.
Dougherty is a toxic radiation zone. I mean it. Some kids come out of it with cool new spidey-abilities, but most just leave the area feeling a little nauseous and perplexed. See, the thing about nuclear radiation is that it takes years, decades, even, for the first few people to figure out they have been infected. For me, it took three and a half years and twice as many rejection letters. And peeking out of Dougherty’s bubble, I feel disillusioned.
What I learned from day one at Dougherty is that caring is equated with weakness. It’s not cool to like things that won’t boost your GPA or get you closer to your dream school. It’s not cool to pay attention during lectures, or be polite to strangers or appreciate school events.
That’s not to say there isn’t greatness at this school. I have had the pleasure of meeting teachers, faculty, administrators, custodial staff and peers who have made being here worth it. (For some reason, greatness radiates out of Room 1205, but if you consider what’s at the core of that, it’s not so strange after all). Unfortunately, everything decays into discussions over test point averages, AP classes, awards and acceptance letters.
I was, and am, just as bad as everyone else. I thought my time at Dougherty was one big competition. I didn’t feel good about a test score unless it was the highest. I wasn’t interested in extra learning unless there was extra-credit attached. My priorities were determined by SchoolLoop, College Confidential and College Board.
I am going to drop the toxic waste metaphor now, because it wasn’t that good. Dougherty is really like Oz. I’m still wearing the green goggles that show me what I want to see, because I’m too scared to live in a world where my worth is not determined by a number or three digits and a decimal. It’s not easy to take the glasses off and peer behind the curtain. But to those just starting out, understand that you are wearing the glasses. Please understand you can take them off.
Try to find one thing in your life that makes you happy to participate in it. For me, it was (and is) writing. It can be a sport, a class or just a really good pastrami sandwich. Just find something that acts as a parachute when you’re crashing downwards at maximum velocity towards a landfill of self-doubt.
Or don’t. I think one of the most infuriating things on this planet is unrequested advice. Wisdom, solace and justice can’t be found in someone else’s words.
I discovered these things in my journalism class. My editors range from tolerable to Herculaic under a deadline (boom, bang, 12:30 for all you original editors). Ms. Decker, you, not goat cheese, ‘is bae’. Veronica, I have absolute faith in your ability to lead. Everyone on the Tribune staff, you always knew how to pack a punch, literally, figuratively, verbally and precisely. I am so glad I got to know all of you. Journalism taught me so much more than how to be a better writer — it taught me how to be a better thinker. Journalism taught me how to care about things that are not directly dedicated to my resume.
I would give you all some parting words of wisdom, but I don’t think I’m any wiser than any of you. Actually, here are three things: Stay in school, don’t do drugs and support the Tribune. Everything else is up to you.