Freshman year me was cooler than I remember her being.
What I remember are the late nights in the office of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian — me, speaking to nobody unless I had to, diligently editing the news stories for the night, putting together my page layout, checking it and checking it again and then re-checking the mistakes. I always left around midnight.
I remember telling my new floormates that it was tiring but it was what I had to do if I wanted to be a journalist.
I remember I had a plan: I would start as a news assistant, apply to be a head editor (probably news), move up to managing editor and maybe, if my luck continued, even be editor-in-chief my senior year.
Until I realized maybe I didn’t want to do journalism.
Last week, I received the letter I wrote to my future self in the beginning of freshman year as part of the “Journalism Success” class I took for the major. I didn’t remember writing that at all. Before opening it I was sure that it was going to be a mini essay about my goals to intern for big news organizations — probably something about working at the New York Times one day or traveling overseas for investigative reporting.
I’ve always been someone who likes structure, so when my studies gravitated toward public health and I found myself in the very crowded boat of college students who actually have no idea what they want to do with their life, I was panicking. I could look at anyone else around me and say it was perfectly fine if they weren’t sure what they wanted to do. But I’d had a plan.
Staying with the Collegian is the greatest part of that plan I could’ve held onto. Between freshman year and senior year, as a news writer, an assistant editor, a head editor, a columnist, a copy editor and the “den mother” of that wonderful dusty office, I’ve gained memories and experience I’ll carry closely with me no matter what I end up doing. I’ve learned that I don’t really see the things I value most until I’ve stopped focusing on self-made structures. I’ve learned how much I do love journalism, how complicated it is to have such overwhelming admiration for a field and yet not be sure whether you’re going to stay a part of it.
These are some of the hardest working people I know. They are devoting countless hours behind the computer editing and writing. They are dropping everything to report breaking news, traveling 90-plus miles to cover sports games, sacrificing sleep to keep this paper running strong. They are full-time students and most of them work without pay.
They are also some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had. They’re thoughtful and genuine people who have supported me unconditionally and kept me laughing on long nights. I love this family more than words can explain.
I stayed with the Collegian because I still don’t know what I want, but I know this paper has a history that goes well over a century back and I couldn’t be happier I’ve been a part of it. I know these past four years wouldn’t have been nearly the same without it.
When I got my letter back from freshman year me, dated September 9, 2013, I was expecting to hear all the goals and ambitions of an overeager freshman joining the journalism major. I was expecting a full page or two of frantic scribbling about my plan.
Instead, it was two short paragraphs. This is what I wrote to myself eight semesters ago:
“I don’t want to have strict expectations for the future. Right now I just finished my first week at UMass. I met some really cool people … I like my classes … I feel so overwhelmed and overloaded by all there is to do here but I’m also really excited about the tons of opportunities. I hope you never stop taking those opportunities even when they seem too much to handle.
You’ve always been so hard on yourself but I hope over the past four years you’ve learned to channel that into something healthy and something that makes you happy. As you’re getting ready to graduate I hope you can look back and be happy with all the experiences you have had. I guarantee you’ve done wonderful things with your time. I don’t think you’ll have any regrets. Keep going.
Kate Leddy can be reached at [email protected], and followed on twitter @kcleddy.