Better late than never

The Collegian helped me find another passion besides teaching


Courtesy of Emma Ryan

By Emma Ryan, Collegian Contributor

As a senior in high school, I knew two things about myself: I loved to read and write, and I hated math. Despised it. So, I chose to be an English major. A decision that opened the floodgates for comments and questions like “oh, so you’re going to be a teacher?” And it made sense, I could see myself being a teacher and that vision was reaffirmed over and over by these comments. I coasted through my first few semesters at UMass completely happy with the thought of a future in teaching. But something inside me knew there was more for me to do with an English degree, I just had to find it.

My junior year, on the first day of classes, I was making small talk with the girl next to me when she mentioned that she wanted to go to the all-staff meeting for the Daily Collegian that night. It felt like fate. I had heard of the Collegian, but I had no idea how to go about joining, and to be honest, the prospect of joining so late in my college career terrified me. But I knew that the Collegian could help me figure out what else I could do besides teaching. And the universe was practically begging me to take the leap by sending me this stranger who wanted me to tag along. So I went.

I remember that meeting so clearly. Sitting in the messy, but beloved, Collegian office in the bottom of the campus center with people bustling around me, feeling like Rory Gilmore at the Yale Daily News. I remember feeling a little lost as the editors talked about their sections, until Lauren LaMagna started talking about the arts and living section. It felt a bit like a dream hearing her tell me that I could write about whatever I wanted to as long as it fit into the general lifestyle category. The idea of being able to write freely was almost hard to believe. No prompts, assigned readings or strict guidelines like my classes, just an outlet for my own ideas.

That semester, I threw myself into writing for the Collegian. I wrote about anything and everything that came to mind and the satisfaction of seeing the published article after pitching, researching and writing became an addictive cycle. I started off easy, my first ever article was a review of a yoga class offered at the Recreation Center and I continued writing in my comfort zone for a while. I wrote about working out and local businesses, and I was happy doing it, but I knew I could do more.

On a whim one day, after seeing exactly one ad for a movie called The Goldfinch and deciding I wanted to see it, I asked to write a review about it at the weekly arts meeting. At the time, I was excited about it. I had never written a movie review before so I knew it would test me and the prospect of a challenge excited me. After seeing the movie, I realized the challenge was a lot bigger than I had anticipated. It was an absolutely baffling movie that resulted in an absolutely baffling review and by the end, even I didn’t want it published. But I sent it along to Lauren anyway, thinking, (rather hoping) that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Turns out it was exactly as bad as I had anticipated. When I saw the email with my edits, my stomach sank with embarrassment. Red marks all over the page, staring me down. I didn’t even want to read the edits she had made. Once I had gotten over my embarrassment, I realized that what was once jumbled thoughts on a page was now a cohesive review. It wasn’t that I didn’t make good observations and connections about the movie, it was just that I needed a little help organizing my thoughts.

The best part wasn’t that I suddenly had a great movie review to publish, it was that there was absolutely no judgement from Lauren or from anyone else about the article. This is one of the things I could always count on at the Collegian. I knew when I was walking into that basement (or logging onto that Zoom meeting) that I was walking into a welcoming environment full of people who just wanted to help each other become better writers and publish the best articles possible. There was never any competition or putting other people down. Even though I joined pretty late in the game, and there were gaps in my appearances at meetings when I got busy with classes, I knew that the Collegian would always be a constant for me. I could always walk into a meeting and pick up where I left off, no questions asked and no judgement, with a bunch of amazing people by my side.

Emma Ryan can be reached at [email protected]