Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Here’s to state school students

To not just breaking expectations, but shattering them
Courtesy of Will Katcher

I’d like to make a toast. Bear with me.

I came to this school with no expectations. It was not my first choice, but I knew UMass would be fine. It would be average.

If any one thing has amazed me over the last four years, it is how wrong that assumption was. It is how poor a job so many people did of selling UMass to high school students like myself. It is the reluctance of a lot of adults to give UMass or many other public universities the due they deserve.

So, here’s to not just breaking expectations, but shattering them. Here’s to a group of mostly 18 to 22-year-olds, some of the hardest working people I have ever known.

Here’s to the people who taught me that if you have a goal, you better be prepared to earn it. It can be easy to get lost in an unending stream of work. It can be easy to absentmindedly push a task back day after day, until a month goes by and you forget where the time went. Good luck comes to those who make it — so if you want a job, send the email; if you want a story, stop “looking into it” and go write it.

I learned this in the Collegian’s dirty, cramped, rodent-infested basement office, where I watched people with jobs and full plates of schoolwork come night after night because they wanted to report the news. Well before I had any actual role with the Collegian, I would sit under the dim fluorescent lights of our beat-up old office until the early hours of the morning. I would do my homework and look on in amazement as these people I idolized waged war on decades-old computers and slowly, deliberately put out a paper.

Here’s to those who showed me how to work. If you would like to write 7,000 words on a near-fist fight between two old, angry basketball coaches 25 years ago, hell, go for it. But you will need to spend hours scanning the internet tracking down long-forgotten sources, stay up late transcribing interviews only to use a few select quotes and stress over each word of a story making sure it rings exactly true.

I learned that if you wanted to interview Jake Tapper, then no one is stopping you. But the only way to get him on the phone is to ask.

There is an energy on this campus, especially at the Collegian, that I was not prepared for. It is given off by people who have not had anything handed to them, but who understand the value of a good day’s and late night’s work. I can ask for no better role models than those I spent the last four years with.

Here’s to those who taught me how to call bulls–t, those who saw a powerful institution (Read: the UMass administration) screw something up and decided to hold some feet to the fire. Here’s to all the writers and editors this spring who produced accountability reporting any newsroom could be proud of.

Here’s to those who showed me how to find the grey area. If there is one thing you learn quickly on a college campus, it is what happens if you were to ask 100 people a question. You would get 100 different answers, and individually each of them would be entirely wrong. But somewhere between everyone’s different experiences is the truth, and somewhere between the muck and entrenched viewpoints is a middle ground.

So, I toast those who showed me that the world does not exist in black and white. I toast those willing to go against an entire classroom of people fully confident in their views to offer a different perspective. I toast the fact that the 23,000 undergraduates here come from 23,000 different backgrounds, that we don’t all represent a single economic or identity group, and that we can all learn something from each other.

Now, if you will allow me to nerd out for a moment: I also learned something over these past few years from a few other state school students — not current UMass undergrads, but a few 50-somethings who went to the University of Vermont way back when.

For a lot of people, Phish is a group their dad saw in college, and nothing more. But just about every day of the last three years, I have listened to my favorite band play the best music in the world. I almost wrote this column on things I learned from them. Instead, I boiled it down to one takeaway:

Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

If you ever make it to the top of your craft, and I sincerely hope you all do, don’t let it overwhelm you. Be able to have fun. Be able to step aside from work. Or better yet, be able to work in a way that you forget you are even being paid for it.

I was apprehensive about coming to this school. It was huge, close to home, and not the type of college I thought I wanted to be at. Forget all that.

This public education, and the salt-of-the-earth people I shared it with, are leaving me with much more than I could have asked for.

So, for all I have learned, I leave the handful of people who have read up to here with only this: Don’t doubt a state school student. You could learn something from us.

If you want to talk to Will Katcher about music, email him at [email protected]. Or you can harass him on Twitter at @will_katcher. Either way, stay in touch.

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  • B

    BarbMay 7, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    While BWK as we affectionately refer to him may have doubted, we who knew him best had zero doubt that Will would shine and outshine at UMass. Most of the best and brightest minds in the US went to state schools like UMass and kicked butt while they were there. So go do great things BWK. Your future awaits

  • J

    Jennifer EnglishMay 7, 2021 at 9:31 am

    Bravo Will Katcher

    Cheering for you. Borrowing another collegiate tradition, please allow us to carry you off the ink stained field on our Shoulders.

    Well Done

  • J

    Julie SMay 6, 2021 at 8:15 pm

    As a Phish fan and a UMass alum, this article makes my heart happy.

  • K

    Kathy Roberts FordeMay 5, 2021 at 9:41 am

    And let me add one more thing to Will’s inspiring senior column: HIRE THESE UMASS STUDENTS! They are brilliant, scrappy, hard-working, empathetic, and committed to the public good. These are the kinds of people we need in journalism and all the other professions out there. And they can more than hold their own against graduates of the small “elite” liberal arts colleges and ivies that predominate here in New England and the Northeast. Well-done, Will, and all of our Daily Collegian seniors!