‘Set your sails, it’s a big wide ocean’

Finding your place and people in the vastness of UMass

Courtesy+of+Chris+McLaughlin

Courtesy of Chris McLaughlin

By Chris McLaughlin, Assistant News Editor

Alright, I’m just going to explain this from the get-go: this is going to be one giant analogy…based around the ocean. Bear with me.

Coming to the University of Massachusetts, a campus of tens of thousands of students a little under two hours away from my hometown, I was a small fish in a big pond. While a few dozen of my peers from my high school graduating class also came to UMass and having them around was a welcome support, when you’re one among thousands, it’s up to you to carve out your own identity and interests within such a large and diverse community.

I didn’t start out at UMass as a journalism major; in fact, it wasn’t until my second semester of freshman year that I officially declared it as such. Wanting to explore if it was truly for me — and at the encouragement of my close hometown friend Kayla Michaud, who started writing for her own college newspaper at the University of Rhode Island — I decided to see what the Massachusetts Daily Collegian was all about.

Before I knew it, during my second semester of freshman year, I was out covering events, talking to strangers, asking them questions and scheduling interviews. It was daunting and anxiety-inducing, especially at first, but also equally thrilling.

With each story it became a little easier to approach people. Positive feedback and guidance from then-editors and assistants only helped my confidence grow with each successive byline, made all the better when I saw my first story published in the physical paper.

I’ve found at times that while UMass is a very social school and students of all stripes wear many different hats (I myself having also been involved in the UMass Theatre Guild since freshman year and having previously worked at the Collegian’s friendly rival WMUA for a couple of years), we are simultaneously limited in what we can do and who we can meet.

This is not because we don’t want to expand our horizons. But the sheer number of events, groups and RSOs which coexist in and around campus means that no one can experience them all, no matter how hard they try. That’s where the Collegian tries to bridge the gap.

Through my time at this paper, I feel as though I’ve been able to see UMass more for the well-rounded and diverse community that it truly is—the crazy but wonderful hodgepodge of parties, social life, academia, research, innovation, activism, advocacy, community and just general goofiness—an opportunity that I don’t think is afforded to every student.

I’ve seen the passion, devotion and drive of not only those in my extracurriculars at the Collegian and in Theatre Guild, but I’ve been given a taste of what motivates and drives other students, staff, faculty and community members in their own respective interests and specialties.

It’s like you’re on a sailboat navigating the sea that is UMass. With each new week comes the chance to get to know another side of this vast ocean, greatly aided by the opportunity to report on this community.

There will be stories and people who come along that will lift you up and make you feel on top of a wave and there will be those which will pull you down into an abyss and challenge your outlook. Yet inevitably, tides will shift. Faces, places and stories may come and go, but institutions like the Collegian stay constant and are here to inform and bring this community together.

Undoubtedly, in the past year it feels like the boat has either capsized or sunk, not in the least thanks to global pandemic which has certainly upended and altered the trajectory of so much I, like so many, had anticipated for my senior year.

However, the connections made along the way with those you meet and work with are what will see you through the roughest of storms. On this journey I’ve been lucky enough to find friends and confidants in some of the most talented and incredible people I’ve ever met. I know that many of these important and valuable connections have come directly as a result of my time at the Collegian.

Whether it was the news team over the years, Abby Charpentier, Kathrine Esten, Alvin Buyinza, Mike Connors, Cassie McGrath, Claire Healy, Irina Costache, Sophie Gardner, Will Mallas and Will Katcher, or my other fellow seniors like Noah Bortle, Hannah Ellison and Denim Diaz, or to fellow podcasters Max Zeff and Sophie Allen through my time hosting the Collegian News Hour, each of you has made this place and my time involved all the more special. I can’t thank you enough for that.

I would also be remiss to not acknowledge the senior management, Morgan and Matt (also known as my housemates who I’ve shared more than just a place on the editorial staff with), and the many, many memories we created together. In the last year in particular, we’ve stuck together through good times and bad, with lots of laughs, moments of joy and stories passing through our household.

Also, shoutout to Ana Pietrewicz, who was almost also our housemate, and in whom I have full confidence as the next Editor in Chief, alongside McKenna Premus as Managing Editor and all the other new head editors. You guys are the ones who will carry this paper on to the next generation of students as I and my fellow seniors become alumni. We’ll be eager to see what’s in store for the future of the Collegian. I’m already excited to return for alumni events in years to come.

And so that leaves us now with just the sailboat and a vast new ocean to explore, the only limit being the horizon. Graduation is upon us. It’s not so much an end as it is a new beginning. So set your sails, because it’s time to start a new journey.

Chris McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @ChrisMcLJournal.