Lessons learned from my college newspaper

CAREER, JOURNALISM, NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK

Late nights. Early mornings. Not enough coffee in the world to keep you awake during that morning calculus class. It’s a story most college newspaper editors know well but would never change. We’re willing to put in the hours not only because of the close-knit community, one of the biggest draws, but because the skills you learn working for a college newspaper are invaluable across professional industries. Here are five reasons why.

You meet a wide range of people.

College is a bubble, but working on the paper exposes you to a wide range of people and viewpoints. During my four years on The Observer at Notre Dame, I interviewed a British literary scholar, the Chief Marketing Officer of Subway, the University president and the only Orthodox Jewish student on campus. Reaching beyond the bubble has huge value later on in the working world.

You get used to criticism.

Most professors at Notre Dame weren’t outwardly critical of my writing, focusing on what I could do better instead of what I did wrong. While I appreciated this approach in my classes, criticism is an unavoidable aspect of the professional world and life in general. My freshman year, I remember the first article I received back from my editor was completely covered in red ink, entire sections crossed out. I probably went home and cried that night, but soon learned not take things so personally (and that criticism helps you improve).

You master the art of succinct writing.

I used to think the phrase “writing is an art” meant I could use an unlimited number of words to make things sound beautiful. Now I believe that regardless of the writing form, every single word needs to have a purpose. Working on the paper taught me to boil down stories to their very core, write conversationally and include only the most powerful quotes. All of this prepared me well for a career in digital media.

You get comfortable leading conversations.

Most people love talking about themselves. Once you learn that, asking questions and leading conversations isn’t all that hard. When I started out as a reporter, I was scared to even place a call to a stranger. I read and reread my emails 10 times before requesting an interview. But with experience, I gained the confidence to assert myself during interviews, pursue contacts and ask the tougher questions.

You learn to work well under pressure.

Some of my most stressful days in college, I was under deadline for an article on the same day I had a major test. I spent free moments calling sources and writing while simultaneously trying to memorize history or statistics formulas. The Observer demanded everything of you, and you had to figure out how not to let your grades slip. It took years, but I learned to stay calm and trust that everything would get done (and that the world wouldn’t end if it didn’t).

I loved being an English major at Notre Dame. But truthfully, none of my classes stand out to me years later the way my days and nights spent in The Observer office do. While I nurtured my love for literature through my major, the newspaper that gave me the hands-on, practical education I needed to jump into the real world after graduation.

In the end, I’m thankful for the sleepless nights and overconsumption of chocolate. The Observer was the best (free) course I took at Notre Dame.

*This column was originally published in The Observer 

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Notre Dame admissions video: Any Given Day

NOTRE DAME, OPINION

“It’s about shaping you as a person and really getting you prepared for your life after Notre Dame.”

As a junior in high school, I found college touring exhausting. All of the info sessions, tours, scheduled meetings with student representatives– they all blended into one another. I had trouble defining what schools were really like when almost all the admissions literature teemed with vague words like “history,” “tradition,” “opportunity” and “success.” I can’t tell you how many schools I looked into that boasted “completely unique” opportunities for me. Was that even possible? How was I supposed to decide the location of my next four years, and the foundation of the rest of my life, based on a “gut feeling,” a programmed tour of interesting facts and some carefully worded handouts?

Since going to Notre Dame, I’ve always thought the only way to really know a school, to understand what it’s all about, is to be there as a student. Yes, there’s that feeling you get when you first walk on campus as a prospy, when you realize you “know” the school on some basic level. But that feeling grows, changes and transforms when on campus for good. When you discover the major you didn’t know existed or the club you dedicate all your free time to, that  feeling seeps into deeper parts of you. It’s no longer a fleeting emotion awakened only when looking up at the Golden Dome for the first time, but something more permanent, cultivated by the things you do on campus and manifested in the relationships you make.

Unfortunately, the wrapped-up-with-a-bow perspective typically handed to prospective students by the admissions office does not and cannot portray what a school is all about. The scope of the student experience– what’s possible over four years– is much too large.

But this new video released this week by the Notre Dame admissions office is different.  The video was produced by Philadelphia-based Neighborhood Film Co., a company that “mentors and employs individuals recovering from homelessnesss, mental-illness or addictions through the process of filmmaking.” Not only is it a fresh, modern and interesting work of videography, it both accurately and beautifully portrays the character of the University. Unlike videos I’ve seen in the past, I can’t pass this off as an annoying, overdramatic compilation of clips used by admissions to either play up or play down various aspects of Notre Dame.

Because it doesn’t. It’s not. It’s kind of the real thing.

Watch it.

Lights and Fireflies

CREATIVE WRITING, LIFE

Tonight I almost tripped over a firefly.

Well, not exactly. I was out for a run and it was around 9 at night. By that time, nearly the only light in my suburban neighborhood comes from scattered lampposts and the flickering of televisions in living room windows. Which means it’s hard to see uneven sidewalks elevated by tree roots, especially if you’re distracted by the first firefly of the season.

Every year I look forward to that first firefly – it’s as if the illuminated case holds within it all the wonders of childhood summer: dripping popsicles and ice cream cones, late night sprinklers, playing out in the streets and watching thunderstorms from my bedroom window. My birthday.

But now it’s a different kind of summer, because for first time in years I’m totally and completely free. And of course, this may be my last summer in that sense.

Having just graduated from college, I’ve been struggling to accept that sense of freedom, since my previous life was defined by never being free. I can’t accept summer for what it is, an open in-between period when it’s acceptable to spend hours shopping or tanning at the pool. I can’t accept that I should relax. (But should I?)  

Apparently, there’s no need to power walk to the pantry just to get a handful of crackers and get back to work. I can sleep in if I want to, and accompanying my mother on a long trip to the grocery store will make no difference in my plans for the day, and will certainly not set me back from the nonexistent pile of work I still need to get done.

Because my goals — write more often, keep up with the news, spend more time with my family — are all rather vague “self-improvement” goals that do not have a set timeline. But I have this irrational fear that by letting down my guard, by not filling my free days with something like the antithesis of relaxation, I’ll lose the drive that powered me through my college years.

As I continued my run tonight, which itself had been an escape from my too-relaxing book and movie, I realized this summer is so unlike “real life” that it’s hard to define what my ideal summer would even be. By the time I made my way back up the road, careful to watch for tree roots, the fireflies had retreated to wherever they go between dusk and dawn.

I opened the door to my house, greeted by central air and the possibility of spending the rest of my night doing whatever I feel like.

It’s summer and I’m not sure what that will mean.