PARTING SHOT: My words, my self

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For most of my life I was not myself.

For a while I was an infant, born premature at two pounds, thirteen ounces, the smallest of a set of triplets. We can glimpse some premonitions of my character even at this young age. I started laughing when I was a week old: a breathy hacking. I skipped the indignities of crawling and chose instead to tuck myself into a ball and roll across the floor (so my parents tell me).

Then I was a child, playful and solitary by turns. I would curl up on my family’s worn leather couch with a stack of books, poring over countless pages, searching. I didn’t yet know for what.

Next came adolescence. Hot tears, slammed doors.

As I write this piece — my last article for The Cavalier Daily, and the first in more than a year to carry my byline rather than the moniker “Managing Board” — I am twenty-two years old. For about sixteen years, roughly 73 percent of my life to date, I was not myself. What was I? A bundle of desires and vulnerabilities, as we all are as children (and as we all remain, although to a lesser extent). A person without a purpose. Floating.

I can pinpoint my self-awakening with unusual precision. In eleventh grade, I joined the staff of my high school newspaper. I had been part of cooperative endeavors before. These activities — sports teams, youth groups — were pleasant but perfunctory. The newspaper, however, marked the first time I felt stirrings of passion channeled into a productive enterprise. As I chiseled words into stories — striving for accuracy and balance, as all journalists do, but yearning also (secretly) for beauty — a glimmer of my adult commitments started to take shape.

I digress into autobiography, perhaps self-indulgently, in an attempt to express how indebted I am to the newspapers for which I’ve written. Some people can find themselves without the help of an institution or a set of friends. (Many of these people, I suspect, are libertarians.) I was not so independent. As a sixteen-year-old, idealistic but lost, I desperately needed a place where I could channel my love for writing. And I longed for other people who found joy in words. At my high school newspaper, I found both words and people. And two years later, when I walked into The Cavalier Daily office on my first day of class, I discovered a place that would come to shape my values, my commitments, and my passions, that would harden my vague dedication to the written word into a concrete pursuit which nonetheless retained its amorousness.

My position on The Cavalier Daily embedded me in a community — a cosmopolitan one, we hoped (such is the dream the Internet offers) but failing that, a local one, comprised of the University and Charlottesville. My role on the paper compelled me to feel a sense of duty during the June 2012 episode of palace intrigue, the crisis that began with an email from Helen Dragas and ended with Teresa Sullivan’s reinstatement. If I had been an independent agent, I would not have filed a records request; I would not have made any calls. Later, as executive editor, every day my position called me to account, prompting me to argue, to evaluate, to explain. I took on subjects both technical and tragic. I dissected online education, financial aid and the University’s attempts to position itself as a “global” institution. I condemned what I saw as failures of compassion in our community — epitomized by sexual violence, hazing and the silence that followed the death of a University worker. In all cases, The Cavalier Daily spurred me to rise to my best.

The Cavalier Daily brought me into the fold of a smaller community as well. I grew close with the family of students who devote their days and much of their nights to writing and editing stories, laying out pages, balancing checkbooks. The remarkable friends I made in the basement of Newcomb have been crucial parts of my education. With these people, with this paper, I was able to flourish.

I didn’t want to write this article. Given the central role that the newspaper has played in my life in Charlottesville, I feel that to say goodbye to The Cavalier Daily amounts to saying goodbye to the University. It’s painful to acknowledge that four years of discovery have come to a close, even when I know that more adventures await me.

Working for a newspaper in eleventh grade, I recognized myself for the first time. After four years — another school, another newspaper — what was once a stab of recognition, a flurry of feeling as I realized, this is what I love, now stands as an abiding part of my character. I don’t know what self I would be without the words I poured into The Cavalier Daily’s pages.

Because, you see, for the last four years, I thought I was writing The Cavalier Daily. But the whole time The Cavalier Daily was writing me.

Charlie Tyson was The Cavalier Daily’s 124th Executive Editor.


Published April 21, 2014 in Opinion





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