PARTING SHOT: A bittersweet parting

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As I sit down to write my parting shot editorial — my last chance to (maybe, in the best case scenario) impart some wisdom onto current younger staffers — I feel… weird. From that description, it’s probably difficult for you to believe that I was ever a (semi)-professional writer at all. But that’s the only word I have. I want to offer some final thoughts about The Cavalier Daily and what it meant to me, but I simultaneously feel like my name no longer belongs printed beneath a headline. My life — and, more relevantly, my relationship with The Cavalier Daily—has changed so drastically since I joined the paper in the fall of my first year, and I am not writing the parting shot that I always imagined I would.

When I joined the paper as an idealistic, passionate and horribly intimidated first-year, it felt like the fulfillment of destiny. Looking back, it was certainly not so dramatic, but especially at 18, I was prone to such overstatement. I felt like being a journalist was what I was meant to do, and I felt confident that my (shaky, untrained, often under-informed) voice was worthy of being heard. I was excited to contribute to a newspaper that had such a history and presence on Grounds.

The executive editor that year was Aaron Eisen, whom no one but my fellow fourth-years will have met or known, so I won’t dwell on him. Suffice it to say he was brilliant, brooding and tough — he once sat in the offices with me for five hours dissecting every flaw in one of my articles. He then went further to critique the majority of my personal tastes and life decisions. My relationship to him was one of hero worship — in reality, we barely knew each other and he was likely unconcerned with my opinion of him, but I desperately wanted to impress him and all the other upperclassmen writers. They seemed to me “real” adults, who — from a distance, to a first-year who had yet to know them personally — appeared more mature and composed than I would ever be.

Slowly, my awe transformed into a healthy admiration, which transformed into close friendships with several of my fellow staffers. As I read my first round of parting shots that spring, I felt moved by the conviction with which they wrote about integrity, personal growth and the meaning of college journalism. I knew The Cavalier Daily would have an equally profound impact on my life, and I dreamed of writing a parting shot that would be poetic and touching, dripping with sentimentality.

And to be sure, I do owe The Cavalier Daily quite a lot. I gained irreplaceable friends and mentors as part of its staff. I was surrounded by people who were ambitious, opinionated and unceasingly passionate. I watched my peers endure sleep deprivation, angry interviewees, endless fundraising and impossible deadlines for virtually no thanks or broader appreciation. The staff of The Cavalier Daily is necessarily imbued with an unbreakable belief in the power of student voices, and they are some of the hardest-working people I have ever (and likely will ever) meet. Watching them sacrifice their personal (and in many cases, academic) fulfillment to create a product that (let’s be honest) not many people would read was inspiring to me.

The Cavalier Daily helped me feel capable and valuable. During my time on staff I improved greatly at my craft and was even given the privilege of being a leader and editing the work of others. But as time went on, I began to see the cracks in the institution. As with my undergraduate experience at the University overall, I suppose my time at The Cavalier Daily can be summed up this way: I am grateful, but I am disillusioned.

The Cavalier Daily, like any organization run by students (who are guided by their own interests, and who, as anyone, are flawed and imperfect beings), has institutional failings. It is powered by nepotism and networking. Too often (and I say this without bitterness or personal slant, though I lost a Cavalier Daily election) I watched well-connected people advance over qualified and dedicated staffers. I watched certain organizations and events garner press over others. It has improved — but The Cavalier Daily often fails to be representative of the student body it claims to speak for. Monetary concerns have forced the institution to (in the eyes of some, myself included) occasionally cut corners when it comes to maintaining objectivity and journalistic integrity.

So what’s the upshot of this editorial? Do I have anything useful to leave behind? The best I can offer you is this: Write because you love to write. Write without expectation of positive response, or glory or (especially) advancement within an institution. Learn as much as you can from your fellow staffers, and be a humble, unassuming and accessible mentor to your subordinates. Finally, remember that this is college, and you shouldn’t take yourself or this job too seriously. It is merely a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Ashley Spinks was the 125th Opinion editor of The Cavalier Daily.

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