PARTING SHOT: Room to practice

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Ben Hitchcock was the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the 128th term of The Cavalier Daily. He was also a Life Columnist.

Courtesy Ben Hitchcock

This semester, I took “Black Fire” with Prof. Claudrena Harold. The class covers the history of black students at the University, starting in the 1960s. On the first day of class, I scanned the syllabus and found, to my surprise, that Prof. Harold had assigned dozens of old Cavalier Daily articles. 

After four years of writing for The Cavalier Daily, that glance at the Black Fire syllabus shifted my conception of the paper. The Cavalier Daily is the University’s paper of record, where the great debates that rock the community are recorded. The dogged reporters at The Cavalier Daily have always ensured that the most earth-shaking events of the moment won’t be forgotten. 

Of course, I personally haven’t done too much of all that. I spent most of my time on the paper as an Arts and Entertainment writer and editor, and I moonlighted as a Life columnist for the second half of my time here. 

I had fun with it. I wrote articles about Bruno Mars, Matthew McConaughey, Old Crow Medicine Show and all sorts of other artists and entertainers. For the Life section, I wrote about my moment of fame on the JPJ Jumbotron and my love for stupid iPhone games. I wrote about the Philadelphia Eagles and the trucks that always get stuck under the University Avenue bridge. I wrote a dozen articles about Italy during my semester abroad there. As Arts and Entertainment editor, I yelled at people when they put commas outside quotation marks, ignored publicity emails from struggling 28-year-old Charlottesville singer-songwriters and prevented kids from writing articles about a cappella groups. Truly, the stuff syllabi are made of. 

My colleagues, in these parting shots, will write about long nights at the office, the hours they spent bleary-eyed and running on adrenaline, scraping together a print edition at the last moment. Why did they do it? Because they love journalism. But I haven’t had too many long nights at the office, and my editors will attest that I never worked for The Cavalier Daily because I had some emotional love affair with factual accuracy or AP style.

I worked for The Cavalier Daily because the paper gave me freedom to write about pretty much anything I wanted. I had leeway to experiment, to poke around, to make mistakes. Writing is like playing ping-pong or making guacamole or balancing a broom on your nose — the more you do it, the better you’ll be. Counting this parting shot, I’ve written 61 articles for the paper. The Cavalier Daily gave me the best things an aspiring writer could ask for — space and incentive to practice.  

Equally importantly, The Cavalier Daily gave me editors, my favorite people who I disagree with 90 percent of the time. Writing almost always happens alone. Having a community of smart people to argue with is invaluable, and I have benefited tremendously from the 10 percent of the time that those editors were right. Many of my editors have become close friends outside the paper, and for that too, I am thankful.

Graduation hurtles towards me now, approaching with vomit-inducing speed. I don’t know what will come next for me, but I know I’ll keep writing, in some context or another. The Cavalier Daily has calcified that ambition. I savor the challenge of writing, something I learned while practicing on these pages. This is my last essay for the paper — but thanks to The Cavalier Daily, I know it will not be my last essay.

Ben Hitchcock was the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the 128th term of The Cavalier Daily. He was also a Life columnist.

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