I used to imagine what I’d say if I ever wrote a parting shot.
It was something I thought about at odd times throughout my term as managing editor, whenever I got especially frustrated or overwhelmed. I’d picture myself six months out — all of my job’s responsibilities long completed, writing my final piece for this paper while sitting on the Lawn with friends and soaking up one of my last spring days in Charlottesville.
I expected to be relaxed — for the first time in a while — and optimistic about the milestones I knew were ahead. This last stretch before graduation would be the payoff, I thought, of everything I’d tried to accomplish throughout my four years here, and this column would be my final stamp on it. A sign that I’d made it to the finish line, that I was ready to leave college behind.
Instead, I’m trying to collect my thoughts in my childhood bedroom, miles away from most of my friends and completely unsure of what my future holds. Reflecting on my Cavalier Daily experience seems like a weird exercise in a time like this. It’s hard to remember what life was like two months ago, much less last year. But doing so has allowed me to appreciate how much I’ve grown over my time as a student journalist and how the people I’ve met at the University and through The Cavalier Daily have shaped me into the person I am today.
Being on this paper gave me opportunities I never would have dreamed of as a first-year sitting in a crowded info session, debating if I should even apply. Since I joined the staff, I’ve gotten to experience the thrill of breaking an investigative story, and have reported on selective admissions practices and racist yearbook entries and injustices within sexual assault reporting institutions. I’ve gotten to see resiliency manifest itself in unique ways — from emotional interviews with members of Charlottesville’s refugee community to conversations with small venue owners about the fragility of the city’s underground music scene. Through all of it, I’ve come to understand what it means to listen to other people’s stories and tell them, weaving their words alongside my own, meaningfully and honestly. I’ve learned what it is to be a reporter.
Managing a newspaper opened my eyes to the importance of good journalism — and how we need it, at the local level, now more than ever. Independent student newspapers are an especially essential factor in making sure that universities are held accountable for both their pasts and their presents. The Cavalier Daily is at its best when using its platform to uplift unheard voices and effectively educate its readers on critical issues facing the University and Charlottesville communities. I think there’s significant work for the current and future leadership of the paper to do to ensure that it consistently accomplishes that mission, but I’m confident that it will keep trying to improve.
In this upcoming year, as local news organizations succumb to unprecedented financial strain and the entire country is faced with the consequences of this pandemic, The Cavalier Daily will be tasked with recording the wide-ranging ways in which COVID-19 affects this community. The coverage of this crisis so far has been incredibly timely and informative, but I think the paper’s staff can go even further by reporting the stories that haven’t yet been told — the ones that are, as is typical of the most important stories, lying underneath the surface. The need for insightful, conversation-sparking journalism won’t diminish, even if the resources that support it start to dry up. The Cavalier Daily will need to be there to fill any gap that might arise.
I realize now that the true payoff from my time at this University was never going to be the months where I had taken a step back. The most precious and memorable moments were when I was in the thick of it — from laughing with my fellow editors in the Newcomb basement at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday as we published another print issue, to ducking out of a party to quickly post a breaking news alert, to feeling the lede of an investigative piece finally come together after hours of poring over FOIA-ed documents, to just looking around at the people who were at my side through every minute of it and being overcome with the intense desire to know them for the rest of my life. These are the moments that defined my college career, and they’re the ones that I’m cherishing now, as everything around me seems to grow even more unpredictable.
This is a different column than I expected to publish. But I was correct in one thing — writing it does feel a bit like reaching a finish line. I think I’m ready to cross it.
Abby Clukey was the Managing Editor for the 130th term of The Cavalier Daily. Prior to this, she served as the Focus Editor for the 129th term.