Four years ago, I applied to be a columnist for the Life section of The Cavalier Daily. With no prior journalism experience and just a profound love of writing, I hoped that my slightly modified college application essay would garner me favor with The Cavalier Daily gods. Four years later, I have over 40 articles under my belt.
When I applied, I couldn’t have imagined the impact this position would serve me. Over these four years, my columns have simultaneously served as a public diary, longform Twitter rant and personal therapist. In many ways, it has become a friend — celebrating with me through the most joyous times and lending an empathetic ear during the most difficult.
Believe it or not, I have somehow scraped my way to my last-ever Cavalier Daily article. Do I feel an immense amount of pressure to make this fourth-year swan song of an article immensely poignant, moving, funny and illuminating? You bet.
But if I have learned anything from writing for The Cavalier Daily — besides my stubborn overuse of Oxford commas — it is that sometimes the best writing comes from just letting the words flow.
First year — The awkward
In my first-ever column, I wrote this about my first week of school — “My first week on campus — excuse me, on Grounds — felt very much like an awkward middle school dance. I stood on the periphery watching the rest of the world dance while I shuffled my feet and faked knowing all the songs everyone else was shouting the lyrics to.”
Ah, yes. First year, the awkward year.
Skimming through my first-year articles, it’s painfully obvious that the middle school dance feeling boogied with me for a while. I need not even go past the structure of my sentences to reenter that first-year world where I spent hours upon hours analyzing every word choice and punctuation mark, trying to craft my voice into the most presentable, likeable version possible.
And as life imitates art, every hour spent overthinking a comma was matched by endless hours overthinking every conversation, outfit choice and shrug of the shoulder.
Each column I wrote was like a deep breath reminding me to stay calm. Listen to this bit from my third column where I spent several paragraphs freaking out about feeling like an imposter: “Everyone can feel like they’re faking it…but everyone has come to this college because they deserve to be here…I am not an imposter here and neither are you!”
That’s a good word, first-year Aly. Remind yourself of that when that awkward middle schooler inevitably threatens to tell you that you are the weird one shouting the wrong lyrics.
Second Year — The random
Somewhere between awkward first-year Aly and lazy fourth-year Aly, there was random second-year Aly. Each column bounced from deeply personal to deeply silly. A quick perusal through the columns of second year reveals this — a mournful reflection on August 11, an open letter to gold medalist Chloe Kim, a vehement defense on the artistic genius of Spongebob Squarepants, an angry manifesto for interdisciplinary education, something entitled “Drinking the Blood of Jesus on the Roto,” an existential treatise on the psychological phenomenon of nostalgia and an article where I spend 1000 words listing out petty things I’m thankful for.
Yes, it seems as though with the frightening first-year cluelessness behind me, my second-year mind had free reign to mull over such enlightening topics as Spongebob — “At the first shrill of his nose-flute, I was enraptured.”
Now, that’s a sentence.
Third Year — The sick
“My name’s Aly. I’m a third year from Northern Virginia, and this semester I had a stroke.”
Now here is where my Life columns swiftly turned from personal diary to personal therapist. At the start of third year, my life took a quite unexpected turn when some mild weakness in my left arm and leg turned out to be the result of neurological damage, and not just “stress” as I had thought.
During those harrowing months, writing these columns was a lifeline to me. I relished in being able to share what I had written with others as a way of sharing what I was going through instead of having to rehash the story over and over. Writing was a way to find the humor in the midst of the objectively unfunny. Cue a prime example — when the MRI played Bollywood love songs instead of Adele, as I had requested. It gave me a small sense of control when my life had suddenly become so dependent on doctors and blood tests and metal machines. Not only that, but after writing, my inbox flooded with life-saving stories of encouragement from people who had been through similar experiences. In a time where I could have felt immensely alone, this column helped me feel seen.
Who would have guessed that when I applied to write columns on a biweekly basis for the Life section of The Cavalier Daily, it would one day be the one way for me to deeply process the most confusing and strangest time in my life.
Fourth Year — The lazy
In true senioritis fashion, fourth-year Aly was pretty lazy. Unlike first-year Aly who had spent hours poring over every sentence, fourth-year Aly only turned in three columns throughout the four months of Fall semester.
Beyond Fourth Year — The hopeful
Four years and forty columns is a lot of time to let my maniacal musings fly. Still, it can only scratch the surface. I wish I had more time to write about how college taught me how to cry, how being sick is nothing like Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember” or about the K-pop phenomenon and how it makes me feel ashamed for not knowing more about my own culture.
As I enter into my very last semester of college, I wonder about the future “columns'' I'll write after graduation. Assuredly, there will be a second round of awkward middle school dance vibes as I try to learn the pirouettes of a postgraduate. Maybe there will be a column on the difficulties of finding genuine social interaction post-college, maybe a column on how great it is to live in New York or maybe it’ll end up being about how hard it is to live in your parent’s basement . Maybe I’ll write a column on how it feels to finally figure out what I want to do in life — now that would be hilarious.
No matter what, I am grateful to The Cavalier Daily and to the University for teaching me to be a better writer and to embrace who I am. In my original application to be a Cavalier Daily writer, I wrote, “To me a good columnist is someone whose voice is vulnerable and unique, someone who is not afraid to share their perspective and writes about the unconventional— topics you wouldn’t normally think of.” I hope after these four years, I have accomplished at least some of these “good columnist” qualities.
So to The Cavalier Daily, thank you for being my public diary and therapist. It has been a joy to write for you.
The awkward, random, sick, lazy — but hopeful — Aly