Coming into college, I knew that I wanted to get involved in student journalism. I was the Editor-in-Chief of my high school’s yearbook — the closest thing we had to a student newspaper — and was eager to not only grow as a writer, but also find a community at the University that I could call home. After a brief stint as a copy editor, I found exactly what I was looking for as a columnist and later editor for the opinion section.
Opinion Columnists have the freedom to both decide what issues they write about as well as the perspectives they convey. This independence is something that I have always cherished and put to great use over the past four years. Indeed, the first column that I ever wrote — much to the chagrin of many of my fellow writers — was a resounding endorsement of then-vice president Joe Biden's bid for the White House. For the next year and a half, everyone on staff knew me simply as “the Joe Biden kid” — a nickname I proudly embraced. Aside from presidential politics, I weighed in on everything from partisan gerrymandering to the removal of Lime scooters across town. These were issues that I was passionate about and I loved watching the conversations that my columns sparked.
Furthermore, aside from the pieces I personally wrote, I was incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the Editorial Board during the 131st and 132nd terms. These were incredibly challenging times as the global pandemic upended virtually every aspect of normality. Looking back, I am proud of the editorials we wrote during this crisis, lobbying University officials not only to better assist students but also implement policies designed to save lives. These editorials resulted in tangible policy changes and are a testament to the power of student journalism. In addition to COVID-19, I am also proud of our support for marginalized groups as well as the University’s efforts to reckon with its long and, at times, painful history. U.Va. has often been referred to as “Mr. Jefferson’s University,” yet there are so many other figures whose stories deserve to be told as well. Going forward, it is my hope that future generations will come away with greater understanding and appreciation of the University’s history — both the good and the bad.
I am also incredibly grateful for the many friendships I made at The Cavalier Daily over the past four years. In particular, I would like to take this time to thank everyone who I had the incredible pleasure of serving with on the Editorial Board, including my fellow Opinion Editor Hailey Yowell, Executive Editors Victoria McKelvey and Zack Pasciak, as well as Editors-in-Chief Nik Popli and Jennifer Brice. I would also like to thank the many opinion columnists who I was fortunate to work with as editor, especially Max Bresticker, Grace Duregger, Evelyn Duross, Matt Heller, Jessica Moore, and Shaleah Tolliver. Although we certainly did not agree on every issue, I admire the passion and dedication that everyone brought to the table. Being able to hear from so many diverse perspectives has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.
Over the past several weeks, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what message I want to leave to current and future opinion columnists. Naturally, I kept coming back to the word ‘opinionated’ — a word that traditionally carries a negative connotation, and with good reason. Oxford Dictionary defines the word as “conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in one’s opinions” — behavior that most of us would find insufferable. However, Britannica Dictionary defines the same word as “expressing strong beliefs or judgments about something.”
As I look back on my time at The Cavalier Daily, the single greatest piece of advice that I would like to impart on columnists and editors alike is to embrace the second definition and not the first. While the ability to persuasively convey an opinion in a 750-word column is a skill that should be celebrated, the same cannot be said of unyielding hostility toward contradicting views. Instead of succumbing to straw man fallacies, ad hominem attacks and calls for censorship, competing arguments should be criticized for their substance and not because of one’s own narrow-mindedness. Having a strong, well-developed opinion regarding a particular issue or set of issues is a good thing but we must resist the temptation to reflexively block out differing points of view. The power and beauty of a forum like the opinion section ultimately lies in the richness of its debates. It has been a tremendous honor to take part in so many of these debates over the past four years. I am proud to call myself opinionated and I encourage present and future opinion columnists to embrace this word as well.