The girl who walked into the old Massachusetts Daily Collegian office nearly five years ago is a very different girl from the one leaving in May.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was touring the University of Massachusetts campus as a high school senior, desperately trying to imagine fitting into UMass, or any college for that matter. At this time, campus tours included a stop at the former Collegian office in the Campus Center basement.
I remember walking into the dimly lit office that had newspapers strewn about in a maze of chairs and random old sofas, with what I’m pretty sure was either asbestos or mold on the ceiling (probably a mixture of the two). But what immediately caught my attention was the exciting, chaotic energy that filled the room; students help each other design the layout for the next issue printed on archaic screens, the clack of frantic typing on keyboards, and the sounds of laughter and conversation filling every corner of the office.
I was hesitant to commit to UMass as a journalism major because I had never written for a newspaper before, but I took my visit to Collegian that day as a good sign.
Surprisingly enough, however, I wouldn’t return to this office until the fall of my sophomore year.
Unlike all the other 20-year-old students, I felt a bit lost. I had spent the majority of my freshman year battling severe anxiety and depression, spending most Friday nights in my dorm FaceTiming my friends back home, constantly on the verge of quitting UMass or dropping out. university completely.
After a…we’ll go with a “mediocre” freshman year, I wasn’t too sure what my sophomore year would bring, but I didn’t know it would change the rest of my college career.
I sat next to Ana Pietrewicz on the first day of my media criticism course in fall 2019. open tonight, you should come.
I smiled and told her I would think about it, knowing full well that I had no intention of going, to which Ana replied, “No, you are coming. See you at 7 a.m.!
Words cannot describe how nervous I felt taking the escalator down to the Campus Center basement that night. My legs felt heavy as I made my way to the same office I had visited two years earlier. Just when I was about to turn around and bail someone noticed me and immediately greeted me, asking me what my interests were, what section I would like to write, among other questions that I did not hear because I was distracted by it. same exciting and chaotic energy.
Before I knew it, after a month of writing, rewriting, and rewriting my first column, I made my Op/Ed debut. With each article I wrote over the next three years, not only did my byline gradually change as I rose through the ranks from opinion contributor to columnist, news correspondent, associate editor of social media and finally editor, but my confidence in my writing, my work ethic and myself too.
As I have heard of from former students and as I have personally witnessed in watching my colleagues grow over the past two years, the Collegian serves its staff in many ways: an after-school program, a launching pad towards a career as a professional journalist or graduate school, a resume builder; but also a second home, a reason to come, a family. As stupid as it may sound, I sincerely believe that the Collégien was all that for me.
Yes, I’m now a proud AP Style nerd through and through (my brother roasts me for keeping an AP Style book on the dashboard of my car), I can write a press briefing in record time and I’m probably a bit hyper-aware of biases and conflicts of interest. But that being said, the Collegian has helped me far beyond developing technical writing and professional skills.
When I hit rock bottom during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, battling the worst case of depression I’ve ever had, I somehow found myself on my laptop at the middle of the night reporting on how the Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union demanded safer working conditions from the University administration ahead of the fall 2020 semester. Even when I didn’t know not how to help myself, I knew that in the meantime I could at least help others with my reports, and the College gave me the space and the opportunity to do so.
When UMass students protested outside the Theta Chi fraternity house for weeks last September over allegations of sexual assault, I realized how much Ana and Sophia Gardner’s coverage at Collegian was really impactful. National media picked up our stories, and sexual assault survivors began reaching out to us, inspired by each other to share their stories and raise awareness of the problematic handling of sexual assault cases in colleges across the country.
When Frederick Hanna, Joey Aliberti and Pedro Gray Soares invited me to join them and help cover Massachusetts men’s basketball team at the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in Washington, DC, I was nervous to say the least. But with their encouragement, I decided to take up sports photography. Not only did this road trip allow me to try my hand at sports photojournalism (NBA photographer is now on my list of dream careers), but it will always remain one of my favorite college memories.
More importantly, I understood the real impact of my work and that of my fellow student journalists. I’ve learned that while most of the time journalism is fun and crazy and full of unexpected learning opportunities, there will always be tough days when you feel burned out and wonder if what you’re doing in it’s worth it.
And if there is one piece of advice I can give to my classmates, it would be this: it is.
Take the story, call the source, pitch the idea, keep writing. With every story you become a better journalist, and as someone who only became a better writer and photographer by constantly taking new opportunities and taking risks, I can tell you that’s true.
Student journalism is incredibly valuable – every interview, photo, article, video, podcast, tweet, etc. tells someone’s story, and I find it inspiring that student journalists dedicate their time and talents to telling those stories. The world needs truthful, accountable, responsible and ethical journalism – now more than ever – and as student journalists we play a huge role in this.
It took me three years to learn all of this, and I have to thank Collegian, their exciting and chaotic energy, and their wonderful staff for teaching me and helping me grow into the person I am today.
The confident young woman leaving Collegian as editor is certainly not the same girl who barely attended that open house years ago, but it makes me smile to look back and think how much I’ve grown since that night. I will always thank my college family for changing my life for the better.
McKenna Premus was the editor and can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mckenna_premus.