Writing a column is tricky business.

I decided to apply for a spot with The Chronicle on a whim. In fact, when I first signed on, I only had one column on my mind. I admit that I basically used my first column as a channel to come out as gay as casually and quickly as possible (little did I know at the time that just a few months earlier I had come out on the Duke Debate Facebook page in drunken splendor: “it seems every debate party I come out to more and more people, in a few months I think the whole world will know”—it seems I was right about that one).

Every couple of weeks after publishing my Biblical defense of gay marriage, I would pull a late night with an impending deadline and no clear topic in mind. I asked myself questions that most novice columnists struggle with. I wondered what in the world I was qualified to write about, why anyone would ever care about what I had to say and, most hauntingly, what would happen if one day I looked back on a column and realized I had made a huge mistake.

As it turns out, over the course of 25 columns, I have made more than just one mistake. In one of my more shameful moments, I literally used the Merriam-Webster dictionary to define “hypersensitivity.” In another column I quoted a catchy yet horrifying Robin Thicke song in my headline with the hope of attracting a few extra readers. Other slipups have been more substantial. After the “Fun Home” campus controversy, I sarcastically oversimplified a fellow student’s moral compass with a writing style all too easy for a columnist on a campus of mostly like-minded peers. Without a doubt, my biggest regret as a columnist comes from my final publication of 2014, in which I shortchanged my actual arguments with the sensationalized and temporally insensitive title of “All Lives Matter.”

But even in these mistakes I have learned that the true value of columns springs from the conversations that they can stimulate, whether the opinions themselves prove reasonable or illogical over time. I can only hope that my words have spurred meaningful discussions on campus. If nothing else, I can at least guarantee that they have inspired some truly entertaining virtual comment threads. Comments posted to columns written before this August were lost when The Chronicle revised its online interface, but I will never forget the lively and ever-sage comments posted by the likes of “Brendan the Boob,” “Gertrude Higgins” and “Come Honor Face.” I believe one of these suggested that I drank a bit too much of “the Kool-Aid” at a Common Ground retreat; had I been allowed to respond, I probably would have said that drinking Kool-Aid would have been a big step up for me given my somewhat concerning soda addiction at the time.

Despite the retrospective missteps and outlandish commentators, I believe that writing a column, even if just for one semester, can be one of the most rewarding extracurricular experiences a student can have while at Duke, and I would encourage any readers interested in a position to consider it seriously. While often nerve-racking and stressful, being forced to write an editorial every other week comes with worthwhile benefits. Comparing my early columns to my more recent, I can conclude that being a columnist has sharpened and improved my writing. Even more valuable, I think, is the way that my columns have allowed me to think critically about a wide range of topics, from the causes and effects of climate change to the national political atmosphere surrounding debate on gun control. I admit that I have perhaps written one too many columns about my struggle to reconcile my progressive values with my conservative background—my sincere admiration goes to any who were able to read through all of these manifestations of my many political identity crises. On a lighter note, my column has given me the opportunity to reflect on my experiences, both at Duke and beyond. My three favorites were inspired by my weeklong backpacking journey in freezing Pisgah, my fond memories of "Star Wars" growing up and my deteriorating perception of the Donald, who I once looked to as an idol (but give me a break—I was in fourth grade).

More than anything, my column has reminded me that few modern disputes can be fairly made as simple as can be conveyed in 900 words or fewer. Rather than try to put this final thought in my own words, I will quote my favorite philosopher, John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest liberal minds ever to grace this beautiful earth: “The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors . . . If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is someone to do for us what we otherwise ought.”

With graduation on the horizon, I feel ready to bring my Duke experience to a close. Writing this column has been a privilege. My sincere thanks goes to all readers and commentators, whether you have more often agreed or disagreed with my opinions, for engaging with my opinions and for making this column worthwhile. Above all, thanks to my family and friends, who have always been my truest source of inspiration.

Brendan McCartney is a Trinity senior. This is his final column.