Graduating from high school, I was uniquely average by Duke standards, juggling academics, varsity sports, service organizations and the school newspaper. Before I arrived at Duke as a freshman, someone wise told me that college would be different—that I couldn’t choose “all of the above” when it came to extracurricular activities and expect to succeed—that I needed to pick one thing to do, and do it well.
I picked newspaper. The Chronicle, to be specific.
While everyone else interested in joining The Chronicle was picking up news stories, I waited out for an opportunity to write for opinion. Quality investigative news journalism is what makes a paper great, but thoughtful editorial content is usually what makes a paper successful. The idea of being able to spark meaningful dialogue across campus through my columns was what attracted me to journalism in high school, and I wanted to do the same at Duke.
After being turned down for a position on the Editorial Board in the Fall, I was selected as a biweekly columnist in the Spring, making me the only freshman columnist at the time. As anyone who has had the misfortune can tell you, being a Chronicle columnist as a freshman is tough. It’s probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done during my four years at Duke. No matter what you think or what you write, you’re wrong because you’re a freshman. (This is, of course, not a matter of public opinion, but a veritable fact that even I have come to recognize four years later.)
It didn’t help, though, that I made my life even harder than it needed to be. My first ever column for The Chronicle was a nightmare, a fact that I was clearly and consistently reminded of by the online comments. My final column of the semester, titled “Why I love Duke,” was only marginally better, but to this day still stands as the published work of which I am the least proud. Lost somewhere in the middle were dozens of negative comments and my only experience with cyberbullying to date. For some reason, be it stupidity or subconscious masochistic tendencies, I reapplied to continue writing as a sophomore.
And for some reason, be it luck or an unusually small applicant pool, I was accepted for a shot at redemption. With the help of a semester’s worth of “what not to do’s” under my belt and a new copy editor-slash-mentor, my columns began to improve. They received generally positive comments, but largely went under the radar, at least until “The best of Larry Moneta.” With this column calling for the termination of L-Mo came a barrage of comments, a Facebook event calling for protests outside the Allen Building, a string of emails from concerned administrators and—to the glee of my sophomore self—a ton of fellow students recognizing me on the Main Quad.
All it took was one “success” for me to become a legend in my own mind. It stopped being about the writing and about the dialogue. It was about me and my rapidly inflating ego.
As my sophomore year was coming to a close, I was given the opportunity to take on a managerial role as the Editorial Page Managing Editor—an opportunity that, truth be told, had nothing to do with my performance as a columnist and everything to do with my willingness to do the job. As my final column of the year approached, I was in the process of deciding whether or not to continue as a columnist while in my new role as Managing Editor. Knowing that column could have been my last and wanting to “go out with a bang,” I wrote the most inflammatory column on Duke’s hazing policy I could muster. And once again came the barrage of comments and student admirers, just like I wanted. The highlight of my day occurred when a student server at Plate and Pitchfork (may it rest in peace) stopped to ask if I was the guy who wrote “I’ve been hazed” and to tell me how awesome I was. My ego had reached new levels.
That night, I went to Shooters with some of my fraternity brothers in celebration. About an hour into the night, with the type of bravado (read: douchebaggery) that can only be summoned after a few too many drinks, I said to one of my brothers: “This is bulls---! We’ve been here for over an hour, and not ONE stranger has come up and recognized me.”
And that’s all it took to bring me crashing back down to earth. I often replay that moment in my head to remind myself of the person I had become, and the person I never want to become again.
Not surprisingly, I decided the next morning that it was time to give the column and the ego trip a rest. And I realized that by stepping back behind the pages and up into 301 Flowers, I could have a much more positive influence on this campus than I ever could while writing 800-word tirades.
Since that night at Shooters, I’ve traded 800 words every two weeks for 20 hours a week, every week. I’ve traded my “fans” for late nights in the Chronicle office with the most amazing friends and co-workers I could ask for. And most importantly, I’ve traded my inflated ego for what I hope is a stronger Editorial Pages now than when I first found it.
And yes, as a senior I’ve still written a polemical column every now and again, but the delusions of grandeur have been replaced by a true desire to change our campus for the better through discourse. If even one columnist or guest column or letter to the editor that I’ve chosen for our pages has made you question your ideas or challenge your perception of the campus and the world around you, it has all been worth it. It may have taken a few mistakes and a few too many drinks at Shooters to get here, but I eventually found my home in 301 Flowers as the Oz behind the Opinion pages’ green curtain. And it has been an honor to serve you.Scott Briggs is a Trinity senior, the editorial page editor and former editorial page managing editor. He would like to thank Meredith Jewitt for believing in him when she probably shouldn’t have, Antonio Segalini for actually teaching him how to write, Mousa Alshanteer for constantly reminding him of his imperfections and unknowingly pushing him to do better, Elizabeth Djinis for making him question his sanity on a daily basis, Danielle Muoio for reminding him that he was never sane to begin with and everyone else at The Chronicle for being his dysfunctional family for the last four years.