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April 29: A date not to be forgotten for beginnings, endings

I'll never forget April 29.

Tomorrow is The Chronicle's year-end picnic, which represents the unofficial changing of the guard. In a matter of hours, I will relinquish responsibility for this newspaper, and a new staff will begin to plan for next year.

Last year, April 29 was our last day of publication, the final day of classes. The seniors were looking forward to graduation, and I was getting ready to undertake the most difficult task I had ever attempted. It was a warm, spring day, like the ones we've been having lately--the kind of day that makes you happy to be alive. I felt ready to meet any challenge.

The date of April 29 serves to bookend my term as editor. In the past year I have found my editorship exhilarating, frustrating, joyous, stressful, unbelievable. In my personal history, April 29 has served as an important marker.

But that's not why the day will live forever in my mind.

I was in my room that night, pondering the year ahead. And then the phone call came. My mind was unable to process all the information I was receiving, but I caught pieces: trial . . . Rodney King . . . police officers . . . innocent . . . rioting . . . home.

Home. Never before had I felt such a strong desire to be there. Los Angeles was going up in flames, and I was on the other side of the country. My first thought was my family; my second was my city.

Home. And I couldn't do a thing about it.

April reminded me that our personal victories and defeats are often far less important than we take them to be. Not that we shouldn't care about a test, a day, a relationship--but it's easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget what's all around us.

That's what journalism is about: learning about the world around us. The stories I've most enjoyed writing are about people--about finding something unique in a person and telling a story.

Last summer, I followed a member of the Durham Bulls for a day. Lee Heath was hoping to make the major leagues someday--and I had the chance to see his life as a minor leaguer. The previous year, I had the opportunity to speak to John McDonald, whose drug store makes the best milk shakes around. And then there's Joe.

Joe Jegbadai had not seen his daughter in a decade. He had left Liberia for the United States, intending to send for his family when he had enough money. Civil war erupted, and his daughter became a refugee. Finally, with the help of his congressman, Joe was reunited with his daughter.

Learning about people like Joe stirs something within me. Hearing and relaying stories like Joe's reminds me of something in all of us. It reminds me that we're all people--that, no matter what separates us, there is something to unite us.

And so I've learned about people like Joe. But I've also learned about people like Amy Geissinger and Ricky Coffin. Though I didn't report on the bus accident or the hostage crisis, I felt the mood at the office. There we were, many of us seriously shaken, still needing to produce a newspaper.

I don't envision myself as a newspaper reporter in the future, perhaps because I have a tendency to become too emotionally attached. I would rather be a columnist than a reporter--but I might rather be an activist than either one.

Many times this year I've wanted to speak my mind, yet many times I've refrained because I didn't want my personal views to get in the way of my role as editor. In the rare cases where the editors of the newspaper were publicly involved in an issue, we had to be even more aware of our role--we had to be extra-careful to ensure that our coverage was fair.

And so it's been all year: trying to decide what is fair, what is right, what is best. That is what any good journalist seeks.

My contact with journalists here at Duke and elsewhere has reinforced my great respect for the profession and for its practitioners. There are always exceptions, but most journalists take their jobs extremely seriously. One doesn't need to become callous, but one needs to be able to separate personal feelings from professional. When there's a war, when someone dies, when a hurricane hits--a paper needs to be there. And that's a tremendous responsibility.

In a matter of days, I'll be graduating and moving on to the next stage of my life. But I'll take with me an incredible year. I couldn't possibly list all of the memorable events or people, but I must mention three.

Amy, Michael and Peggy: You have been my salvation, giving more than anyone could ever ask, all for the sake of making the 88th volume of The Chronicle excellent. And you have been true friends.

Let's all get together in New York, OK?

Dreams of New York give way to the reality of Los Angeles. Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the L.A. riots, and their impact remains. The still-charred stores. The mistrustful people. Time magazine's cover screaming: "Is The City of Angels Going to Hell?"

The city which once represented everything good about America now suddenly represents everything bad about America. How many articles have been written, how many conversations have taken place, how many people have wondered: What happened to the dream?

I submit that the dream is not dead. Soon I will return, possibly for the long haul, to Los Angeles. There, or anywhere else, I will pursue the dream, the ideal, the truth.

Stephen Dobyns has written a poem called "Beauty." It is the tale of a journalist who . . . never mind. I suggest that you read the poem.

Jason Greenwald is a Trinity senior and the editor of The Chronicle.

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