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All I really need to know I learned at The Chronicle

I still don't know why I went to college.

Of course, I answered the question on my share of admissions applications, but I didn't really think about it. Then, the goal was to find a way to cram as many activities, honors and awards as possible into a 500-word essay to justify why I, rather than eight other qualified people, should be allowed to go to Duke or UVa or Harvard or Yale.

I remember choosing Duke because it seemed like a place that would be open to new ideas, a place where I could take classes with exceptional professors, and perhaps most persuasively, a place where I could also get pizza on points and championship basketball.

I was right, to a point. I've benefited from plenty of pizza, basketball and some truly extraordinary professors during my time here. But I've had far too few classes that posed exceptionally challenging intellectual questions.

I soon found that I, and too many of my peers, suffered from a kind of intellectual anorexia. Amid all that a research university offers, we'd sworn off engaging ideas because we were so busy rushing from one place to another, subsisting on all-night cramfests and stop-gap conversations that revolve around how long our term papers are but never what they're about.

By sophomore year, I was calling for transfer applications. The Chronicle is the only thing that kept me here.

Leading a daily newspaper, I've struggled both intellectually and emotionally with the impact of First Amendment principles--during the "Roadkill" debacle, I faced the tears of an Asian woman who told me that, in the wake of the "Wanna flip for it?" cartoon, she had to explain to a University administrator that local Asian restaurants do not serve dog meat. I've been called a bitch to my face and I've been accused of caring about multicultural issues only to advance my own white feminist agenda. I've had to decide how to respond to the ways other people have chosen to define who I am, and then I've had to decide how to define myself.

That's been tricky, because I think for a long time my self-image has been like a college essay, carefully constructed to appeal to the largest number of observers and, when feasible, to shift depending upon the audience. I was enthusiastic, energetic, hard-working and motivated--but less by some internal set of goals than amalgamated stamps of approval.

A lot of that fell out from under me in December, when losing a scholarship competition and delivering a eulogy at a close friend's funeral helped me realize that awards and compliments were not the ways I measured my respect for the people around me, so I'd better stop using them to measure myself.

Still, I was afraid of other people's opinions, and I struggled with how to do what was right when I knew it would upset people. Particularly among members of my staff, I was afraid to talk honestly about how hard we all needed to be working or how tired I was of shouldering responsibility for the newspaper, because I thought if I admitted I was demoralized, the paper would collapse.

I had always thought of leadership as cheerleading, buying gummy bears for discouraged staffers or offering to treat for dinner at the Oak Room on particularly exhausting days. The sugar-rush fixes cleared the air for a few minutes, and the lingering problems subsided, at least for a while. But when I led my last staff meeting Friday, I heard myself focusing on the difficult decisions we've made this year, dwelling on the marathon-runner exhaustion of responsibility rather than giving a Pollyanna farewell replete with sugar-coated smiles.

I wish, in a lot of ways, that I'd had more than a handful of class discussions that brought with them the intensity of an editorial board debate, or that I'd found a senior thesis topic that would have forced me to struggle with a question the way I've thought and rethought the implications of the First Amendment in the wake of "Roadkill." I suppose I envy the students who have those experiences in the classroom, because that's what I always imagined I was supposed to do in college.

Yet I can't imagine a thesis topic that would have demanded the time and the love that I have given to The Chronicle. I've spent my senior year struggling through tense racial issues and making tough calls on libel questions with a group of 16- to 22-year-olds who have become some of my closest friends and toughest critics. I've had to answer to 15,000 readers I may never meet, and I've had to do it 149 times in a year.

Looking back, I doubt that anything else would have forced me to scrutinize so closely who I am and who I want to become. I guess that's what I came to college to learn.

Alison Stuebe is a Trinity senior and editor of The Chronicle.


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