Looking back

I’m writing my final words in The Chronicle in a hotel outside Richmond, Va., on the cusp of the real world and a career in journalism. As I drove down the long, tree-lined stretches of I-85 that connect Durham to Virginia’s capital, I racked my brain to try and come up with a suitable idea for a senior column, but my mind wandered instead to impending deadlines. I’m in town to cover a NASCAR race for an online publication, and I’m expected to submit 800 words by midnight, and another thousand or so the next day. Deadlines, of course, must be met, so my brainstorming session was cut short.

As the managing editor of The Chronicle, I was charged with ensuring that Duke students, faculty and staff had a newspaper to pick up each day. Our top editors meet at 4 p.m. each day and work until the newspaper is done, then meet the next day to do it all again. It’s a colossal job for passionate volunteers, and the daily grind often leaves us without respite to digest our own work—a problem most undergraduates share.

My first story was a relatively simple assignment, doled out by then-sports editor Gabe Starosta at a sports section meeting. He asked if I liked women’s soccer, and I didn’t know what to say; I had never watched women’s soccer before. Regardless, I found myself trudging off to Koskinen Stadium, a place I would find myself trudging off to often in the coming three years, to interview a senior striker trying to make one last memorable run in the NCAA Tournament. I asked leading questions and scribbled down some notes, pieced together a mediocre story over the next couple days and got my first byline in the print edition—I saved three or four copies of the paper and stowed them away safely in my dorm room, not necessarily thinking there would be 87 bylines yet to come. Starosta told me he liked the story and I found sportswriting to be a fun challenge, so I came back to another sports meeting the next week.

I remember that first story well, but the rest was a blur. I couldn’t tell you which of the stories I’ve written is my favorite, all the interviews and copy-editing sessions sort of blend together. After spending more time at the newspaper and rising through the ranks a bit, I was often juggling two or three stories at the same time. Instead of watching a game with a small reporter’s notebook—as I tended to do for my first few stories—I began tweeting and blogging from the stands, as any journalist worth his salt does these days.

The hours piled on and journalism became a full-time job for me and my fellow editors of The Chronicle, but ironically, as we spent more and more time writing and editing, we spent less time looking back on past work. Amid the shuffle of our busy lives, we as Duke students—whether we’re student journalists, student athletes or just plain old students—have collectively lost the time to reflect. Last week, I paged through some yellowed copies of The Chronicle I’d stuffed into my desk, filled with articles I’d written in press rooms all over the country. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses—paragraphs I’d rewrite given the chance, or quotes I’d lend more reverence—but I never learned from those errors until I took the time now, at the end of road.

Graduation week is our chance to slow down, to drink in this beautiful campus for the last time, to show it proudly to our families and to savor our final moments with the families we’ve adopted these past four years. Before you move on to big jobs in big cities, take this last opportunity to grow from your time in Durham.

Nicholas Schwartz is a Trinity senior and is the managing editor and former sports associate editor of The Chronicle. He would like to thank his family in 301 Flowers, who helped make this campus a better place to live.


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