In the final days before the start of my freshman year at Duke, my mother would jokingly tell her friends that her sports-obsessed son was going to major in basketball. Fast-forward four years and more than 800 bylines, and you’ll find that—like with most things my mother says—she wasn’t very far off.
As we made that first drive south down Interstate 85 in the fall of 2011, she probably knew it wouldn’t be long after our first tearful goodbye until she saw me again. All she had to do was turn on the television come basketball season and look to the sea of faces at the center of Cameron Indoor Stadium’s Section 17.
What she didn’t imagine at that point was that I would soon trade my in my No. 2 jersey (which I had been wearing since it belonged to Josh McRoberts, not Quinn Cook) and spot in the student section for a blue blazer and a seat on press row.
Instead of my head bobbing up and down amongst the mob, it was buried in my computer screen and my notepad. While my friends were hurling insults at opposing players, I tried my best not to laugh while typing and scribbling furiously. My occasional appearances on television were not as another screaming face in the mob of Cameron Crazies, but as a speck on the bottom corner of the screen as a player was inbounding the ball from the sideline.
When I was in high school, I would attend sporting events to avoid doing my work. As a Duke student, attending sporting events became my work. And though the diploma I receive in three painstakingly-short weeks will say my degree is in public policy studies, spending four years working for The Chronicle was the best education I could have ever received.
Journalism is so much more than writing and editing. My time in 301 Flowers taught me how to succeed and how to fail; how to stand by your convictions and how to apologize for your mistakes; how to honor history and how to innovate; how to receive criticism and how to give it; how to listen and how to ask the right questions; how to learn and how to teach. In doing all this, I found the one thing that nobody can ever take away from me—my voice.
At the end of the day, I probably made a lot of the same mistakes in college that I did in high school. Sometimes I spread myself too thin. Sometimes I didn’t work hard enough in my classes. Sometimes I cared too much about other people, and other times I didn’t care enough. Sometimes I let my extracurricular involvements blind me from the reasons I was at Duke in the first place.
But this time, at least everything I did meant something.
When it comes to retirement, athletes have dozens of different ways to say goodbye. Some, like NBA legend David Robinson, ride off into the sunset with a championship in tow. Others, like NFL running backs Jim Brown and Earl Campbell, have their careers cut short by injuries. Michael Jordan walked away from basketball not once, but twice, just to learn that he couldn’t stay away. The infamous Brett Favre just didn’t seem to know when to hang it up.
In journalism, we don’t really get stuck on goodbyes. One of the funniest things I learned as a freshman was that a news story did not need to have a real ending. The most important information goes at the top of the story, and whoever wrote these rules understood that, one by one, people would eventually stop reading. Sometimes a profound, circular ending emerges from the day’s happenings, but more often than not, the last line is just a fact—an afterthought that was not quite important enough to make it into the opening paragraphs.
This is one of the reasons why I have not been getting overly sentimental when preparing for a life without The Chronicle, even a life without Duke. My last three weeks in the Gothic Wonderland aren’t going to change the last four years. The most significant moments of my college experience have already happened.
If journalism has taught me anything, it is that endings are sometimes overrated. The last line isn’t where you have to prove the story was worth writing in the first place. Sometimes, you have to be comfortable letting the story end and speak for itself.
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