If I ever finish writing this column, it will run on the last day of classes, at the end of a very strange year. A year ago I was talking to friends on Zoom while nervously getting ready to publish my first story as editor-in-chief. This year I’ll once again be on campus for LDOC, which brings to mind the half-joking phrase Duke students say as a reminder to pace oneself while celebrating the day: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
I’ve been thinking about that phrase lately, as I look back on the past year. Running The Chronicle is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. We covered huge stories: the pandemic, the movement for racial justice, the election, fraternities’ decision to disaffiliate from Duke. I’ll never forget the feeling of documenting history.
This year was also the hardest of my life. Covering the constant barrage of news was exhausting. What’s more, we had to cover it while we worked remotely from our childhood homes, far away from our lives and friends at Duke; while we navigated the return to an unfamiliar campus; while we wondered whether our loved ones would get sick. I often felt overwhelmed. I wondered some days whether I had the strength to keep from falling apart, let alone to run a newspaper.
This year was a marathon, not a sprint. It was long and hard, and that’s part of what made it meaningful. So I want to take some time to talk about the things that kept me going when I needed to recharge, or when I needed a reminder that it was all worth it—to torture the metaphor, the little tables with water bottles along the roadside of this year.
Sometimes the day-to-day work of running the paper kept me energized. Few things matched the high of breaking the news that Duke planned to change its fall housing policy or lock down the campus. Few things made me as proud as lifting up the voices of international students who feared they would have to leave the country and of workers who demanded hazard pay and better communication. Few things were as interesting as learning the random skills it takes to put out the news, from laying out a print paper to taking and editing photographs.
The job wasn’t always enjoyable, though. Sometimes we screwed up a story, or breaking news threw my schedule into disarray, or I barely slept for days on end. What kept me going in those moments was the people working alongside me.
Carter Forinash, our news editor and later editor-at-large, cracked jokes and convinced us to play Geoguessr or throw a baseball around instead of working. Opinion Editor Mihir Bellamkonda put on music and waxed poetic with me while we put the print paper together. Managing Editor Maria Morrison mailed us cookies from across the country while she studied remotely last fall. I spent election night in the office with the writers and editors leading our coverage, our conversation taking my mind off the knot of stress in the pit of my stomach.
In between the highs and the lows, the breaking news stories and the late nights goofing off in the office, were moments of calm. After everyone else had gone home on election night and I’d gotten an hour of sleep on the couch in my office, I watched the sun rise over campus, painting the Gothic buildings gold while the country waited to learn who the next president would be. I often walked back to my car late at night, watching my breath fog the air and stopping to look around at the campus. I made time when I could to watch a movie or get a meal with friends outside the paper.
Those moments helped me keep going because they made me realize one of the reasons it all mattered: I love this school.
Maybe that sounds strange, given the amount of space The Chronicle dedicates to holding the administration’s feet to the fire. But that love is not loyalty to the people in charge or a naive belief that this place is perfect. It’s a dedication to the community and a desire to push it to be better.
As I see it, at its best The Chronicle is a love letter to Duke. It’s an affirmation that the experiences of the people who call this place home are important enough to be part of the first draft of history. It’s an argument that we are better than our worst moments, that we can become a more equitable and just community.
I lived in my childhood home in Charlotte for five months last year. I didn’t see some friends for ten months. Coming back to campus, pausing to take it in, reuniting and spending time with the people who make Duke what it is—they all reminded me of how grateful I am to be here. They also reminded me that with so much at stake, The Chronicle’s loving-yet-critical voice is more important than ever.
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Now that my term as editor is over, I’ll have a lot more moments when I can stop and think and rest. I have some processing to do—running a newspaper hasn’t given me as much time as I’ve needed to reflect on living through a pandemic. I need to get some sleep for once.
But first I want to enjoy being at Duke without the mantle of editor-in-chief. I want to spend time with the friends I’ve made during this long, crazy, wonderful journey.
I finished the marathon. I’m proud that I did it. Now I’m ready for what comes next.
Matthew Griffin is a Trinity junior who had no idea what he was getting himself into when he ran for editor-in-chief of The Chronicle’s 116th volume, but who still thinks that running is the best decision he ever made. He would like to thank Maria Morrison for being his first phone call in a crisis; Carter Forinash for keeping both the office and our coverage fun and interesting; Mona Tong for her fierce dedication to accountability journalism; and Rose Wong for her loyalty to student journalism through thick and thin. He would like to thank Jake Satisky, Bre Bradham and Mark Stencel for selflessly taking the time to answer his endless questions.
He would like to thank the community for giving feedback on The Chronicle’s coverage and telling us how the paper can better cover all voices at Duke. Finally, he would like to thank all of The Chronicle’s staff for doing more than was asked of them, in a hard year, in service of this school.