So there I was, sitting in my dorm room in the basement of Craven, asking myself how in the world was I going to stay sane as a sophomore at Zoom (née Duke) University in the fall of 2020. I was still on what seemed like a hundred listservs from the activities fair held a lifetime ago. Foolishly, I thought that an additional “extracurricular” would hold back the inevitable loneliness and isolation that was in store for us all.
When I got an email from The Chronicle’s recruitment chair with a schedule of Zoom meetings, I decided that this is what will fill my free time. I had every intention, out of some misaligned and self-imposed sense of due diligence, to attend info sessions for every department before joining sports. I had grown up a Duke basketball zealot, it would be perfect to cover them. Even during the pandemic, Duke Athletics was something I could get excited about. I checked the info session calendar – Recess was the first section holding a Zoom call – and put the dates and Zoom links in my calendar and went back to my previously scheduled doing nothing.
Flash forward to the Recess meeting day, and, much to my surprise, they were letting prospective members take pitches. I was shocked – they were just letting us write what we were interested in. I recognized the faces in a few of the rectangles and liked the emphasis on mentorship. “Why not,” I said. I was paired with a mentor and conducted my first interview before the week was out. I never did go to any other department meetings. I had found my home at The Chronicle.
In my first semester writing for Recess, the variety of articles and topics I covered was daunting, but nowhere nearly as daunting as the first few times my editors tore my pieces to shreds. Even though the meetings that year were almost all online, except for a few picnics outside, I had found a community that I never expected to discover. There was so much Recess lore to catch up on just so that I could follow our weekly pitch meetings, but all of the staff members were so welcoming even though we sat at home and stared into the void instead of meeting in the office. Admittedly, I wish I had kept up my writing at the pace I held that semester, but it did succeed in taking up the extra time I had initially sought to fill.
The first time I pitched my own idea, which was to cover the YouTube interview series Hot Ones, I expected to be met with at least some modicum of resistance, but instead, I was allowed a runway to pursue my interests. I learned that, in Recess, we have the space to write about important aspects of our community and our identities, which have only been expanded and improved throughout my time as a staff writer. Truly one of the best parts of my career with Recess has been the incredible diversity in the types of stories I have written over the years. I have interviewed ESPN producers, Duke professors, local artists and student group leaders. I wrote movie reviews and covered music festivals. Nowhere else would I have been exposed to such a wealth of topics. Not even to mention the pitch meetings every week where I could get my weekly catchup on whatever influencer shenanigans had transpired since our last meeting.
The first time I ever set foot in Flowers as a staff member was during my fourth semester writing for The Chronicle. However bizarre that statement is, coming back to The Chronicle from a semester away was easier than I could have ever expected. The new faces – who had spent more time in physical meetings than I had – all brought such interesting perspectives to covering different aspects of campus, local, and national arts and culture. Interviewing artists and curators, as it turns out, is much harder in person than on Zoom, but it was even more rewarding to connect with stories on a more physical level.
All of this is to say that I have been so lucky that I stumbled into that Zoom meeting in August 2020. Frankly, I should have written more, especially during these last two semesters. Here’s hoping that I do end up writing a story for take home and that writing these aspirations in this column will hold me accountable. I will miss listening to pitches, picking up a story without realizing that I don’t know anything about NFTs, and the inevitable “here are five ALP courses to consider when book bagging.” But what I think I’ll miss most are the small moments: the ingenious icebreakers, all of Recess somehow ending up in the corner at entire Chronicle events, and all of the jokes along the way. The Chronicle and Recess have meant so much to me. I know both are in the most qualified hands and cannot wait to read the stories in all the years to come.
Ben Smith is a Trinity senior and has been a Recess staff writer for The Chronicle’s 116th, 117th, and 118th volumes. He knows that there is no way he could properly thank all of the people that have made his Chronicle and Recess so special.
To Matthew, Leah, and Milla, he wants to thank you for putting up with Recess’s occasional silliness.
To Sarah, Tessa, and Jonathan, he wants to thank you for holding the department together through ever-challenging times. He knows that it did not always come easily, but that each of your leadership was exactly what the section needed.
Most of all, to his first mentor, Kerry, he never thanked you enough for your quiet support with his first piece. He knows he would not be writing this column if it weren’t for your support.
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