This is the first column I’ve ever written for The Chronicle, and it’s also goodbye. That’s characteristic of my time here, the play between its fluid shape, its certainty. When I joined lower mast my sophomore year (thanks, Margot!), my Duke experience was characterized by fear. After a remote freshman year, I was unsure of my ability to speak with conviction, let alone to lead; all I knew was that I love words.
Taking stories from draft to publication as a managing editor also reinforced my love of people. It’s a gift to take a step back with a columnist, to help them look at that puffy, wet wisp of an idea and condense it until it becomes water. (Jocelyn’s were violet, Linda’s were light blue.) I started to see Opinion as a constellation. Dozens of columnists, their walks of life and paths at Duke so different, yet their writing revealed something similar about the neurology of being a student here. There’s loneliness, anger, passion, pride. If you don’t love the school you’re at, make it into a new one. If you do love it, make it better.
You can really get to know someone through their writing style. The way you punctuate, did that come from your 6th grade English teacher, or the cadence of your favorite bedtime story? Sentence length on paper matches lung capacity during speech. A returning anecdote about lab research or long-distance running unveils life priorities, career ambitions, dreams and goals.
And then the summer turned and the department was placed into my hands. To be honest, as Opinion Editor, I was never a leader in the way I thought I’d be. It was scary! This year, more than the first, taught me that an editor isn’t a boss but a guiding hand on the shoulder (a magic eraser, a glitter gel pen). Editing is trust in the form of garden shears. Or: it’s to curb your overzealousness. Or: it’s seeing the sculpture in the ice, and carving everything else gently away. And yeah, that’s pretentious as hell. But let me lean into the art of it.
How do you shoulder the days? Maybe you pass through BC every Tuesday, its rubbery-carpet smell pavloving you into reflecting upon your week. Maybe it’s “CODE 111: Pick up package(s)” that forces you to step back from work for five minutes and breathe. Me, I learned to measure time by my walk to Flowers. Every Sunday, during meetings, I would admire everyone else on uppermast as they forged forward in their respective departments. That rhythm put academic stressors into perspective. It is okay to start small, there is always room to grow, there is always something you don’t know. The university is more defined by the students than the structures we exist in. Editors do what we can, even just a little, to help bring these people to light.
As those weeks passed, the crisp autumn air turned to frost. My spine straightened, marginally. It became less excruciating to say no. It became even more of a joy to say yes. The time it took for me to make decisions petered down to its half-life.
While consulting with managing editors, hoping it would prepare them to take my place, we all watched the columnists step into their own, shift and rest and come back changed.
I also made capital-M Mistakes. Emails flew in faster than I’d known they could. Wade through, consider voice and audience and purpose, protect your peace and curate your vibes. Publishing guest columns was my favorite part, each piece uniquely flavored, rooted in real passion, and backed by the urgency of their topicality. SLGs banded together, faculty and grad students fought for their jobs, advocates spoke for the forests. Guest stories are delicate. Sometimes their papery skins punctured or I slipped and they fell. Slowly, I grew comfortable in the ritual. Thank you for the opportunity to learn.
In the end, I hope it meant something. Maybe you think no one reads this stuff, and that’s okay. If that’s true, then I hope the process is cathartic for the writers, at least. Opinion, stay annoying and stubborn, that you may grow wildly diverse and keep sticking together and let nothing dispel the cloud.
The frost yields to humidity, to vitamin D on my skin again. Here's my first column, for you to edit. I think it’s a bit too flowery, but when you get the time, let me know what you think.
In character with my Chronicle journey, I don’t know how things will look next year, if I will edit, write – but I do know that as opinions are happening up there in the Gothic tower (or more like, over Slack), I will read them, and I will love them.
Marina Chen is a Trinity junior and was opinion editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume. She would like to thank Milla, Margot, Chrissy, and this year’s managing editors and columnists for their patience and persistence.
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Marina Chen is a Trinity junior and opinion editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.