Victoria Noble: Thank you, Michigan Daily

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 12:54pm

Almost five years ago, I attended freshman student orientation. I attended campus tours and backpacking sessions with peer advisors, learning about the myriad things the University of Michigan had to offer. I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I examined the massive array of student organizations, majors and course options. My new peers were impressive and intimidating, and the prospect of sharing classes with many of them was both exciting and overwhelming.

At orientation, the University of Michigan was novel and alien. I didn’t know what I would do here –– what was I capable of and what I wanted to do were both questions that had yet to be answered. 

It didn’t take long for me to find my first role model — one of the peer advisors at an orientation backpacking session. She had just graduated from the University, and was headed to Northwestern University Law School the following fall. I was completely in awe of this person I barely knew.

At that time, I had nebulous aspirations of maybe becoming a lawyer someday. I didn’t know many lawyers, and certainly not female ones. But that peer advisor showed me what was possible if I worked hard and took advantage of the many opportunities the University offered. I left orientation feeling inspired and excited to start my college career.

But shortly after I moved into my first dorm room in the fall, I felt completely and utterly lost. Many of my hallmates seemed to have dozens of close friends from the first day of Welcome Week, and already knew what they wanted to major in and which student organizations they wanted to be participate in.

I met wonderful people and made lots of friends, but really missed the close bonds I had with my family and friends from high school. I loved my classes, but definitely didn’t have the next four years planned out. I attended meetings for student organizations, but didn’t feel like I had found my place on campus yet.

To be fair, I was only a few weeks into my college career at this point, so I wouldn’t exactly call this a crisis. But it seemed like my peers were already enjoying “the best four years of their lives,” and I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming to Michigan.

One day during that first semester, I wandered out of my dorm, across Maynard Street, and into the Student Publications Building. It was pretty and incredibly close, and I just wanted to see what it was like inside. A man told me to come back for The Michigan Daily’s information session later that night, and I did.

I went to the info session thinking I might like to be a Daily photographer. But after listening to the editorial page editors pitch EditBoard, the group of students that debates and writes the Daily’s editorials, I decided to join.

Joining Edit Board required, among other things, writing bylined op-eds from my own perspective in addition to the editorials written from the outline created by the entire group. My first op-ed changed my entire college experience.

Expressing my opinions in print taught me their value. It showed me that the thoughts in my own head — my voice, my unique way of thinking about the world — were worth sharing. In 650 words or less, I became more outspoken, self-confident and self-aware.

I stopped viewing myself as one person in a sea of absurdly talented students, and started viewing myself as a writer with stories to tell — my stories, which I didn’t need to change or conform to anyone else’s ideology, experience or worldview.

I kept writing for the Daily. There are more than 50 pieces with my name on them floating around the internet. Many have been well-received; others have stirred controversy and drawn criticism.

One of my earlier columns was posted on a blog read by people who, uh, didn’t quite agree with my message. They left dozens of angry comments, ridiculing me and my work. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry about it at the time. But if I had a running list of my best experiences in college, publishing that column would be on it. I grew more as a person from being the momentary target for angry internet trolls than I did from most classes I took at the University.

Some opinions and stances — whether on political issues like feminism or on ethical decisions at work — are unpopular and controversial. That doesn’t diminish their importance. Learning to stand up for causes I believe in has taught me how to stand up for myself — one of the most important things anyone can learn.

Above all, writing for the Daily helped me find a place for myself within a massive campus community. It gave me an identity and a sense of direction. The self-confidence and sense of self I developed as a result paved the way for everything else I accomplished and decided to do at the University of Michigan. 

In a little over two weeks, I will walk across the stage at the Big House, officially concluding my time on this campus. In the fall, I’m going to attend a law school I never would’ve even dreamed of getting into five years ago. I’ll have to leave the home I’ve found at Michigan, but now I know how to build a new one.

Victoria Noble can be reached at vjnoble@umich.edu.