There was a moment, just over two years ago, that I think will be burned into my memory forever.
With COVID-19 shutting down the University and the world, the newsroom played host to an emergency last night of production. A fear of the unknown hung over the room, nervous and sad energy filled everyone. The night marched on, and one by one people left the newsroom — but not the sports section.
I remember standing on the tile floor next to the conference room and looking back at the sports desk. I remember seeing Lane laugh as she talked with Lily. I remember Jared, Nick, Spencer and Brandon all doing stupid things. I remember Ethan standing next to me, on the verge of crying for probably the eighth time that night.
I remember saying something to him along the lines of, “This won’t go away. This’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
Ethan never made it back for a night of production in the newsroom.
The Michigan Daily was never about journalism for me. It wasn’t the culmination of a life-long passion for Michigan sports or a step on the way to my dream of becoming a journalist. It wasn’t supposed to make me a talented sports reporter.
Instead, I joined because my freshman seminar teacher had us read a men’s soccer article from The Daily in class. Lost and scared in Ann Arbor, I struggled to find friends or a place of belonging. Then we read that article in class and I thought to myself, “I like sports and I like writing, hopefully they take just anyone.” Thankfully, they did.
That’s why I joined. Why I stayed is because of Mike and Laney and so many other people who made it the place to be. Talking about sports, telling stories, playing touch football and euchre, laughing and forgetting about the problems that swirled around us, they made this big university small. The place and the people are what The Daily is to me. The place and the people are everything to The Daily.
The newsroom is where I met my roommates and some of my best friends. It’s where I went when I was happy and where I went when I was sad. When I was failing classes and the possibility of a future seemed ludicrous, the newsroom remained a steadying force. Its soft roof, the posters, the items hiding in the corner, a ketchup packet on the light, a broken Transformers toy, a woven basket, ping pong paddles, random playing cards strewn across the desk, an Indiana mini bat, a maize t-shirt from a State News game past, napkins and forks, Steve Pikiell’s head, pens and so many more items litter the background of my favorite memories.
The newsroom had, over the course of 18-odd months, become the constant in my life. Become the source of my life. Then, on that depressing March night, it was taken away.
Over the next two years, I changed a lot. The Daily changed a lot. The sports section changed a lot, despite our best efforts. Zoom bonding and Pictionary became standard-issue ways to stay connected, but we all know it wasn’t the same.
The words I told Ethan on the last night of production came back to haunt me, eating away at my every waking moment. The sports section wasn’t even close to what it had been before. We were barely surviving.
I can’t properly convey to you what this place and community mean to me. Emotions are not my strong suit — anyone who’s had more than a three second interaction with me will tell you that — but The Daily is the epicenter of my college experience. It’s the only reason I’ve cried in college, all three times.
It made me angry, frustrated, ashamed, disappointed and just plain sad more times than I could count. It showed me how to grow up and how to deal with problems. It did what this esteemed University often failed to do and taught me. It gave me my happiest moments. It’s a place I’m forever indebted to.
This past fall, when we finally returned to the newsroom and I walked up the stairs to this fantastic place and took in the empty shell of the sports desk, a broad smile stretched across my face. When the sophomores and other writers I hadn’t seen in person for months walked into the newsroom, I couldn’t have been happier. I was home and hopefully they would be too.
Months passed, and still things weren’t the same as before. They wouldn’t be while I was one of their editors. But things were better. The sports section wasn’t, as I feared, dying. The reasons I joined, the reasons I wanted to invest so much time and effort into this section started popping up and working their way out from the shadows.
Four months after my tenure ended, I walked into the newsroom to put my penultimate article through edits. I didn’t know the names of half the faces clustered around the sports desk; they were a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who joined in the winter, after my editor tenure ended.
As I went through edits, I listened to snippets of conversation and watched people buzz around to share stories and laugh. I bugged some people about a feature for women’s gymnastics and enjoyed some hijinks.
I’d never felt more at peace. A book had replaced the ketchup packet, the transformer was hidden somewhere and the desk was still too clean.
But everything I’d wanted for two years was there on that night. The memories I’d formed as a freshman and sophomore rushed back. The fear and doubt and worry that lived in my mind disappeared in an instant.
On our final night of production this year, I’m going to stand in the same spot I did two years ago. I’m going to look back and see a freshman on sports do something stupid and have their friends — who are also on sports — laugh at them. I’m going to see people try to give edits as chaos unfolds around them. I’m going to watch, in real time, as someone forms the same bond with this place that I have.
I’m going to see something I will never see again, and it will be a long time before I feel that happy.