Last October, Theo Mackie and I got invited to the newsroom one Friday morning to unpack boxes. It was great to get back in the building, but felt a little wrong that we needed someone to open a locked door to access a place that we spent most of college. That compounded once we got inside.
By some awful coincidence, The Daily redid its roof last summer, which meant that as we all sat locked in our homes, the newsroom had to be stripped bare of its personality. The posters and random odes to inside jokes long forgotten were packed in boxes, to avoid anything getting ruined by falling dust and debris.
We were supposed to be there to do our best to put it back together.
I stressed about the cork boards next to the sports desk and the posters that went nearby. I wanted it to look and feel the same, but I could just draw from my memory. I taped Kevin Santo’s old ID to the cork board, next to Jake Lourim’s notebook and the Santa hat Tien Le took from Madison Square Garden. No one who returns there in the fall will have any real connection with those items, but part of me still worries they’re in the wrong place, next to the wrong thing.
I’d try to explain the significance of that, but that would require explaining the significance of The Daily. And despite having spent the last three years daydreaming about what I’d write in this column while bored in class or in the car, I’m still really struggling to do that. It’s less something I can articulate, but rather than a flood of memories crashing down.
Nervous emails to Kevin and Betelhem Ashame and Max Marcovitch about joining months before school started, quickly fast-forwarded to two years later, dropping everything to meet Max at Hunter House in the middle of the day to piece together an atom bomb dropped in the middle of our first month as Managing Sports Editors. A 3 a.m. phone call from Tien — “come play basketball” — then migrating to West Quad to hang out with Lily until the sun came up. Drives through the night that bleed together, with Max and Mike Persak, with Theo and Aria Gerson. Waiting for the building to clear out as production wound down so we could sit and play euchre until Paige set her timer to go home. Tapping idiots on the shoulder at a party and telling them to come to The Daily so maybe they’d eventually understand this place the way I do. Coming out of the closet and having my worst fears dissolve.
I never expected The Daily to be any of that for me. It was supposed to be a way to advance my career, to do sports journalism. The Daily would help get me there, and in the meantime I’d stay holed up in my room watching games. That was my plan for college. A standing 4 p.m. Sunday meeting was, at best, an inconvenience to be worked around. If I walked quickly, I could get back for kickoff of the next window of football games.
Then something funny happened. I started skipping NFL Sundays — and if you knew me at all at that age, you’d know that wasn’t a thing I ever did. I once made my poor mother drive an eight hour round trip in one day instead of staying the night because the place we were going didn’t have access to watch Monday Night Football. But here I was, at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, sitting at the sports desk with my back to the television, not caring about what I was missing.
When they ran for MSE, Mike and Orion Sang said they wanted The Daily to be a place people went when they didn’t need to be there, to do homework or just hang out. I took that to the greatest extent I could and started showing up every night. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, because the best memories originated from when I didn’t have to be there.
It was a little bit tempting to write this column about the pandemic, and I think there’s a part of every kid in college right now (or at least those among us with the extreme privilege that COVID-19 hasn’t touched our lives in a more direct way) that will always feel bitter over losing some percentage of the best time in our lives. But my overwhelming emotion from the last 13 months is a deep appreciation for everything I had in college beforehand, the memories I’ll always hang onto and those I made this year because of friends I met at The Daily.
One of my fears is that, post-COVID-19, The Daily will change into a place people don’t go unless needed. Zoom is convenient. So is cutting down on print, doing less work and staying in so you can watch football or catch up on school. Caring about the minute details of the items surrounding the sports desk feels like a manifestation of that fear.
I want people to get out of The Daily what I got out of The Daily, and that’s at least a small part of it I can control.
But that fear is, of course, completely irrational. The Daily works because people who come into it get more than just a place to build a resume, and nothing will change that. Whether the sports desk looks right to me or not doesn’t matter, because when people come back to the building and make their own memories, it will look right to them.
And it will always look like home.
Sears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ethan_sears. He’s so grateful to everyone who made this such a rewarding experience. You can find his work this summer at the Los Angeles Times.