The last picture I have on my phone from inside The Michigan Daily newsroom is of a computer screen. I was laying out the last newspaper I ever made there. The headline on the top banner of the sports section reads, “THE END.”
In a normal place, with normal people, exporting that sports section at 1:05 a.m. would’ve been the end for me too. I would have shut down the computer, gone home and retreated into months of quarantine.
But because The Daily is The Daily, that day — the day the world stopped — became one of my favorite college memories. For hours, long after the paper had been sent to the printer, we danced on tables, played cards and belted out Electric Love. One kid, who I’ll only name as Chunks, spent the evening eating cardboard and wearing an empty case of Bud Light over his head. The seniors hugged and cried, and I did too, because I knew it would be my last time seeing any of them as college students.
If I had been a little more prescient, I would have known to soak up the memories and take a picture or two for myself. Back then, though, we all assumed we’d be in the newsroom by September. So this week, when I went back to remember that night, I found my camera roll barren. The next photo after that last picture of InDesign is of an empty campus the next day, our new reality having already set in.
And yet, a year later, I’m not particularly upset I don’t have any pictures from that night. The memories and the friendships don’t need to be immortalized on a phone screen. I’ll remember them forever regardless.
As I searched for manufactured memories for this column, that’s the lesson I realized. None of the group pictures and planned events are what I’ll remember from college a decade from now.
What I’ll remember is jumping in the Huron River in the middle of the night, soaked, shivering and laughing with my best friends. I’ll remember stuffing 11 people in a sedan on the way back from Denny’s because we didn’t want to pay for an Uber. I’ll remember going sledding in kayaks long after production had ended, even though I had an 8:30 the next day.
None of those moments fill up my camera roll or social media feeds. Just as importantly, none were planned more than a few minutes in advance.
As much as anything, that befits the last four years. For just about every freshman, going off to college is accompanied by some big dream manifested throughout their high school years.
For me, that dream was to major in statistics and work in an MLB front office. A major reason I chose to go to Michigan was its extracurriculars, but I was more focused on the sports analytics club than the student newspaper.
Fortunately, my freshman year roommate joined the section, so I followed his lead and went to a mass meeting. But even when I started writing regularly as a freshman, eventually covering the baseball team, I never envisioned this.
That summer, I had a conversation with Rian, a friend I’d met at The Daily, predicting our futures at the paper. I told him I was hopeful for a spot on the hockey beat, but that after sophomore year, I’d have to devote my attention to pursuits beyond journalism. He wanted to cover men’s basketball as a junior and football as a senior.
Three years later, we’re still good friends. He’s been a fantastic editor but decided to pursue a career outside of journalism and didn’t do a beat after sophomore year. Instead, over the next few months, I was the one who fell headfirst into the career he had ordained for himself.
By my second semester, I was spending every moment I could at The Daily. I learned this strange “euchre” game I had never heard of. Even if it usually ended with Paige sticking a pair of 5s on her forehead in celebration, I played because it was an excuse to hang out with my new friends until the sun came up.
That spring will forever be the time I most associate with college. If, 70 years from now, I look back on it as the best time of my life, I won’t regret a thing.
But, like everyone in my grade, my college years will forever be inextricably tied to COVID-19. It’s easy now, with two weeks until graduation, to think about what the pandemic took from us. The Rick’s pushes we didn’t have, the stories we never told, the nights of production forced onto Zoom.
Instead, though, I find myself thinking about what The Michigan Daily gave me over the past year. When online school felt meaningless, this job gave me a purpose. As a writer, I was able to tell the stories that gave Michigan fans an escape. As a leader of the best goddamn student sports section in the country, I was able to provide an outlet for freshmen entering an overwhelming campus with no in-person means of making friends.
On a personal level, The Daily gave me the group of eight friends that we turned into a social bubble from September to April. It may not have been the year anyone envisioned, but we laughed at Love It or List It, withstood some earth-shaking back cracks and got to watch Jared shotgun a Truly in Joe Pleasant’s name.
And together, we got through it. As of this week, all nine of us are at least partially vaccinated. The end is finally in sight.
Equally close is the end of my college career. It would be easy to focus on that instead. The future is a scary thing. I’d be lying if I said I knew everything it holds.
It’d be easy, too, to focus on the year we didn’t have. When I look back on my camera roll, there won’t be photos from senior year inside 420 Maynard or at my last State News game. But I’ll always have the NYPD runs and the kayaking trips, the empty stadiums and the packed rental cars.
And that’s even better.
Mackie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @theo_mackie. He wants to thank every person who’s made the last four years so special. That includes anyone who’s ever read one of his stories.