Today is my last day of class at the University of Michigan. Forever.

I’ve tried bracing myself for it, but it’s one of those situations where no matter how prepared you think you are, you’re going to end up completely unprepared. The ongoing battle between excitement and sheer terror has pretty much been declared a draw. Judging by this long column, which I expect about three people to make it all the way through, it looks like nostalgia is the emotion of choice today.

My one-time Michigan State-loving parents tell stories about my family convening in our little living room back in Fremont to watch the big Michigan State-Michigan game way back when. My parents and sister were cheering for their beloved Spartans, but for some reason, little five-year-old me was already rooting for Michigan. They don’t know why. I don’t know why. It kind of defies logic. Needless to say, it was just the beginning of what eventually turned into a near-obsession.

Soon, my passion for Michigan extended beyond what likely began as a mere spite cheer. I loved everything the block ‘M’ stood for. I loved Ann Arbor. And I loved the prospect of getting a degree from one of the nation’s top universities. It has been Michigan or bust ever since that day 17 years ago.

I can still remember coming to Ann Arbor on Campus Day a few months after getting accepted into Michigan – still one of the proudest days of my life. There I stood on State Street, facing Angell Hall and being excited about how much I’d learn inside the massive, storied building in front of me. I had broken out of Hickville, USA and was finally going to make something of myself. I was going to learn alongside intellectual giants and become one myself.

About six months later when classes finally began, I stumbled upon the Daily table at Festifall, decided to check out a mass meeting and, well, everything changed.

Four years later, I can count on one hand the number of classes I’ve thoroughly enjoyed at Michigan. Then I can take a knife, cut off a couple of those remaining fingers and count on my newly disfigured hand how many of those classes taught me information I’ll ever consistently use in my future endeavors.

Needless to say, I can describe the in-class experience at Michigan with the same word I’d use to describe Duke basketball, public displays of affection and waking up before noon: overrated.

Oddly enough, all I would have had to do that March afternoon was turn around and face the other way on State Street. Nestled behind one of those all-girl dorms I always confuse with Betsy Barbour and one of the many museums I neglected to explore over the past four years is the crux of my true education over the past four years.

Back then, the Student Publications Building at 420 Maynard wasn’t exactly a marvel of modern architecture, with more reported cases of asbestos-caused harm than redeeming qualities. Over the last four years, the home of the Michigan Daily has moved, been torn down, been rebuilt and been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility for young journalists. As cool as that transformation has been, though, it’s not the building that’s been so instrumental for me and the other outgoing seniors.

The building itself had nothing to do with the lifelong friendships I made. The building itself wasn’t there for mind-numbing roadtrip games, Casa Bonita or “the night” in Orlando. The building itself didn’t provide me amazing opportunities like appearing on ESPN, covering a Rose Bowl, covering a game at Madison Square Garden, covering Michigan’s lone National Championship over the past four years or meeting legends like Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. The building is great, but it’s the Daily itself that has given me so much.

It has taught me every valuable skill I have obtained over the past four years.

I’ve learned how to deal with people. The Daily is like a crazy social experiment. It’s taking people with different philosophies, backgrounds, ideas and egos, throwing them into the fire and making them work together to put out the best product imaginable. And somehow it works, with no – OK, very few – injuries in the process.

I’ve learned how to lead. Over time, I’ve learned how to bend when necessary but also how to be a dick if the situation calls for it.

I’ve learned how to deal with setbacks. I learned early on that you can put absolutely everything you have into obtaining something you think is the only thing that matters and still end up empty-handed. And I’ve learned it’s even more fulfilling when you finally get it.

I’ve learned how to not take myself so seriously. If there’s one thing I can stress to anyone that’s a) made it this far and b) is somehow looking to me for advice, it’s this: Do your job, do it damn well, but make sure you’re having a great time while you do it.

I’ve learned how to manage time. Shockingly, working 60 hours a week, taking 16 credits a semester and trying to have some semblance of a personal life is a quasi-difficult task.

Despite what some readers believe, judging by some e-mails I’ve gotten, I’ve learned how to write. From long features to quick deadlines, the Daily has given me skills that 17 years of writing instruction couldn’t quite get across.

I’ve learned how to shut up when necessary. This one’s still a work in progress, though.

I’ve learned to give thanks when it’s due. So thank you to everyone who has made this experience so incredible. Thanks to my parents for their sacrifices, to my co-workers for their dedication, to my roommates for their understanding, to my friends for the much-needed occasional Daily distraction, to girlfriends for much-needed and more-fun-than-what-my-guy-friends-can-give much-needed occasional Daily distraction, to the readers for their feedback, to those who came before me for their example, to those who are following for their potential and to Michigan State for being Michigan State (love ya, little bro).

I’ve learned there’s more to life than straight A’s. That there are more important things than simply playing things by the book. That it’s OK to do what feels right instead of doing what’s supposed to feel right.

So take your historical dates, your scientific methods and your put-me-to-sleep-on-the-extremely-rare-occasion-I-actually-went-to-them-in-the-first-place lectures. I’ll take practical skills and hands-on experience any day of the week.

Maybe this is just a rationalization for my less-than-sterling 3.1 grade point average. Maybe it’s my last chance to make a recruiting pitch to students about the Daily and just how amazing an experience it can be. Maybe I’m just rambling and refusing to end this column because I’m terrified of what happens when I don’t have my SportsMonday Column anymore. When I don’t have the Daily to turn to. When my University of Michigan experience is over.

There’s probably some truth to all of that. But I can truly say I’ll take this college experience over any other one. I’ll take the Daily over any paper. And I’ll take my friends and colleagues I’ve met here over any other group.

It has been a hell of a ride. An even better one than I ever could have envisioned. Thanks.

Bell can be reached at

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