Growing up, I loved journalism.
When I was in elementary school I started a “newspaper” that I’d deliver to my neighbors, and a couple years later I wrote a story for my middle school paper. My family has countless photos of me writing in journals, everywhere from in my bedroom to while on vacation. Even my preschool teacher wrote “I think one day you will be an author” in a card to me.
But that interest faded as I got older, and I spent much of middle and high school trying to find my niche. I wasn’t really into sports, or choir, or art, or any of your typical extracurricular activities. I loved being in my high school’s Model Congress (essentially a debate club) but was never as good at it as I wanted to be.
My time in Model Congress led me to decide I would major in environmental studies, then attend law school, then work in environmental policy. This wasn’t an abstract idea — it was a plan I made as a freshman in high school, and when I got to UConn, I knew I would stick to it no matter what.
So it might shock you that this weekend I’m graduating with a double major in journalism and communication. And here, of course, is where The Daily Campus comes in.
As a freshman at UConn, I knew I should get involved, but I found myself uninterested in joining the many environmental groups on campus. Instead, a voice crept into my head, telling me to go to a Daily Campus meeting. It started as a whisper, then grew louder and louder — so loud that I could no longer ignore it and, one day, I finally walked into a news meeting (albeit after three weeks of making it all the way to the building before getting too nervous, turning around and walking back to my dorm room across campus).
I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know how to write a news story, knew nothing about AP style and it didn’t even cross my mind that I would need to interview people. I was constantly making mistakes and was usually too nervous to even attend news meetings (much less actually talk in them). It’s a testament to the editors who consistently encouraged and supported me that I didn’t run away screaming in those first couple months.
But for the first time in my life, something had clicked: I had finally found something I genuinely loved, something that felt almost as if it was made for me. The day I changed my major to journalism and communication during the spring semester of my freshman year, it felt as if the whole world had opened up, like I was finally on the right path and, as corny as it sounds, had found what I was “meant to do.” And for the next three years, The Daily Campus took me on the adventure of a lifetime.
I never thought I would become a staff writer, yet senior year I was news editor. I never thought I would write a story read by more than just my family and friends, yet I wrote an investigation that had over 45,000 page views. I never thought I’d get to know anyone at the paper, yet I count people I met there among my best friends.
I found myself sitting in dining halls and furiously typing out stories while my friends chatted and laughed. I spent afternoons covering protests and evenings working production when I probably should have been studying and writing essays. But the more I reported, edited and designed, the more I loved it. Anyone who knows me will tell you journalism is all I ever talk about, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But what made The Daily Campus unlike anything I’ve ever been part of wasn’t just the journalism experience. Any media outlet at any school will give you that experience. The DC’s uniqueness comes from its environment: From the inexplicable, intangible culture permeating it.
It’s a place where, while you’re assembling a newspaper with serious reporting five nights a week, people sing at the top of their lungs, make seemingly unbreakable water balloons and rap stories in the previous day’s paper. It’s a place where you could debate the ethicality of publishing a story with someone one minute and shoot them with a Nerf gun the next. It’s a place where both serious interviews are conducted and NSFW quotes are hung on a bulletin board.
And it’s an incredibly welcoming place. I was so terrified of that building that I refused to walk into its main production room until the end of my sophomore year, but when I finally did, I quickly learned that everyone who does immediately becomes part of a large family.
There are so many nights where I would sit at the copy editing table or at my news design desk, in between screaming across the room or ordering DP Dough for the millionth time, and think to myself, “Take this all in. Stop, look around and appreciate it. You’ll want to remember it for the rest of your life.” That environment is special. It’s rare. I’m so thankful I found it, I’m terrified to lose it and I worry I’ll never find something like it again.
That, of course, is due to the people who make up The Daily Campus. People like Molly Stadnicki, whose support and encouragement was the sole reason I didn’t quit during my first couple months; or Steph Sheehan and Chris Hanna, who created a DC culture I wanted so badly to be a part of when I first started working production; or Ashley Anglisano, who was the best associate news editor I could have possibly asked for. And, of course, my fellow DC triplets, Anna Zarra Aldrich and Judah Shingleton, who were there through it all (and who provided much-needed support when I told them I was considering leaving UConn after the fall).
Leaving a semester early was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I talk about this all the time, so my apologies if you’ve already heard me ramble about it, but: I decided to spend my spring semester in Orlando participating in the Disney College Program, something I had wanted to do for years. I have absolutely no regrets about that decision, but at the time, I kept asking myself, “Why would you ever leave The Daily Campus? What could you possibly find that’s better than what you have right now?”
Of course, the Disney College Program sent us all home in mid-March, and since then I’ve found myself sitting around with nothing to do but think about my future. And optimism is hard right now. My class is the first in over a century to not have a physical commencement ceremony, I have no idea when I’ll see my friends again and starting a career in journalism will be infinitely harder than it would have been just a few months ago. And even saying those things seems selfish in the midst of a pandemic that has caused so much suffering and loss for so many people.
But not even a pandemic can take away what The Daily Campus has given me. Through my time at the paper, I found a home on campus, some of the greatest friends I could possibly ask for, a lifetime of memories and, of course, the rebirth of my childhood love of journalism. I am beyond thankful that something finally clicked when I joined The Daily Campus, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
Gabrielle Debenedictis is the former news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.