Senior Column: Life as we know it

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The author then and now. Photos provided by author

No matter how cliche or trite it seems, I use the “Life is good” slogan gratuitously in relation to the Life section or The Daily Campus, whether I’m trying to recruit new writers or I slap it on some Life section merchandise I designed (and had to alter so I wouldn’t be sued for copyright infringement). After four years of faithful service to the University of Connecticut’s independent student-run newspaper and its best section, I can wholeheartedly attest that Life is good, even when life maybe wasn’t at times. There’s no way I could capture everything that The Daily Campus and Life mean to me, but I will try, in probably a verbose manner that no doubt reflects my sometimes long-winded writing for the newspaper.

People and even myself have called me a writer throughout my life, but I never really accepted the title until I wrote for The Daily Campus at UConn. Through books, I have always harbored a love for words, but never enjoyed crafting my own until I joined the Life section. Up until college, my writing experience consisted of half-baked novels and painfully-penned academic essays. I sought to find my writing niche, and journalistic writing, with its shorter word limits, quick turnaround time and its exploratory nature emboldened me in a way I never had and I hope to find in a future publication, no matter where my profession takes me. Despite the busy nights running from an event to a quiet spot to write my article before the deadline, painstakingly transcribing interview audio or spending hours every Sunday and throughout the week at The Daily Campus building, that was all part of Life.

The Life section appealed to me because of its versatile content. Lifestyle and pop culture pieces, music and movie reviews and columns about food, fashion and sustainability reflected magazine content, while UConn event coverage and student features offered opportunities for more journalistic writing. This wide range offered me unique opportunities I probably would not have experienced if I did not write for the DC — sometimes because covering an event was the only motivation I had to attend it when I otherwise wanted to laze around in my room or because I could interview Avan Jogia from “Victorious” about his poetry book or because I got press passes to cover music festivals and concerts.

Further exemplifying my diversity of content, my first article was about Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, my final articles featured local band Julie’s House and student artists and there were pieces in between about a cappella, Jess Guilbeaux from “Queer Eye” and Asian American lawyers in Connecticut. I’m particularly proud of the three articles I wrote for the Valentine’s Day issues over the years about being single, being a third wheel and the importance of consent, none of which are as heavy as they seem to be. Writing about new Netflix movies and series was easier than covering a two-hour event with David Hogg, but made sense when I was swamped with work and contributed to the section’s content nonetheless, even if the latter was more rewarding and substantial. It’s all give-and-take.

Author Hollianne Lao when she was young. Photo provided by author

Through adjusting to college life to quarantining at home for months to living in this “new normal,” I’ve been lucky enough to write over 320 articles for The Daily Campus, from column entries to event coverage to features to reviews to pop culture updates. To contribute to that amount, I’ve published three articles in one day — irresponsibly, I wrote them all the night before — and at one point, I published over six articles in a week. It was and still is baffling to me that I could attend an event, ask students and speakers for quotes, write it all up and it’s in the paper the next day. Similarly, I’m baffled that people would read my thoughts on books, drinks and food every week for my respective columns. (I’ve already said my goodbye for Hollieats last week, but feel free to check out my new food account on Instagram @hollieats_!) I’m honored that people would sit down with me for half an hour to an hour as I picked their brain about their restaurant opening, their art business or independent project, and that they were grateful in return.

Starting as an unpaid campus correspondent as a freshman to being promoted to a paid staff writer to a slightly more paid senior staff writer and finally to Life editor for my junior and senior year wasn’t necessarily the plan, despite my usual ambition-oriented mind. I just really enjoyed writing for Life and the people I was working with. I haven’t been able to write as much these past two years, managing the section and all. However, serving as editor has given me the opportunity to improve my writing skills through workshopping my writers’ work, foster their development as writers, curate content I believe is important to write about and build a community that I know Esther Ju and Joanne Biju will faithfully carry on as Life editor and associate Life editor next year. 

My further involvement in The Daily Campus beyond Life solidified my love for the organization. Besides giving me a space to develop my writing skills and lead a section, The Daily Campus has provided me with so many opportunities to be creative and give back to the organization I care about. There are countless ways to be involved in the DC, such as the production team that churns out an edition of the newspaper every single night and the digital team that uploads everything. Just as I always had a penchant for writing but didn’t find a style that suited me until college, I have always had an artistic eye, but haven’t been able to pursue art in college. Fortunately, a short but formative stint as the second social media and outreach coordinator in my sophomore year granted me the perfect opportunity to combine my expertise of The Daily Campus’ content, my penchant for sticking my nose in everything and my passion for visual design to manage the organization’s social media activity.

“The key component to my Daily Campus experience is that despite writing most of my articles under stress and sometimes dealing with tough situations as a leader, I truly enjoyed the work I did with the people I was doing it with and for. The support I received every time I stepped into the newsroom, witnessing my writers’ growth and pride in their work and the messages I received from readers are unsullied by upset emails about coverage or having a press pass taken from me.”

Further, when I became an editor, I took up a copy editing shift and enjoyed the rambunctious but steady productivity and collaboration of the newsroom. Playing my latest Spotify playlist for the night wasn’t too bad, either. I also served on the DC’s board of directors for three years, contributing to the paper’s financial and logistical outlook, a weighty position I did not appreciate as much until I learned how hard former members of the organization worked to secure a completely student-run board. I even co-founded The Daily Campus’ diversity and inclusion committee with fellow Life writer and managing editor Brandon Barzola, which we hope the future members carry on and flesh out in the years to come.

It wasn’t only the DC’s accessibility and opportunities that kept me around, but also the people I met that contributed to the paper, one way or another, whether they wrote an article a week, finished designing page spreads at midnight, copy edited six stories in a row, photographed an event, illustrated a comic or oversaw all the chaos in the newsroom. My fondness for “Gilmore Girls” and Rory’s journalistic experience had me envisioning a cutthroat environment complete with Paris Gellar’s reign of terror, but laughing over the poll of the week and seeing people scramble over final pages over the deadlines quickly dissipated that notion. As I mentioned, there are many forms of involvement at the DC, and many of the students worked numerous positions like I did — it’s infectious to be around the motivation and high-energy that the DC induces, no matter what your major or interest is.

My first shoutout has to go to my sister, former Photo/Video editor Charlotte Lao, who introduced me to The Daily Campus. 2016-2017 Rookie of the Year, creator of the Video section, associate Photo editor by her sophomore year and section editor by her junior year, I had a lot to live up to. But I quickly learned that just like my other experiences sharing a space with one of my sisters — student council and the track and field team in high school — there was no space for intimidation. Not only did Charlotte suggest the Life section to me and introduced my future section editors to me before I was even at UConn, her passion for her craft and natural leadership inspired me to carve my own path at the DC, one I think I neatly inhabited. And speaking of family, thanks to the rest of my family for always working around our Sunday night meetings.

Now for the Life Moms who I dutifully wrote for two years and sought to make proud for the other two years: Julia Mancini and Melissa Scrivani showed me what a well-rounded, productive and fun Life section could be. I’m grateful for your support as a writer and after I took up the mantle when you both graduated. I honestly wouldn’t be who I am as a writer and leader without you two!

Author and Life Section Editor Hollianne Lao now. Photo provided by author

Becca Maher and Gino Giansanti, my lovely ALEs, thank you for your support, enthusiasm and plain hard work throughout all the workshopping, light content days and Valentine’s Day issue planning — how about that survey? Your passion for the section buoyed me through a tumultuous virtual school year and a year adjusting back to in-person.

Speaking of the VD issue, I would like to thank the amazingly talented illustrators that deck out the special edition, as well as contributed beautiful work to many articles I’ve written. Thanks Kaitlyn Tran for the most beautiful column logo a girl can ask for!

To my fellow Life writers, whether I’ve written alongside you or ruthlessly — I mean, carefully — workshopped your work, thank you for contributing to the best section and participating in our silly Lifebreakers. It’s been a pleasure to see you all grow within the section and beyond, and I’m thankful for the chance to work with you.

To my fearless editor-in-chief Maggie Chafouleas: Despite all the challenges of this school year, your passion for The Daily Campus and the students you lead is inspiring and helped us publish a paper every single day. Now get some rest, girlie. Same goes for the rest of the DC triplets, aka the exec team with Brandon and Grace McFadden.

And of course, if you’ve ever contributed to my articles or read them, I’m grateful you’ve shared in this part of my UConn experience. The key component to my Daily Campus experience is that despite writing most of my articles under stress and sometimes dealing with tough situations as a leader, I truly enjoyed the work I did with the people I was doing it with and for. The support I received every time I stepped into the newsroom, witnessing my writers’ growth and pride in their work and the messages I received from readers are unsullied by upset emails about coverage or having a press pass taken from me.

In a fitting fashion, this piece is long and submitted just a tad late. I’m not really sure what’s next for me, besides law school. Life will certainly look different. I guess now, I can say I’m a writer. But also, thanks to The Daily Campus and the people I’ve met through it, I’m much more. I sincerely believe in my pitch to new or potential writers: Life truly lets you do it all, and no matter what life looks like, you can trust that Life is good.

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