Isn’t it funny how journeys always seem to end in the same way they begin? Take, for instance, the manner in which most of us started this wild ride we call college — with an orientation, an opportunity for administrators to attempt to give students the lay of the land before turning them loose to explore a campus that was, more oft than not, significantly larger than that of the high schools they just left.
Now, I invite you to consider the event that is meant to punctuate our time in higher education — commencement, an opportunity for administrators to give students the lay of the land before setting them loose to explore . . . the world.
Shockingly similar, aren’t they?
After experiencing commencement but days ago, I am a few precious moments away from experiencing yet another event of this type: the end of my time at the East Tennessean. Let me explain.
My start as an editor at the East Tennessean was, more or less, a result of someone taking a chance on me. I had no professional design or editorial experience to speak of. In fact, the only item on my resume that offered any sense that I might be right for the position for which I was applying was that of editor in chief of my high school yearbook.
Despite this, the executive editor decided to give me a shot when two editor positions opened up halfway through the spring.
Wanting to make the most of that shot, I brushed up on my design software knowledge by watching tutorials and reading walkthroughs for more advanced features online. This knowledge proved incredibly useful, as I exceeded the editor’s expectations and was invited back for another issue.
That second issue sealed the deal: Five days later, the executive editor called to let me know that I had been selected to fill the open news editor position.
It might sound cliche, but I think getting that phone call was one of the happiest moments of my life . . . at least to that point. I knew that I would have a regular venue through which I could express my creativity and work with like-minded individuals to continuously better not only my design ability but also my writing.
Three months passed in the blink of an eye, and the executive editor and I had become close due in large part to the fact that I would stay with her while she finalized each issue.
On the night of her last production, an air of mourning had penetrated the usually cheerful work environment.
After all the other editors had left, the executive editor and I shared one last page finalization session and midnight Taco Bell run before calling it a night. Before we parted ways, I expressed my immense gratitude to her for taking a chance on me, and in her characteristically amiable way, she responded, “Anytime.”
I’ve been thinking about that long lost production night a lot lately, and I’ve come to understand that it had a greater impact on me than sophomore me anticipated all those years ago. The reason I believe this is the case is that I have actively taken chances on people throughout the rest of my time at the East Tennessean.
One such individual on whom I took a chance is Jessica Brown, the outgoing executive editor of the East Tennessean.
Jessica came to the East Tennessean later than most — I recruited her in her junior year — however, I would argue that her impact on this publication has been anything but shortlived. Not only has she successfully built upon the foundation I left but has also managed to make her own mark by covering communities that had previously proven largely inaccessible to the newspaper.
Over the last year, Jessica and I have spent many late nights — or what some might call early mornings — together and have become very close. (Perhaps as close as I became to the executive editor who hired me.)
Thus, we happen upon the event I referred to earlier. In a short while, Jessica and I will leave this place having finished our last issue together, and we will go our separate ways. However, the imprint working with her has left on my heart will last a lifetime.
I can now imagine the curious feeling the editor must’ve felt all those years ago when she left the office with someone on whom she took a chance, someone who would be an integral part of the newspaper for years to come, and I am honored to be finishing this chapter in my life with someone in whom I believe so deeply.
And so this is the end of the road for us. Well, at least the end of this road. Thankfully, the end of this road is merely the beginning of an even greater journey, one that will take us to far off places, lead us down many one-way streets and challenge us to improve at every turn. So, for those who will soon follow, take heart. This end is a beginning.