Farewell: A short but worthwhile time with The Observer

It feels strange to be writing a farewell piece for The Observer after only having been contributing to it for less than a year. However, I think my late arrival reflects the imperfections of my college journey so far, and I believe those imperfections, hiccups and changes of plans are what make it an interesting story to reflect on.

I entered college with the goal of pursuing science journalism. My plan was to get a background in science with a STEM degree and figure out the journalism portion later on. I enrolled at Bowdoin College in fall 2020 and tried my best to “get ahead” by loading my schedule with chemistry and biology. However, the combination of isolating COVID-19 restrictions, taking difficult courses over Zoom and not allowing myself to enroll in many non-major classes for the fear of “falling behind” quickly wore me down.

At the end of my first year, I transferred to Case Western Reserve University. I was optimistic about the wide variety of STEM majors offered here, hoping to find one that would feel more meaningful to me than just a box to check. Ultimately, I chose human nutrition, and, looking back, I am not at all surprised by my choice. It is a science that is deeply intertwined with social and cultural factors. Successful nutrition care requires good analytical and communication skills, both verbally and in writing. This isn’t to say that other sciences don’t involve these elements, but nutrition is the one that brought it all together for me. And in doing so, it reminded me of my interest in journalism and writing.

As I wrapped up the spring semester of my third year, I decided it was time to stop putting off journalism for later. However, I had trouble figuring out how to crunch it into my schedule without overwhelming myself. I enrolled in a creative writing class, but it wasn’t offered until the spring semester. So, in the meantime, I reached out to The Observer and asked if I could start writing opinion articles.

Upon receiving “yes” for an answer, I was more nervous than I thought I would be. Submitting my first article was terrifying! I stressed for days trying to think of a topic, wrote and rewrote my draft and when I turned it in, I still felt unsatisfied with it. I cringed when I saw it printed in the paper. I imagined everyone reading it and telling me that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Even so, I at least allowed myself the grace of identifying as a beginner. It’s not easy to try new things, and it’s normal to feel uncomfortable. No one was expecting me to be perfect on the first try.

Each article was a little easier to write than the previous one. I got into the habit of keeping lists of observations in my day-to-day life to help me come up with article ideas and paid attention to how other people approached writing their articles. There is still so much that I don’t know about what it means to be a good writer or journalist, and I plan to continue pursuing it, both on my own and with formal education. And now, I at least have a small insight into the field and have a better idea of which questions to ask about it. I am grateful for the opportunities that The Observer gave me to learn and practice writing—even just for a short portion of my time at CWRU.

For me, there are two key lessons that emerge from my time as an undergraduate. First—and there are several great Observer articles about this—“getting ahead” is largely a myth. Avoiding journalism in my earlier classes didn’t help me get through a science degree quicker, it just kept me away from a topic that energizes and interests me. Yes, grinding through challenging, boring classes is necessary at times, but sometimes hyperfocusing on one outcome can blind you to other routes to achieve your goal. The second lesson is that it’s never too late to try something new. I was hesitant about joining The Observer as a fourth-year student, but now that I see how much I gained from it in such a short time, I’m glad I didn’t let my late start stop me from trying at all.

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