Pataroque: A science symposium, a reporting position, a year later

Kevin Pataroque, News Reporter

The end of my undergraduate career is catching up to me. The decorations have been taken off the walls. In a manila envelope, I find the letter my father wrote to me before I left for college. By the time I’m finished reading, my eyes are misty. I take my laptop out and begin to type a new letter to my younger self, frozen at that point in time. 

It’s the first year of your undergraduate career. You started off as a creative writing minor; honestly, on that autumn day, signing a piece of paper after you won a pair of Jane Austen socks at the English welcome party, it didn’t mean too much to you then. You’d written poetry before in high school, and you knew it was something you wanted to continue on the side of your undergraduate career. And for the first year, at the creative writing club, your voice was something you took out once a week like a rusty instrument. But still, it was always there. Dormant. Waiting.

As I’m sitting in the last dorm I’ll (hopefully) live in, I lie down and look at the popcorn ceiling first, then the room where I’ve spent my senior year. This image freezes in place like an old photograph. Two dark suitcases sit packed with Case Western Reserve University t-shirts and polaroids of my friends. College-rule sheets are sprawled on my desk, filled with arcane quantum chemistry equations I know I’ll never fully understand.

It’s the second and third year of your undergraduate career, and you’re falling in love with writing again. If you’re reading this, make sure to thank professors Dave Lucas and Sarah Gridley when you leave their classes. Thank them for planting something deep in you in those workshop classes. Keep writing in the odd hours of night, and buy all those books from that independent bookstore past Carlton Road. You sense your voice growing while you organize workshops and joint events with Sigma Tau Delta as the Writers Writing Words event coordinator and president. You feed it snippets of the quotes you pin on the walls of your college room. You don’t realize it, but you’re growing too, as you collaborate with other student organization leaders and your own trusty executive board. At some point in the two years, you decide to pursue both a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. in English.

Lying in the hollow carcass of my room, I can’t help but grieve for the sense of normalcy that was taken from my graduating class. I know I’m not alone—yesterday, as one of my last English discussions was wrapping up, someone mentioned that they felt like the semester never started. We all nodded knowingly, trying to recall the last time we were in a lecture hall. Did Strosacker really fit that many people on both the balcony and the lower level? What was it like again, hoping that Einstein’s Bagels would have your order ready before your chemistry lab started? When the class finishes, the cameras wink off, and I am left staring at a dark screen.

It’s the last year of your undergraduate career, and you’ve just finished a year-and-a-half long research grant. COVID’s stolen away your last summer of research, but you’ve always been an optimist. At a virtual science conference, you had the chance to speak with Carmen Drahl, a freelance science writer, about her job. “This is what I’ve been missing the whole time,” you say to yourself. Finding inspiration from Tobili Hatcher––a reporter who also started her senior year––you’ll find yourself pitching your position as a science reporter at The Observer to fourth-year Grace Howard, the news editor, and you’ll write your first article highlighting student research at CWRU. As you crank out an article every week, some of them closer to the deadline than others, your voice continues to grow in confidence, and your articles become better and better. Some of them will explain grand, scientific discoveries, like finding water on the moon, but you’ll enjoy writing the smaller, everyday ones more, like explaining how trees photosynthesize. You’ll find yourself under the mentorship of seasoned editors, and you’ll learn from them. There’s so many people to thank: third-year Copy Editor Hannah Allen, second-year Copy Editor Sara Khorshidi, fourth-year Director of Print Chris Markham, fourth-year Development Editor Yvonne Pan and third-year Executive Editor Nathan Lesch, to name a few. In your interactions with them over Google’s comments feature, you’ve seen how they’ve been a part of your own voice over the nine months.

Being at The Observer will help you land an internship as a multimedia intern and, eventually, a spot as a content editor at the intercollegiate magazine Synapse. It’s something you hope to make time for next year at Yale as a graduate student in STEM. But more importantly, being at The Observer will foster your love for crafting a story. In that year of isolation, journalism is a means of connection: interviewing others in a virtual space and bringing their own stories, ideologies and interests to the general public will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your college career. As I’m writing this, I want to thank you. Though you don’t know it, I know you’ll take the time and energy to continue doing something you’ve always loved.

When I finish my letter, I sit for a few moments, resting in the silence of my room. When I reflect on my senior year, I feel embittered. I know I’ll never get this last year back. Still, if I look past what I’ve lost, I’m realizing that the pandemic’s helped us to redefine our sense of storytelling. I know that, at least partially, the pandemic caused me to get into journalism, shaping my own ability to storytell.

“Sometimes,” my friend says to me, “when I’m in lab, I listen to an audiobook.” Others watch reality television on Netflix. For me, I’ve found solace in the podcasts and poems I listen to while I’m taking my daily quarantine walk. In our collective struggle to find community, we’ve turned to an age-old tradition of storytelling.  

In my last year, it’s been an honor to be a part of that tradition at CWRU, and it’s something I hope to take with me no matter what I’ll be doing in the future. No matter how many words I write, I cannot fully express how grateful I am to The Observer for giving me the space to use my voice. Although I don’t feel quite ready yet, I know my time with The Observer is coming to an end. So I’ll say this to conclude—as a last thank you, I’d like to thank you, reader, for supporting me through this journey. It’s been wonderful to have your support over the past nine months, and hopefully we’ll be able to meet again in another article.