Riding the wave

Sophia Popkin, Social Media Editor

Throughout the years I have spent at Case Western Reserve University, my mom has regularly told me to “ride the wave” during our conversations, namely in response to my anxious rants about the uncertain future and my (imaginary) impending failures. I was never entirely sure what she meant by “the wave,” but I suppose that she purposefully left it up to interpretation.

Within the strange transitional period that was the spring 2021 semester, between attending my Zoom classes and and going slightly insane together with my roommate Kasey Pukys in the dorms of a half-empty CWRU campus, I started to reflect more and more upon my college experience so far. During that time, I was making anxiety-induced projections for what I needed to achieve before I graduate and how things might play out, for better or for worse. At that point, I was only friends with the same small group of people I met during Discover Week freshman year, I wasn’t involved in any organizations on campus, I had a resume with very little work experience and, like many other young adults during the pandemic, I just felt mentally stuck and underprepared as I was approaching the halfway point of my college career. I had no idea where “the wave” that my mother alluded to was supposed to take me.

During the sleepless nights of that semester while I restlessly pondered what did and what might happen, two things became solidified within my plans for the future: 1) Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was going to have to take a dreaded and stigmatized five year approach to earning my bachelor degree and 2) I needed to make some friends outside of my primary friend group so I wouldn’t end up being hopelessly alone during that unexpected fifth year. 

So, I reached out to Joey Gonzalez—a friend of a friend whom I met through one of my Zoom political science courses, and who was one of the few others also staying on campus during the spring 2021 semester. We quickly bonded over our almost identical senses of idiotic humor and our love for the fictional vacation hotspot “Spooky Island” from the 2002 live action masterpiece “Scooby-Doo.” Then one day, after having discussed wanting to join some sort of campus organization together, Joey and I settled on applying for The Observer. Embarrassingly, up until that point I didn’t even know that CWRU had a student newspaper. But, that lack of knowledge inspired me to apply for the social media editor position—I wanted to help increase campus awareness and interest in the newspaper. Joey and I sat together in my room in Village House 5, trying to figure out what we should write in our cover letters for The Observer, and eventually we sent our applications in. 

After interviewing and getting the position, I quickly realized that I barely knew what I was doing—I had never managed social media accounts on such a large scale, and I essentially had to teach myself how to do graphic design. But that was part of the fun! I learned as I went, and I slowly started to get better and more efficient with writing article features for Instagram captions and creating new post designs. I even created our TikTok account to expand our reach. What started as a strategic move to meet other students and to do some resume building turned into a creative outlet for me, and I became weirdly proud of our growing social media presence. I also started writing articles here and there when I was inspired by current events (and when I could actually find the time). This really helped me to find my voice outside of the academic writing that I’m used to doing for my political science and sociology courses.

But of course, meeting new people was still one of my favorite parts of joining the Editorial Board. Although most of my closest friends graduated in 2022, I started to develop deeper relations with my fellow editors. During the 2022-2023 school year, I had girls nights to watch romcoms with opinion editor Karuna Lakhiani, explored Cleveland with Karuna and executive editor Shreyas Banerjee and went thrifting with life editor Joey Gonzalez for funny t-shirts—and I’m so incredibly happy that I did. Without them, I think my fifth year would have been insufferable, and I am very thankful for all of the late night memories and silly antics that we have gotten up to.

This year, I was also presented with the opportunity to travel to San Francisco with The Observer during spring break for a student journalism conference. The conference really increased my knowledge of professional social media management within the journalism sphere. But it was also just a great bonding experience for all of the editorial board members that went—I found myself having long conversations with fellow members that I had barely spoken two words to previously.

All of this is just a long winded way of saying that I’m grateful for what I have gotten out of The Observer. Despite all of the tenuous hours that I have spent slightly moving shapes back and forth on Canva until they looked the most aesthetically pleasing and the reading and rereading of captions to make sure I got the wording just right, I appreciate the sense of community and knowledge that the newspaper has given me.

But most importantly, I think The Observer has helped me to gain more confidence in myself and to stop overthinking everything in my life. The experiences that came with being in a leadership position and writing articles have led me to finally regain a level of self-assuredness that I had lost for several years. Of course, I still lay awake at night sometimes, anxiously debating what has been and what will be. But, if I’ve learned anything during the past few years, it’s that careful planning and fretting over what could happen is fruitless. With the fast-paced environments of a student newsroom and the social media space, I’ve realized the importance of acting quickly (but rationally) with my best effort, because that’s all I really can do. Although I take a slightly more methodical approach to it, I’ve finally come to understand the value of “riding the wave” like my mom has been telling me for years. It’s important to have goals and general projections for the future, but being adaptable to the tide (and sometimes rip current) that is life is equally necessary.