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Columbia Spectator Staff

I was so eager to write for Spec that I arrived five minutes early to the first open house of orientation week, excited to write for A&E, the section that I thought covered all breaking news. I then proceeded to hide in a corner and talk to no one (my reasoning being that it was better to make no impression at all than to make a bad one) and quickly found out that A&E stood for "Arts and Entertainment," and not "Accident and Emergency," as I had first assumed.

It was the former A&E editor, Abby Mitchell, who encouraged me to write for news. I took a pitch about the smoking ban mainly because it seemed like a vaguely scandalous issue at the time (hah). The piece was deputied by my eventual Campus News Editor and Editor in Chief, Sammy Roth, to whom I owe most of my successes at the paper, and edited by Leah Greenbaum, who I instantly decided was my role model. I was almost too daunted to write the story when I found out that I had to interview a USenator who was a male and a senior (a fearsome prospect at the time), but the matchless joy of seeing my first byline in print persuaded me to stay on at the news desk.

Six months (and countless smoking ban articles) later, as a campus news deputy, I found myself dealing with a real(ish) scandal and pulled my first all-nighter in the office. There was no going back after that—I had to be on the managing board.

I would not have lasted the year as opinion editor, let alone run for the position, had it not been for the constant support and encouragement of one of my predecessors, Lanbo Zhang. "It's very simple," he told me when I was turkeyshooting, "you have a page and you can't leave the office and go to sleep until it's filled—even YOU could do this job."

Being editorial page editor taught me that I can get through anything as long as I have enough coffee. I learned to lead, to collaborate, and to listen; I learned more in a single year as opinion editor than in all the years leading up to it. Even with the rose-tinted view that I have of my time at Spec, I can't say that it was an easy year. But for every late pdf time there was a great column (looking at you Jake, Walker, Ben etc...) or op-ed, or illustration or staff editorial. And it's not like I did it on my own—the opinion page wouldn't have happened without its dedicated associates and deputies who got far too little recognition for their work (that's you, Dan, Nika, and Alessandra).

There's a satisfaction that comes from going to bed—or in some cases going straight to your first class—feeling as though you've really accomplished something, but looking back on it, it's the Speccies themselves that make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

At Spec, you'll find the cleverest, nuttiest, and most dedicated people in the world. When I think of 2013, I'll remember holding out for a hero with David Salazar, getting the opportunity to host an episode of the sportscast where I interviewed hot shirtless athletes (thanks Muneeb—when are we filming that again?), and commiserating with lovely Lesley and the rest of 137 when K4 decided to stop working—a problem future editors will never know. It's difficult to imagine how nightly production works without a print edition coming out every morning, mainly because I couldn't have made it through some nights without the belly laughs provided by design editors Ryan Veling and Regie Mauricio.

I don't feel equipped to dispense much advice to new Speccies, but I'll just say two things: it may sound self-evident but try to read the paper as much as possible, and give others genuine compliments when you think their work is good—it's a great feeling to know that someone read (or saw) and appreciated something you put time and effort into.

Spec gave me the purpose, the identity, and the family that I so badly needed in college. While it was often a frustrating and unhealthy place to work, I'm not sure what I would have done—or who I would be—without it.

Yasmin Gagné is a senior at Columbia College majoring in comparative literature. She was a deputy news editor for the 136th volume, the editorial page editor for the 137th volume, and wrote for the Eye for the 138th and 139th volumes.

Senior Column reflecting learning about yourself
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