One week before my senior spring began, one of my best friends died.
A few months have passed since, and those words still don’t make sense to me. I’m graduating tomorrow, and I catch myself wondering what dress Caroline will wear under her gown, what our post-grad futures will be like, and—as she often did about most Spec-related things—what inappropriate thing she’ll say about this column.
Returning to Columbia and Spectator without her has been disorienting—mostly because many of my non-Spec friends, Carol included, have watched me grow at Spectator since the very beginning. They were the first people to whom I excitedly reported, a week after the New Student Orientation Program, that I had joined the opinion section without knowing what an opinion section was. They happily took the freshly-printed issues I was so proud to give them the morning after a sleepless Wednesday night. And they were supportive when I told them I had found a community at Columbia, which was something that—as many columns I edited have pointed out—seemed so special and rare.
That same group of friends was also there when those Wednesday night issues began to turn yellow. Early on, I had this feeling that I needed to go up the ranks of Spectator to prove just how much I loved this new experience, even when the position was way beyond my qualifications.
This desire to constantly move upwards at Spectator often leads to crushing disappointment.
At the end of my first year, I tried to be op-ed deputy, and I didn’t get it. The next semester I turkeyshot for managing editor of The Eye. I didn’t get it. One year later I turkeyshot for managing editor of Spectator. Once again, I didn’t get it.
After each of those unsuccessful attempts, I’d come home head down, face hot, with tears streaming down my face. I felt like a failed Speccie.
My non-Spec friends, though, were there to remind me that I wasn’t just a Speccie but someone who had discovered the world of journalism and still wanted to learn. After each failure, they’d make me question how or whether that could still happen. If I could still continue growing regardless of where I was on the ladder, onwards I went! If I felt like I couldn’t, they’d comfort me, feed me ice cream, and remind me that I could always pursue things outside of Spec.
In Carol’s own words, I was way cooler than all of those “Spec Losers” anyway.
But I chose to stay in Spec because there was always something left to learn. And some of those Spec Losers were there to teach. Dan Garisto sat me down and finally explained to me what Opinion was. Youjin Jenny Jang was patient with me when I struggled to define the term magazine journalism (after I had already become an editor for Spec’s magazine). Jenna Beers knew exactly how to explain data visualization to someone who only understands the world through words. In talking me through the news cycle, those Spec Losers functioned just as my non-Spec friends did: They saw me not as just a Speccie, but as a person who wanted to learn about journalism—they saw what goals I had, and how they could help me reach them.
The line between my non-Spec and Spec Loser friends has blurred over time. I eventually became surrounded by a loving group of people who supported me whenever I got excited about a new facet of journalism I just discovered. And come turkeyshoots season, they were there to catch me if ever I flew too close to the sun. (Newspaper is highly flammable.) That support network has been so crucial in teaching me, after every failed attempt, to ask myself: “What do I still want to learn from Spectator? How can I get it from this position I didn’t imagine myself getting?”
The nagging reminder to see myself as not a Speccie but a person who loves journalism helped make my year and a half as managing editor of The Eye the most fulfilling experience I’ve had at Columbia. Not only because I got to really play with what magazine journalism looks like, but because I got to pay the lesson my friends had taught me back. Whenever I saw my staffers start going through the same toxic throes of Spec as I had—going up the ladder without really giving thought to what they wanted—I asked them: What is it you want to get out of Spectator, and how can I help you get it? (And if we can’t get it together, maybe it’s worth recognizing that Spec might not be good for you right now.)
As my tenure as managing editor of The Eye came to a close, I had always imagined my senior spring to be a time where I’d give back to that loving group of people who supported me. I always thought that, other than sleeping more, doing all my readings, and handing in homework assignments on time, I’d also spend this semester thanking them for being there for me during times when I perhaps wasn’t there for them, and supporting me when I definitely wasn’t there for myself.
Losing Caroline was heartbreaking and sudden and tragic. I miss her every day. But she taught me that you need to maintain and show gratitude for people like her during your time at Columbia, however long it lasts.
It’s easy to start highlighting your name at the bottom of the masthead and want it to get bigger and higher up as I did four years ago. But you need friends like Carol—inside and outside of Spectator—to remind you that the title above your name isn’t necessarily who you are.
There is so much love for my Spec Losers, even if the term doesn’t reflect it.
To Isaiah Thomas and Anne Marie Bompart, thank you for welcoming a shy and confused first-year into the Opinion/Arts & Entertainment office with open arms.
To Mikhail Klimentov, you’ve taught me to always be critical and never settle with the status quo.
Thank you to Lyric Bowditch, Juliana Kim, Parth Chhabra, and Maya Perry for your patience as I was figuring out what it meant to be in charge of our little-magazine-that-could. You made our twinkling cubby-hole feel like a magical place where we could try our hand, as a team, at redefining what magazine journalism looks like at Columbia.
To Ben Libman, thank you for answering any question about journalism, literature, and tragedy that’s ever popped in my head.
Catherine Hoang, I’ve learned so much from your tenacity, thoughtfulness, and loving friendship. I’m so excited to see the brilliant things you do in your last year at Barnard.
Thank you to Paulina Mangubat for all of the tea, the bagels, the yoga, the crying sessions, and the honest conversations about mental health. I thought my last year at Barnard would be tough without you, but you’re only a FaceTime away.
And beyond the Spec Losers, I’m so grateful for the non-Spec friends—Sarah Breen, Nawal Abbasi, Virginia Exley, Ayah Hassan, and Abigail Smith—for all of the food and hugs and love, and, most importantly, for coming together after we’ve lost someone so close to our hearts.
Rébecca Ausseil is a senior at Barnard College majoring in comparative literature and psychology and minoring in translation studies. She was an associate editorial page editor for the 138.5 and 139th volumes, a deputy editorial page editor for the 139.5th volume, lead story editor of The Eye for the 140th volume, and managing editor of The Eye for the 140.5th and 141st volumes.
Senior columns are pieces in which members of Spectator’s graduating class reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown from their time at the organization, and are part of Spectator’s 2018 Commencement Issue. To respond to this senior column, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.