The one question everybody asks is “Why?”
Why volunteer 50 to 60 unpaid hours a week for three out of four years of your college career? Why sacrifice sleep, GPA, mental health, social life, sanity? Why suffer constant crippling anxiety and persistent self-doubt?
The night my official tenure as Sports editor ended, I asked myself this question as I left Riverside Church for the final time as a Spec staffer. I knew that this new journey would present the challenge of what to do with all that time. I was excited, and why not be? The opportunity to enjoy senior night, actually enjoy school, and get real sleep were a stone’s throw away.
But what I didn’t know was that most of my staff was going to leave this organization, branching off and creating a new sports publication.
Suddenly the joy of finishing my tenure felt poisoned. There was no miracle in sight.
As winter break came and went, second semester began, and the days grew shorter and then longer again, I couldn’t help but scroll through Spectator’s website in search of new sports content. It felt like an eternity before the first sports story appeared.
All but one of my staffers left in search of a new beginning. A two-person iteration of the Spec Sports section emerged. I was somewhere in the middle, with no place to land. It was a return of the imposter syndrome that I thought had vanished once I became Sports editor.
When I worked at Spectator, the Sports section was described as North Brother Island in relation to Manhattan. North Brother Island once housed a hospital but is now an abandoned bird sanctuary floating in the East River.
The day-to-day operations of Sports seemed different from those of other sections. Sports style was too complicated for anyone to understand and our focus wasn’t on tearing down institutions like the other sections.
But, that wasn’t the Spec Sports I knew. When I was a young staffer, with absolutely no journalism experience, my editor pushed me to look beyond the obvious for stories. Writing alongside my now dear friend Austin, I was consistently pushed to a high level. I looked beyond the box score, putting my own spin on that cliché to produce stories that actually brought me joy.
During my time as editor, that joy carried me every day when I was otherwise disillusioned by internal politics or internship rejections. There’s something beautiful in pouring your life into something for nothing but satisfaction that your work can make a difference.
That satisfaction was further cemented by my participation in the Sports Journalism Institute, an organization which graciously provides women and minorities the ability to pursue sports journalism in a supportive environment. That opportunity undoubtedly came because of my time at Spectator and gave me the validation I needed, that I otherwise never got from my peers.
At Spec, I was often forgotten, branded as a failure, was screamed at to the verge of tears, and was mocked for my appearance and my ethnicity. But as difficult as that was for me to overcome, I also was acknowledged for my hard work, was praised for creativity, was lauded for possessing good source relationships, and was eventually seen as a mentor figure to younger staffers. Others have navigated similar dualities.
I wouldn’t wish all of the pain I suffered on anyone, despite the fact that those experiences shaped the journalist and person I am today. I would hope, though, that people in positions of power relish in celebrating their staffers’ good work. Even a small iteration of praise—as it did for me—can make a large difference in the grand scheme of things.
While the tears frequently flowed when I felt like my constant imposter syndrome would never see the end, there was also a distinct sense that I belonged to something more than a college newspaper by my last semester as editor.
I finally felt like I belonged when I was asked to write a few letters of recommendation this past fall for some of my younger staffers pursuing internships, including one for SJI. It was incredibly humbling to consider that anyone could possibly look up to me after all I’d been through.
It is my sincere hope that any person reading this can find that same value in any activity about which they are passionate. I certainly did.
So yeah, that’s why I wrote.
This list is by no means complete, but I want to acknowledge the following people for helping me get through these past four years. Part of the reason it’s so long is because so many people helped me, and I want to do their efforts justice.
Austin: I will be forever grateful for all of the times—good and bad—that we spent together here, in Spec, in 1020, in Patches or elsewhere. You were always there for me, and I’ll be never able to express fully what that meant to me. Love you, man.
Mallory: Thank you for helping me feel so much joy the last three months. I am so incredibly happy you took a chance on me and can’t wait for more memories with you. For always keeping me fed and being my rock, I love you.
Natalie: Your speech at Spec Dinner was so meaningful, as were all the trips to Diana and vent sessions. I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished, and I’ll see you in LA for tamales hasta pronto. I will always be here for you. Don’t ever forget that. ILY Nat.
Henry: I’ll never forget that long trip to Dartmouth, and all the times in the office when you whipped out a “precocious” or a “prosaic” in a football article. Thanks for repping LA with me, and for keeping me sane. Oh, and for being my favorite prospective editor in chief.
Zach: You say some of the most ridiculous things, but it warms my heart when I see you get excited in a press box. Keep fighting the good fight, and remember that during your year in Spec sports, your effort made the section better. That won’t ever go away.
Ethan: Your Kaylo article was one of the best things I’ve ever edited or read. You wrote it in two hours. I knew you were going to do great things, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Keep fighting the good fight.
Ally: The most wholesome person I know. I’m still salty the Cubs beat the Dodgers in 2016. But for real, thank you for all the good times in the office and for making Sports more inclusive for everyone.
Leo: Gender equity would not have happened without your persistence. Spec Dinner last December would not have happened without my insistence. For real, though, you always cared about me and kept it real. Appreciate you, my guy.
Mirin: What can I say. You always told me to rise above the BS, be confident in my writing, reporting and presence, and help others. I’m so grateful to have you as a mentor, and I’m excited for what the future holds. See you at home!
Rob: You let me tell your story, and to this day it’s the most fulfilling piece of writing I’ve ever undertaken. Thank you for your unbridled honesty and passion for something you love. I will take those lessons I gleaned in the long rides to and from Charlottesville and apply them to my life wherever I end up. Oh, and I’m hoping you can join me for my kids’ birthday parties some day, which will decidedly be in the summer. Ideally July?
Rebecca: The grace and passion with which you handled your job always inspired me. I certainly molded my style as an editor after you, but I could never perfect the Bad Cop role like you seem to have. Seeing you so happy with Steven warms my heart. Hope to see you soon.
Amelia: Your passion for journalism, for great photography, and for making Spec a better place inspire me. I will always be here for you, so don’t ever hesitate to reach out.
Dan: It was tough love from you, but it was always love. We went through our ups and downs, but you empowered me to think I could become a real sports journalist. I still heed those words of wisdom to this day. Hope you’re keeping up the great pace in LA.
Anna: You helped me grow up in more ways than I could ever imagine. I similarly enjoyed the brothy soups but also all the laughs and the Alicia Keys jams and the old office. I felt like a huge part of Spec was lost when you left. It was never the same.
Sagar and Dylan: Thanks to both of you for all your constant support and Patriots smack talk. If you hadn’t forced CB to make me interim editor, I never could have continued on staff. You guys helped me in ways unimaginable, and I won’t ever forget that.
Sophie: We bonded over being mutually screwed over, and that really helped me get through that last crazy year. Wasn’t Turkeyshoots fun? Your perseverance—especially after everything we went through together—inspired me to keep my head up. Thank you.
Ainsley: I love your Twitter feed, and I’m so happy that you got an award at CDSAAD. No one deserved it more. Cheers to all those fun Spec Dinner conversations over the years and to mutually fussing over Barnard PR.
Cheryl and Diane: You both are such wonderful human beings, and part of the reason I delayed doing headlines and captions every print night was so that I could spend more time with you! But seriously, you contributed immensely to my development as an editor, and I’m very appreciative of that. Hope we can all get drinks soon!
Nima: You’re too handsome for everyone. I mean it. But really, you’ve always carried yourself with a moral fortitude that I really admire. Don’t forget to keep in touch when you’re in LA, and keep fighting the good fight. One more year, my guy.
Brad: For a good part of my time here, you were always supportive and willing to go the extra mile to help me succeed inside and outside of Spec. I haven’t forgotten all of the wonderful memories.
Sports staff: Everyone who’s worked on Sports content over the years has a special place in my heart. I want to particularly shout out the staff I got to work with as editor for being so patient with me while I learned to navigate the role. It made a huge difference.
Bid and the Columbia tennis community: First to Bid, you were the first interview I ever conducted. I’ve had countless since and have not encountered an individual more classy and willing to share than you during my brief foray into journalism. To the rest of the community, whose members are too voluminous to name everyone, thank you for all of your time and patience with me. Every conversation we had was meaningful, and it made me a better writer and person.
Columbia athletics community: Thank you to the numerous athletes, coaches, and administrators who dealt with my incessant interview requests and countless questions. I could not have done this job without your patience. Special shoutout to Bob Steitz and communications.
My high school teachers at Poly: Thank you for instilling in me the value of a good work ethic and humility through all your mentorship and guidance after I graduated.
Leon, Sandy, Greg, and my Sports Journalism Institute family: Thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime last summer in Missouri. Through your guidance, I emerged a more confident and polished journalist, and certainly person.
Tom, Brian, and the rest of the Southern California News Group staff: My internship last summer and freelance work this spring taught me to value my work and think bigger. These are lessons I will carry with me in my career for the rest of my life.
Tati: The best senior prom date, Mr. Brightside-loving, musical genius friend I could ask for. You are the most beautiful person, with a wonderful family, and I’m so grateful for you always checking in on me—even when I never texted back. Love you!
Matt: You’ve always supported me and let me get away from all the drama when we went on long drives back home. Can’t wait to see you when I’m home. Love you, man.
Will: The funniest person I know. The whitest person I know. You’re the best man, and your words of kindness have always kept me afloat during tough times. Thanks for all the jokes and for reading nearly every article I wrote. You’re the best.
Connor: You were one of the very first people I met at Columbia, and since then you’ve always shown me what the city has to offer. Rooming with you this year was incredible, from the seltzer binges to Champions League in the suite. Glasserie was one of the best nights of college, and I’m so grateful to you and your family for having my back. Much love.
Andrew: I’m glad you came into my life kind of by accident at a Tiny Dorm Concert. Patches was so much fun, as was Trivia Night, NoCo working, and rehearsals with guests—I’ll leave it at that. Have fun in Israel. I probably won’t visit, but I’ll see you when you’re back in the city. Much love.
Lani: Kansas City’s finest, you were always there to talk about pretty much anything, and that was quite therapeutic and necessary at times. Thanks for being so real, 100 percent of the time. Sorry I couldn’t say hi at the K. Maybe next time?
Zina: Thanks for always listening to me rant and vent about life. Sorry I was on my phone too often during meals, and I hope you visit again soon so we can hit Kitchen Mouse. So thankful to call you a friend.
Last but not least, my entire family, Mom, Dad, Jess, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Ryan, Uncle Ron, Tia Ana, Uncle John, Mari, Elena, Santos and even Ashley, you all were such a constant base of support when times were good and bad. I am so excited to spend graduation with all of you.
To anyone else that I did not mention directly, you know who you are. Keep in touch.
Christopher Lopez was a staff writer and deputy editor for the 140th volume, a senior deputy editor and interim sports editor for the 141st volume, and sports editor for the 142nd volume. He majored in 20th century U.S. history, and his band, Patches, just released a new EP, Mary Todd, that is mandatory listening. For more hot takes on sports and music, follow him on Twitter @clopez1228.
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