Imagine or remember that there was a time in your life when everything was new, everything was possible, when you knew a lot but were learning more. A time when you had a little bit of talent and a little bit of experience, and you were thrown in with a huge assortment of people just your age or a little bit older who were so tremendously talented, had such promising futures, and who were willing and enthusiastic about mentoring the new kids among them. Imagine that in this diverse mix of young adults, in what could have been a battleground of egos, there had emerged a sense of the common good, of common allegiance to the joint effort, that all shared a goal and mission: to make The Daily Orange — Syracuse University’s independent student newspaper — the best newspaper it could be. For two and a half years I flourished in that incredible environment, and for a long time that heady experience so overshadowed everything I would come to do that I had to put it in the back of my mind, had to push back and forget what an amazing experience it was so that my later circumstances wouldn’t seem so intellectually bleak.
Now imagine that 25 years later, nearly all those people who were so important in shaping your skills, your experience, your very mindset, all came back together in one place to honor the institution you all were part of, an institution that only existed because these people cared enough to make it happen, an institution that helped to define the university community, on campus and well beyond. Many of those people I hadn’t seen since they graduated, and since I went off on a different career track, I had no occasion to see or hear from more than a few of them.
That is what last weekend was like. Dozens of Daily Orange alumni braved the impending hurricane (a no-show in upstate New York, but a more serious concern for folks coming from the southeast) to return to our old stomping grounds, share our memories, talk a little about the past and the future of the paper, and to bask in the glow of being together again.
One idea I try to impart to my children is that they are among people they may know their entire lives. Part of the lesson is “be nice to other people,” because your actions may haunt you in the future. But a bigger part of it is, “marvel at the web of people you will know.” People will come in and out of your life and back in again, in totally unpredictable ways. And people you’ve shared an incredible, intense experience with will be with you, in some way or another, all your days. And when you see them again after 10 or 20 or 25 years, you can pick up right where you left off. It’s the most wondrous thing.
For the longest time, those 2-1/2 years were the best years of my life, a time when I was at my best (in some ways, certainly not in others), surrounded by people who were at their best, all of us thrilled to be part of that experience (but of course we were also cynical ’70s college students, so we could never have admitted it). I learned more about the craft of writing and editing at the DO than I ever would in my classes. Journalism school was a disappointment alongside the experience of putting out a daily newspaper. I expected I would work there throughout college. Honestly, I was so tied up in that world that when all my friends graduated — most of them were juniors and seniors when I got there — I felt a little bit adrift. I didn’t fit in with the crowd that was coming along, and I decided to take a semester off, and the DO just came to an end for me.
But in the time I was there, I was a copy assistant (rim rat), layout assistant, news writer, special projects editor, assistant editorial page editor, and finally co-editorial page editor. I was also the news editor of the Summer Orange one year, and the editor in chief the next. I proofread and did pasteup ($5 and $15 a night, respectively), and sometimes I delivered the papers, too. When I left school I went on to do pasteup full time at the plant where the paper was printed, and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. As I started to ponder the realities of a life in journalism — low pay, bad hours, little job security, high mobility — I realized that it just wasn’t for me. So I finished my degree and stayed on the production side of the business for a few years, before I realized I could put together the public service elements of journalism with a management career, right up the hill at the Maxwell School.
This weekend, I heard people say they’d spent their careers trying to recapture what they had at the Daily Orange. I know the feeling, because running a small typesetting business in my 20s was a far cry from the huge, collective noise that was the DO. (But I’ve been lucky, because lightning struck again for me, and at least twice more I’ve been on the most amazing teams, doing the best work I could imagine. So how blessed am I?)
To spend time with those people again, to get reacquainted with some friends I hadn’t had in my life for a very long time, and to share some of our common victories and common losses, was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Think we could do it again in 10? I don’t want to wait another 25 years.