Position: Print Co-Editor
College: Dartmouth College
It’s been nine months since I was appointed Co-Editor-in-Chief, but I still get that shaky, hot feeling when I stand in front of the classroom. I try to convey in a not-too-serious-but-still-authoritative tone what we have to do. I try to keep from turning red and stumbling over my words as Tom Lynch heckles me and our Texan advisor Dow Tate silently looks on from the back of the room.
For me, it’s really hard to do. I’m an awkward person—a mere glance at my elementary school photos indicates I was doomed from the start—and I haven’t seemed to grow out of it. Rather, I found a suitable extracurricular activity that has forced me to confront my awkwardness full-on: journalism.
I don’t mean the perfectly coiffed newscaster type of journalism, but rather the behind-the-scenes type of journalism. The sweaty-faced, bouncer-defying kind of journalism that gets photos of the band ‘fun.’ at a concert without a press pass. And the kind where you approach a complete stranger because you need a source from the bowling team. And the kind where you sit across the table from a cancer patient, trying to comprehend their life as you scramble to ask the right questions. That’s the kind that made me confront my mild social anxiety these past years.
There was the time I rounded up 20-or-so students from around East and questioned them about their view of sexual activity.
“So, uh. I just wanted to ask you about what you think of sex? Like… is it okay? What do you think about it at East? Yeah…”
Some of them stared at me with fear in their eyes. Some of them laughed and tried to B.S. me. Some of them actually put a hand to their chin and pondered the question. I nervously stood there with my legs crossed, bobbing my head up and down, alternatively staring them in the eye and looking at the ground, hating myself for not being able to be a more comforting, approachable type of person.
And I hated myself when I interviewed Julie Lee last February. As she began to cry when she talked about her boys John and Evan and her cancer, I felt almost helpless to comfort her and almost guilty that I had brought about her crying.
I tried to give her what I thought was a reassuring smile as I fought off the urge to cry. I failed. So instead I fiddled with the purple latex “HOPE” ring she had given me and looked elsewhere, afraid of human interaction. She dried her eyes and we continued with the interview.
Journalism is the only field that encourages—no, requires—you to meet with what may be a complete stranger and ask them questions. I could never ask a random classmate their views on premarital sex or have a conversation with my childhood friend’s mom about both her religion and her cancer without the knowledge that I was publishing it in the Harbinger.
Yet Harbinger has pushed me into those situations. Things have changed since I avoided calling my best friend Emily Bates in sixth grade because I thought I might get her parents (or worse, her brother) on the line instead of her. I can talk in front of a crowd without my voice shaking. I no longer edit and revise my Facebook posts as if they were my senior column.
And I’m not afraid to confront or comfort someone in an interview, whichever one is needed.
I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered my awkwardness (and my most sincere apologies to anyone in the future who will ever experience me at my most socially inept). But what I have done is come to terms with never being exactly suave. It’s alright to feel uncomfortable—but journalism has forced me to come to terms with that initial reaction of “Oh god, strike me down with lightning right now, I’m so awkward.”
I wish I could go back to that September version of myself, pick my way through deadlines and ski trips and tests and track practices, grab my own shoulders and say in a feminine version of Clint Eastwood’s gravelly voice: Yeah, you will miss this, kid. This awkward staff announcements thing? You’ll miss it. You’ll miss it more than you’ll know.