Home Opinion Columns Why I Joined The Collegiate, and Why I Stayed

Why I Joined The Collegiate, and Why I Stayed




It is Aug. 26, 2023, and I’m standing behind a table at the Grand Rapids Community College block party to welcome new students and represent The Collegiate. It is two days before I officially leave and become a student at Grand Valley State University.

When people come near, I gesture to all of our free stickers and invite them to take one of our magazines. Some people thank me and leave. Others stay and talk. They ask a ton of different questions, like who we are and what we do. I explain to them that we’re student journalists, and that The Collegiate is GRCC’s student paper. I tell them that it’s a good chance for writers to experiment with journalistic writing and it helps develop social skills for the socially anxious.

“Okay,” they ask me, “why did you join?”

It’s a good question. I was never into extracurriculars. I was the kind of student who couldn’t wait to get home at the end of the day. I grew up with my mom and grandparents out in the country. My father wasn’t around. With nothing near the house except swampland and cornfields, I passed the days by reading. I had a small collection that I read over and over again, and soon I started to dream about having my name on the cover just like the authors I idolized. As I would later find out, plenty of writers including Twain and Gaiman started as journalists before becoming novelists.

I started writing short stories in middle school, back when creepypasta stories were all the rage. It took almost 10 years for me to feel confident enough to write a novel. I got through a number of drafts before I started querying agents to get it published. All of them told me the same thing: it was good, but it wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t try to give up, it was something that just happened as every response that came back was a “No.” My manuscript wasn’t getting anyone’s attention the way I hoped it would. At this point, COVID had taken over the world and I had taken a year off from college. I was closer to my degree, but who really cared? It was just an associates’, not a fancy bachelors’ or masters’.

I wanted to ask about joining the school newspaper once. I stumbled across their office before they relocated to the room with a view on the third floor of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall. I stood outside, but I couldn’t bring myself to knock on the door. I was afraid that they would say I wasn’t good enough.

So at this point, it all came up snake eyes. I had failed with a novel. I was about to drop out of community college so close to the finish line. I was about to spend the rest of my life working in a kitchen that I hated, and I didn’t know what else to do. Everything was piling up with no end in sight.

Then, right on cue 20 years after leaving, my father unexpectedly came back. And there was that small moment, that little selfish moment, that I thought he was there for me. He was not. He wanted me to meet his kids. He said it was too late for us to have a relationship, but he hoped I would have one with his new family, the one he stuck around for. And I wanted to tell him it wasn’t too late. I had always wanted to meet him and ask what I did wrong.

There was a face in the mirror that day. When I looked into his eyes, I could see that he was broken. He had always been broken. He tried to pretend like everything was fine, but the truth was, he wanted somebody to come and fix those parts that didn’t fit right. When I looked down, I realized that nobody was going to fix me. This is just how I am.

I went out to see my father, but the moment that my eyes met his, I didn’t want to talk to him. There was nothing to say. Two strangers at a bar. I was supposed to be so much further along than I was, and he decided to arrive when I was at a dead end. We never spoke, but something had changed.

I got mad. And I’ve gotten mad before, but this was a special kind of anger that burned through my entire being. I had to be better. More than anything, I wanted to be more than I was, because if he saw me, he would feel guilty. “Look at how I’ve ruined this child,” he’d think to himself.

That anger carried me home that night. I was going to fully commit to community college to finally earn that goddamn degree. I signed up for journalism because I didn’t care anymore if I was good enough. I registered for every class that would get me where I wanted to go, and I didn’t stop until I had the credits to earn my degree. Above all, I plunged into my next novel. So what if the last one didn’t work? So what if this one doesn’t work either? I wasn’t stopping. Never again.

I felt like a champion walking into journalism on that first day, but when I saw the rest of the class, I started to feel more like a statue. Not a cool imposing one in the middle of a park, but one of those cheap ones that grandmas put on shelves. As the class went on, I saw how supportive everyone was and I felt some regret for not joining sooner. I told myself that it was better late than never, and I tried to make the most of it while I could. I volunteered for special assignments, I interviewed more than I had to, I did what I could to show that I was taking this seriously.

I was never good at speaking to people, but I wanted to be better. I had to be better. The Collegiate gave me the opportunity for that. By the end of it, I was conducting interviews with published authors and gladly took on each new challenge without that familiar icy hand of anxiety tightening around my heart.

The editors looked out for us. Mine in particular was always there when I needed him. Our adviser was always inspiring me to reach a little further. I wanted to make all of them proud in the way that I had never been proud of myself, so I kept pushing.

I joined The Collegiate because they weren’t savvy journalism experts who would laugh at me for thinking I could be one of them. They were students like me who were passionate about their work and wanted to share that passion with anyone who wanted to learn.

They asked me to interview people, which made me anxious. They invited me to speak on their podcast, which terrified me. They never stopped challenging me to do better. At the end of it, our adviser asked if I would be interested in staying over the summer to do more work. I pounced on the opportunity.

I stayed because I had always felt like I was different in a way that no one would understand or accept, but here I was welcomed in when the newspaper staff could see that I was trying. I stayed because my fiancée told me that she was glad I was writing articles I cared about because she saw me smiling more. I stayed because I was doing more than I ever thought I could.

In the end, I understand that it doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re not good enough. What matters is that you never stop trying to be better than you are.

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