I was never a very good opinion editor. I joined Spectator as an associate editor during orientation week freshman year. I was young and shy and, at that point, knew about five people on campus. Recruiting articles was difficult. I also had minor philosophical issues with the idea of college op-eds (kids posing as experts, producing content for content’s sake, etc.).
So, after a year and a half, I took the only logical step for someone who had questions about the very act of opinion writing, and became an opinion writer. I had a column called Excuses and Half-truths. I told myself that the title was a nod to my status as a reluctant commentator. In reality, it was just a nonsensical reference to a song I liked. But, like a lot of “good” opinion writing, it had the illusion of meaning.
Then, spring of my sophomore year, a smart kid named Thomas Rhiel spearheaded the creation of Spectrum. I wrote the first opinion post on Spectrum, which I’m proud of, though I can’t remember what it was about. Eventually, I quit my column gig and became a full-time blogger.
Blogging is my real legacy at Spec. (Legacy is probably too strong a word. Let’s say blogging is my real schmegacy at Spec.) For almost two years, I wrote once or twice a week about topics ranging from smoking bans to Spicy Specials to elevator etiquette. I enjoyed it, but the requirement to produce content so frequently meant there were times when I was writing things I half-believed or half-cared about (I would like to apologize formally here for my two-plus posts that consisted entirely of haiku). I quit blogging, too, before this semester started, feeling like I had less to say than ever before, like my heart wasn’t in it.
And that’s my three and a half years at Spec. If I sound cynical and disillusioned it’s because, at one point, I was. A lot of Spec seniors use these columns to talk about the incredible relationships they formed in the office. As a writer, I was never in the office. The other day I met—for the first time, in a bar—a former managing editor who had once sent me daily emails. And though I certainly met terrific people/friends in my time at the paper (Amin, Caroline, Daryl, Derek, Elaine, Emily, Paula, Rebekah, to name a few), I was never a real “Speccie.”
Yet half a year after quitting the paper, my disillusionment has turned to appreciation for what Spec gave me. For one, it gave me a voice. Dozens (hundreds?) of blog posts and columns helped me find a personal style, sense of humor, etc. My voice came to me through a forced process of trial and error (thank you, editors, for sending me threatening emails to turn in my posts, for making me throw words at the proverbial wall until something stuck).
It also gave me an odd kind of courage. I’ve been called an idiot (and much, much worse) on the Internet more times than I care to remember. I found that my work both on and off the Internet got a hell of a lot sexier, sharper, and more meaningful once I stopped paying attention to comments and started writing for myself or for the audience I wanted.
Most of all, though, Spec helped me figure out the kind of writing I really wanted to be doing. I came into Columbia thinking I wanted to be a journalist. Four years later, I’m headed to Colorado State to get an MFA. I’ve realized that there’s nothing wrong with opinion writing—I just want to write fiction.
I’ve landed in a medium that lets me work at my own pace, that lets me do work that always excites (even as it frustrates) me, and that lets me throw out entire stories if they’re no good. I’ve found work that makes me happy. And some of the credit for that find belongs to Spec. So thank you, Columbia Daily Spectator. Thank you to all my editors, to my friends, and to anyone who ever read my posts or columns (even if you hated them). It’s a season of lasts. This is the last time my byline will appear in Spec. I don’t know if that means anything to anyone else, but it means a lot to me. So again, thank you.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing and East Asian studies. He was an associate editorial page editor for the 133rd volume, and an opinion blogger.