When I stepped into the office of The Daily Beacon in August of 2011, I was just short of terrified.
I felt as though my insecurity must have been written all over my face – my status as "freshman" emblazoned in the way I stumbled over my words when asking where the entertainment section met.
Somehow, I made it through the excruciating awkwardness of that first meeting with a story assignment in hand – I was to cover a controversial Knoxville environmentalist group's meeting at Barley's in the Old City, a far cry from the personality profiles I had written in high school.
When that Tuesday came, I trekked to the Old City, reporter's notebook in my pocket and pen tucked behind my ear. I was no inexperienced, shy freshman – I was Claire Dodson, journalist at The Daily Beacon, the editorially independent student newspaper at the University of Tennessee. I had a purpose. I had an identity.
In high school, I had many identities – writer, mediocre basketball player, decent student, church kid and my personal favorite, "that tall girl." But in college, we start back at square one. We are nobody. We are everybody.
Come August, we will walk aimlessly to our first classes, confused and disoriented by the sheer size of a campus we are supposed to cross in less than 15 minutes. Maybe we are homesick. Maybe we are insecure. Maybe we are terrified.
But then, as you traverse Pedestrian or finally find the Communications building, you see a friendly face – your RA, a professor, a friend from high school or a random upperclassmen – and it's OK for a minute. It's OK if you don't know who you are or what you want to be (or even if you put on deodorant that morning). You are acknowledged, you exist, you are not lost in the shuffle of campus life.
Marina Keegan, a recent Yale graduate who passed away in a car accident, posthumously published a book of essays entitled "The Opposite of Loneliness." One of her essays was published in Yale's student newspaper.
She writes, "It's not quite love and it's not quite community; it's just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it's four A.M. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can't remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats."
This is what your campus newspaper should be – a place to read about yourself and your classmates, the issues and struggles of campus life, the awesome things the students and faculty around are you are doing to make the world better. A forum where you can hear and be heard (send letters to the editor to email@example.com) -- where you can know you aren't in this alone. And once you are validated, we will challenge you to see outside yourself and to make the most of these four (or five, or six) years.
Whether or not you join our staff, The Daily Beacon is a place to find yourself. To use the words of your SGA president, Kelsey Keny, The Daily Beacon is (literally) a blank page. Every day you are here, you play a role in determining what goes on it. It's a bigger question than what club or activity you will join. What will you value? What will you allow to shape who you become?
We hope it will be The Daily Beacon – a paper and website made for you and by you, with a history that dates back to 1871. It's not quite love and it's not quite community; it's as important as you want it to be. You decide if the Beacon gets left on the stands. You decide if you read us online at utdailybeacon.com.
It's a big responsibility, building an identity, engaging with your campus' news organization, but we trust you. After all, we are you.
Claire Dodson is a senior in English. She would love to hear your comments and questions and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.