On a musty, rainy day at State College, I was mulling over my college-aged existential crisis arising over my future career plans. Throughout my time at Penn State, I waffled between different majors like English, psychology and even film.
Believe me when I say when I picked journalism, it was like drawing a name out of a hat, and the name I got was a thankless, poorly paid affair I had zero experience with. It was truly one of the most random decisions of my life.
I stuck with it — my adviser told me it was too late to switch, after all. At this point, I was already a junior halfway through my spring semester. It felt like there was no other option for me. I had to go for broke.
Journalism it is.
On a whim, I signed up to become a reporter for The Daily Collegian. I left the office the night of tryouts, embarrassed over my lack of writing abilities, until I received an email weeks later from the then editor-in-chief, Elena Rose.
“If you've received this email, that means the Collegian has read your tryout and would like to invite you back to interview for reporting candidacy!” the email read.
I was ecstatic! It was my time to start catching up. I could start gaining the experience I needed to succeed in this industry. It helped that I was taking classes with some of the most inspiring instructors I’ve ever had, convincing me to stick with the major.
Candidate classes went off without a hitch. I was ready to rock. Nothing could stop me.
But then spring break came, and my progress came to a screeching halt. Penn State announced the remainder of the semester would be held online, and I was sent back to my childhood home to live out my junior year as a socially awkward recluse.
We all know why. I don’t feel as if I have to poke the elephant in the room — we’ve had enough of that already.
For the record, I sincerely commend the editors of the Collegian when the publication was thrown into a new, masked world. They adapted to a fully-remote setting, and they were still reporting the news.
Still, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. The sudden shift to a remote setting made it jarring to learn the ropes as someone who had zero prior experience in journalism. I was submitting work as a candidate I wasn’t satisfied with.
I opted not to join summer staff. I had to take a step back to think about the new situation I was thrown into, along with the rest of the Penn State community.
Later that summer, my first lifestyle editor reached out to inquire about whether I would join fall staff. I gave a reluctant “yes,” because I realized I had no choice.
When life throws you a colossal, soul-crushingly sour lemon, you have to make lemonade.
It took an attitude shift for me to buckle down and start doing the work. I thought about all the good in my life, despite certain current events, and I think that translated into the work I did.
My family was safe. I was safe. The absence of a dormitory suddenly made college a lot more affordable. I was counting my blessings.
I felt excited about what I was doing. And as the semester progressed, and I started writing more and more, I felt… proud. It felt weird to be proud of my work.
All of this work that I did remotely at home, in my messy bedroom unsuited for Zoom interviews or meetings.
One of my most tremendously proud achievements was highlighting inequalities within Penn State’s School of Theatre. I felt like I was helping shine a light on people who needed to be heard.
I was able to speak to amazing professors about their careers and continuously felt inspired by their life stories.
And I had the opportunity to talk to students about some of the dumbest things. I never thought I’d write a news article about the social implications of Pepe the Frog. I’ll never live down the email I sent to actual professors, trying to find an expert who could talk to me about a silly meme.
I’m not writing these down to toot my own horn. In a way, it’s helping me realize I still had a full Collegian experience without ever leaving my bedroom.
I’m still discovering things about myself, my interests and even my work. When the world grows darker, it’s difficult to wave that darkness away.
As Asian voices and identities are silenced, beaten down on the streets and subsequently ignored, I’m finding myself almost returning to the state of self-doubt I was in at the start of the pandemic. It’s certainly impacted the work I’ve put out during my last couple of weeks here.
But I think it’s not just my time at the Collegian that’s helping me navigate that. It’s some of the people I’ve met here who validate my work. Some of the professors here who continue to inspire me.
My time in State College didn’t even amount to a full year. I was there for five or six months, and then I was gone. But I still feel lucky I was a part of something here. At the end of the day, I got something out of the expensive travesty that is university life during a pandemic.
To the entire Collegian staff, I never met most of you in-person, which really sucks. But hopefully, while we’re all doing our own thing down the road (and after I acquire the infinity stones of vaccines), we might still recognize one another.
And to end this column so I can at least affirm to everyone that I was in at least one inside joke here: Mank was definitely the best movie I haven’t seen this year.