Walking into the James Building for the first time equated to the feeling I had when walking into my New Jersey public high school’s lunchroom.
Entering through the front door — its locked/unlocked status always a question mark — into a room that had an indescribably bizarre smell, you were often met with stares from a sea of faces.
Some of them worked in the Business Division, which, despite valiant efforts from a few people, remains largely clouded in mystery to someone like me on the opposite side of operations. Other blank stares came from my News Division allies, looks I figured would soon turn into smiles upon my arrival the more I made my presence felt in the office.
That thought turned out to be rather misguided.
The cliquey atmosphere and inside-joke-driven environment persisted throughout my first two years at the Collegian. I found it to be off-putting, thus I kept my trips to the office brief: go to meetings, get stories read, get some feedback and go home.
In what created a continuous cycle, less interaction with peers in the office kept me feeling out of the inner circle of cliques, only building more distance between myself and everyone else.
Now, to be clear, I’m naturally introverted, and I joined the Collegian hyper-focused on building my resume, getting some clips and getting out. Finding people I’d actively choose to spend my days with was an afterthought, if a thought at all.
This aforementioned social cycle eventually faded out in my junior year, partly because of my acceptance into editorship thrusting me into a built-in group of people I had to interact with on a daily basis, and also because of the move to our Midtown Square office, which, while smaller in square footage, has a big open layout that practically forces you to converse with office entrants and fellow editors.
It was a nice change of pace, though I probably spent more time laughing until my sides hurt from quiet comments made by then-sports editor Matt Lingerman or discussing woeful New York/New Jersey teams with my fellow New Jerseyan Jake Aferiat than doing my assigned assistant sports editor job.
Ironically, though, I find myself feeling most connected to the group that I’ve seen slowly grow together in that Midtown Square half-circle while I’ve spent countless hours looking only at computer screens in the walled-off cubicle I share with Lindsey Toomer, our managing editor.
This little slice of a larger office provided me two monitors, an office phone I’m too anxious to pick up, a swivel chair that has probably further degraded my decaying posture, and four walls that ensure only Ben McClary can hear my thoughtless ramblings when he’s sitting at the corner desk that’s become his own. Standing on the chair gives me enough of a boost so people can see my head and hear any sort of announcement I feel the need to give to the office. I use this feature frequently.
This cubicle is paradise for an introvert, especially when Lindsey, ever the extrovert, spends most of her time chatting with whoever is in the office that day.
But what I’m really grateful for is the perspective these four walls have given me, even if they complicate my physical vision of day-to-day operations.
I’ve seen a quiet Becky Marcinko become one of the biggest personalities (despite being the shortest one in the office). I’ve seen Jade Campos go from a skittish editor (who admitted she was at one point afraid to talk to me) to a leader of our newsroom. Andrew Porterfield, well, you’ve always been a bold, brash guy, but it’s nice to see you finding your place among the others. I hope the other two keep your head from inflating too large when you all run this place next year.
I’ve seen Megan Swift juggle singing, acting and editing, and the only way I can tell she has so much on her plate is because she always makes it a point to let us know when she can’t be on call to pick up an update. I’m envious of her ability to do so much, as I consider it a busy day when I have to be in more than two locations (this office and my apartment) in one day.
I’ve seen Lily LaRegina and Ben McClary get thrust into positions at the forefront of our push to increase our digital presence, and I’ve seen them both flourish. They’re extremely talented workers who have a knack for making it fun to learn from their expertise.
I probably got six credits worth of knowledge from attending their photo and video workshops. I still carry Lily’s photo guide in my camera bag.
I’ve seen Andrew Destin, David Tilli and Jerry Hassel — all of whom at different places in their Collegian tenures — become integral pieces of the puzzle that is the Collegian’s board of editors.
You won’t see Destin or David in the office every single day, but you don’t have to to take their contributions into account.
Learning something new about Destin in each passing week of meetings was always a highlight of the hour-long meetings — sometimes longer if I rambled too long — we held each week with our editors.
And maybe this is due to the scarcity of our interactions despite knowing each other for a couple of years now, but I cannot recall a wasted interaction with David. He’ll make you laugh, and he’ll make you think. The question of whether you’ll get option one, option two or a combination of both serves to exemplify his uniqueness.
Jerry — David’s antithesis if you forced me to choose one — you will see in the office nearly every single day; he’ll be there when you get there, and he’ll be there when you leave. It’s a refreshing constant in an uncertain world to see him playing Breath of the Wild on the Collegian’s TV or hear him blurting one of his many catchphrases out at high decibels. He’s also probably doing both despite having a class assignment due at 11:59 p.m. that night.
I’ve seen my equal, Lindsey, go from someone who questioned every single decision out of fear of being wrong to someone whose current questions ensure the lessons she’s teaching the next generation are getting through. I’ve also seen her on the brink of insanity on some Wednesday nights when we were approaching our print deadline. I never envied that feeling, but I also never doubted that the end result of her work would be an excellent representation of the entire Collegian.
Finally, of course, I’ve seen Maddie Aiken cheer, cry, laugh, yell, smile and pray.
She’s just as introverted as I am, but you’ll see her face among the group when you walk through the Midtown Square doors. She’s probably giving a take about Taylor Swift, or, more recently, showing someone an item she acquired in Animal Crossing. The former took some getting used to; the latter is spawned from my influence, sometimes bringing me a hint of guilt when she picks up her Switch instead of a textbook.
At first glance, you might not identify Maddie as the one in charge of running this whole place. But I imagine that’s how she’d want it.
She led the Collegian not by mimicking a past leader’s style or by blending a few tips from one of those “how to lead” books; she led how she wanted. Guided by her strong morals that inspire me to be better too, Maddie was the best dang editor-in-chief this place had.
I’m so proud of all she’s accomplished this year, and I’m eternally grateful to have been by her side for every part. I’m excited to stay by her side as we start a new chapter, too.
Combing through the descriptions above, you find a list of strikingly unique individuals. That’s what makes their combined dynamic so impressive.
It’s not the same as the Collegian I experienced early on, and that thought is not because of a position change altering my perspective either. I know it’s different because I’ve seen James Langan and Braden Dyreson walk through the doors to greetings of waves and mask-covered but grinning faces. I’ve seen Joe Eckstein and James Engel do the same. Heck, they sing Sarah Pellis’ name to the tune of “Silver Bells” when she walks in.
It’s not a chore to include these people — and countless other reporters, podcasters, photographers and candidates — in the conversation. They fit in seamlessly.
While a microcosm of the overall experience at the Collegian, it’s a part that very well can be make-or-break for a wide-eyed freshman.
It’s also an especially important part when you go just beyond the organization’s bounds and find multiple competing news outlets, an assembly of Collegian alumni who feign care and jump to criticize publicly, and a university that is desperate to control every single word on the digital or printed page and sway you away from covering anything potentially even perceivable as negative, factuality coming a distant second to overall image in the minds of administrators. They’re getting worse at hiding that last part, by the way.
In this back-patting of the group I helped to assemble by position at the Collegian, I’m in no way patting my own. I owe a lot to the other members of our board of editors. At least from my perspective, they’ve done a good job of covering up my distance.
And as I sit behind these walls in the waning moments of my time here, I do find myself sometimes thinking about the moments I’ve missed, the nights I favored solitude over spending money at a bar, the days where I heard laughing but not the punchline, the times where people had questions but I looked busy so they asked someone else.
But regret does not succeed any of these thoughts. For each moment I may have missed, I can think of three where I laughed to the point of tears or vented my frustration until reaching comfort or just had a really good conversation that stuck with me.
Beyond that, my ability to enter and withdraw from the office group without disturbance is yet another testament to the excellent atmosphere others have created. And if you do think I played a part in that, well, I appreciate that, too.
Pretty soon the Collegian will be off to a new home and will leave my Midtown Square box behind, thus making me the only digital managing editor to spend the entirety of the year-long tenure calling that cubicle my office home. It’s a nice personal touch to a space I sat at for a whirlwind year of my life.
If anything, though, that square showed me the malleability of the Collegian’s social side. And while it’s unavoidable to have some awkward interactions as new faces eagerly enter a new space, I have faith that the atmosphere I’ve witnessed form will extend beyond the graduation of a few of us.
Shane Connelly is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and minoring in psychology, and he served as the Collegian’s digital managing editor until 6:15 a.m. today. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @ShaneTConnelly.