In uncertainty of college, newspapers provide identity

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

Elizabeth Gu | Daily Trojan

At a party last week, I tried to introduce myself to someone. When I attempted to tell the person my name, he said, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re a writer, right?”

I smiled and then asked how he knew that. “Oh, I read the Daily Trojan all the time,” he said.

My job at the college newspaper, like most good things in life, started with a tweet. It was the summer before my freshman year, and I had just received an email saying I had been accepted on the Daily Trojan staff.

“Incredibly excited to work for the @dailytrojan on the news staff,” I tweeted. And the Daily Trojan favorited my tweet (#tbt to when that was an option.)

From that moment, my college identity was melded with the DT, and we started our four-year obsessive relationship to one another.

As a journalism student, there’s nothing more iconic than writing for your school newspaper. I couldn’t wait to see my byline in print. There’s definitely an element of narcissism that goes along with it — remember I am still a millennial. But when I was given my first assignment to write about a “substance-free floor” opening at University Gateway, I knew there would be a bit more effort that went into it.

I was so green in my first interview with a student who was dealing with alcoholism. Here I was, this 18-year-old asking someone about how his substance abuse impacted his grades and relationships. I stumbled through that interview, trying to find the balance between sensitivity, but making sure I dove deep enough to retrieve the truth. When the article appeared on the front page of the DT the next day, above the fold, I saved the paper and mailed it home.

Over these four years, I’m not sure how many articles I have written, but I know I have saved them all. I’ve walked away with more bylines then I could imagine, but even more so, developed personal connections with my peers that I might have never met.

That has been my saving grace. During this school year, there has been this ongoing conversation about “safe spaces.” For me, that was the college newsroom. Running from this event to that one, documenting everything from the celebrities who came to campus to the students who were changing the culture of the campus, I felt like I had my pulse on the wide ranges of USC experiences. I could bring all those stories back to the newsroom.

Soon — I don’t know when — people started associating me with the DT. I couldn’t have been happier when this happened.

People say newspapers are “dying” because they struggle to stay relevant and alive. Yet, that idea has never once touched my corner of the world at Daily Trojan. California has one of the strongest freedoms and rights for the reach of college newspapers, and at the DT it never felt like the end was in sight. There’s something special on the fourth floor of the Student Union, a place where I’ve spent more all-nighters than I’ve wanted, where I’ve cried, laughed until I’ve cried once again and learned who I wanted to be. I sent out my first Snapchat in that newsroom. I met my best friends in that newsroom.

But now, as I head into graduation, my greatest fear feels like it is coming true. In my first column, I wrote about not having enough time. Now, I really don’t.

But the great news for those remaining on campus is that you still do have time. You have the time to learn and grow and place yourself in communities that will support you. Today’s college students increasingly need these types of environments as they face mounting financial, mental health and social pressures. If you can find yourself a version of the DT, a place that will help you tell your story in the way you want it told and will challenge you to think outside of yourself, well, then you’ve achieved all that this University asks of you.

And remember, like most good things in life, it starts with a tweet. So make college tweetable. Find a lesson in every moment, and if you’re so inclined — write a column about it. I know I did.

While you are doing that, I know my fellow graduates and I will also be tweeting our way through the transition. We’ll be learning how to remold our identities past this USC bubble. It’ll take time, but we’ll figure it out.

As we move through our lives as busy college students turned even busier adults, remember to leave room to tell stories. Record those stories.

That’s what the college newspaper has helped me to do. It has indelibly defined my college identity. It has reminded me that I still have so much growth and maturity to achieve.

After four years of working at the Daily Trojan, I know that I shouldn’t take my time here for granted. Even this millennial can appreciate that.

After reading “Wait An L.A. Minute,” which ran on Tuesdays, join Jordyn Holman in her millennial conversations on Twitter @JordynJournals. She’s a senior studying print and digital journalism.