I remember sitting on the porch of my childhood home days before my high school graduation, thinking about the previous four years. Everything I had done before was over. I felt that nothing I did till that point mattered. I was mostly right.
Once you leave high school, you realize the insignificance of those day-to-day experiences — the fights, crushes and late homework assignments.
But now it’s different. I catch a glimpse of déjà vu as I look out at the University of Southern Maine from my office window at The Free Press for what could be the last time, but I’ll be taking these last four years with me this time.
Working at The Free Press is the first meaningful thing I’ve done in my life. Myself and the others at The Free Press served the USM community — or at least gave our best effort — with crucial news about the university, hopefully-illuminating student profiles and Halloween-themed drink recipes.
I would be fundamentally different without The Free Press.
The sophomore who walked into the office to write sports in September 2009 isn’t the same person who left the office this past Sunday night.
I remember my first visit to the place that later became my second home. Glancing down the hall towards the newsroom, I thought it looked a bit intimidating.
Joel Neill, the sports editor at the time, assigned a men’s soccer game to me. Instructions were simple: write what happens and interview the coach afterward. After strolling around the field, trying to get a feel for the scene, I sat down, whipping out my over-sized notebook that only resembled to a reporter’s notebook in that it had an on-top spiral binding. I documented every play. Opposing team makes a run down the right wing. Defender tackles ball away. Team pushes up field.
After the game — and after pages upon pages of overly-detailed, play-by-play coverage — I nervously eyed the coach across the field, dreading the nerve-wracking trek over for the necessary interview. I hung back, trying to look intelligent as I pretended to write in my over-sized notebook.
The crowd in the bleachers began thinning, forcing me to stand and shuffle my feet across the field. I oozed with trepidation.
Then at midfield, I veered to the right, put my head down and walked straight to my dorm room.
I later told Joel the coach was too busy to talk to me. (Sorry, Joel.)
Now I’m the one teaching new editors how to deal with shy, inexperienced writers while looking to my own future — a future I owe to The Free Press.
I said I wouldn’t be the same without The Free Press, but the opposite is truer. We made the newspaper our own.
I took the reins of a paper with a strong news section, thanks to Dan MacLeod, my predecessor, but I didn’t think it looked very appealing or cohesive. The design looked stale, and we often didn’t write stories student readers could easily understand.
After slowly working to improve the content of the paper through my tenure, we finally took on revamping the design this semester, including changing our flag (the “logo” on the top of the front page). Over the course of a couple years, many of our efforts fell flat. Grandiose ideas fell by the wayside. A few were very successful. But I’m proud of everything our team has done, no matter the result.
I don’t know if I want to be a career journalist. I may start out in journalism and — like so many other people today — drastically change my career after a few years. I’m not worried because I know The Free Press has prepared me. If anything can go wrong at a student newspaper, it will and it did.
I know I’ve come a long way since being too scared to talk to a coach and even longer from that night on my porch in high school.
This time, the four years mattered.
Thank you to everyone at The Free Press who helped me along.
Paul Koenig was news editor from January 2010 through the September 2010 and editor-in-chief from January 2011 semester through May 2012. He is graduating in May with a degree in business administration and a concentration in small business and entrepreneurship.