Welcome to the world, new Medill MSJs

I woke up this morning with nothing on my to-do list.

Okay, to be fair, that’s a hideous lie. I have jobs to hunt, fiction to write, books to read for pleasure, groceries to buy, an absolute hole of an apartment that I’ve been neglecting in favor of bigger projects, and I need to call my dad. But I have no more schoolwork to worry about: I’m done with my master’s program at Medill, unless there’s a secret handshake I still need to be taught.

My last paper was actually for an undergraduate class I took about depictions of war in entertainment media, which I turned in on Wednesday, hoping my professor will grok that in order to cite quotes from David Simon characters, you get to become one with some pretty amazing foul language. But my capstone project, that came together on Tuesday. I spent Friday through that morning doing pretty much nothing else. This was definitely the kind of weekend where you order one extra large pizza and live off it for a day or two, at which point you order more carryout, because who has time to go outside?

But it’s done, a long form nonfiction narrative (as they call it) about shape note singers, of which I am very proud. Fingers crossed, I can sell it somewhere and you all can read it and see where my lost weekend went.

Wednesday night Medill threw us a party, or at least a very nice get-together. I got to see classmates I hadn’t seen in months, thanks to our schedules, and there was an awful lot of “How is this year over already?” Some of us have jobs and internships, and I could not be happier to see where everyone is already landing. A lot of us are sort of scratching our heads and wondering where to go next, but I’ve seen us do some pretty amazing things over this past year. We’re all going to be fine.

What a year, though, right? I’ve been trying to keep a list for myself of the big stories we’re going to remember our MSJ year by: Manti Te’o. The Boston Marathon bombings. Pope Francis. Mandela. And snow… something. Snowbird? Snowflake? I’m sure it’ll come to me.

But, to be completely schlocky, what I’ll really remember is how I had the absolute joy and pleasure of getting to meet and work with and learn from so many amazing people that might never have otherwise been in my life. Whether we were racing between Evanston and downtown with an hour and a half between classes or biking 25 miles to see a botanic garden, grousing all night in the newsroom or watching the sun rise¬†over Lake Michigan, tramping up and down Lawrence Avenue/26th Street/Sheridan Road to find sources or taking vanity to new and exciting heights, I’m glad we did it together. I really like you, cohort. Thanks for being so great. Let’s stay close, time zones and distance be damned.

I came to Medill after a very unhappy year. My mother died, and getting into Medill, to finally, actively move toward a career that I chose and want was the first good, big thing that had happened for what felt like a very long time. The other day I found myself realizing that this is a whole life accomplishment that I’ve done completely without her. I wish she could know; I wish she could see what I’ve been doing. (She knew it was coming, or at least something I wanted. She used to hassle me about whether I’d written my application essays and talked to my recommenders yet.)

I recognize her in a lot of the things I focus on or write. She used to say that our family business is stories: she was a psychologist, my dad is a retired English professor, my two sisters have been deeply invested in opera and photography, one niece is studying musical theater and my oldest nephew wants to make films. I’ve been writing fiction since I was 4. Journalism is such a natural thing for me to fall into, it’s a wonder I didn’t think of it sooner. But I’m glad I’m doing it now. I’m really excited about where my life is going to go.

So many people are so proud of me, I know. They’ve helped me get here with their love and support, and I cannot, I cannot thank them enough. Thank you, Dad. I love you. Thank you Neil and Steve and Elizabeth, for vouching for me. Thank you friends, who talked me down on bad nights and second-read my words and gave me better ideas and kept me happy with a life outside of school. Thank you Marcel and Charles and Michael and Louise, Steve and Rachel and Alan and Candy and Kurt. Thank you to Kim at Career Services, who is going to keep saving my neck when I freak out about my cover letters. Thank you to everyone who’s going to keep helping me. Secret handshake, Medill Mafia — we’re going to have fun together.

A little less than a year ago, I wrote Things I did on my first day of grad school. On Thursday, I woke up with a master’s degree under my belt. I’ll say it again, guys: what a freaking year. The next one’s going to be just great. Lots of love, gang. See you all along the way.

First day of the rest of my life