by GINNY BIXBY
My journey with The Blue & Gray Press started before I even started my first semester of classes. As an incoming freshman who knew nothing about journalism other than what I’d learned from listening to countless hours of NPR shows, I already thought I was God’s gift to the world of news media. At a welcome week panel about the English major, I marched up to Sushma Subramanian, our advisor and journalism professor, and announced that I wanted to be a journalist. She told me to sign up for a class called practicum journalism. Little did I know how much I didn’t know and what I would learn from the next four years writing for the school newspaper.
I wrote my first article during my second week of classes. It was an opinion piece for Viewpoints on the lack of diversity I saw on campus and how I felt UMW was misrepresenting the student population in its advertising. I did not expect the backlash I received online following its publication. Several commenters attacked the article, saying there wasn’t a problem and that I was trying to stir up trouble. I was extremely upset and considered quitting the paper. I wasn’t sure I could handle this. Now looking back, after having written far more controversial stories since then, I almost laugh thinking about how upset I was about what people had to say about this. But I think that instance was a key turning point in my journey as a journalist. While some people were angry, several students of color also responded to my article and thanked me for drawing attention to an issue that is too often ignored. I realized that not everyone was going to like everything I had to say, and that was okay. What I wrote was still very important. Journalism isn’t about saying what’s popular. It’s about telling the truth. So, I decided to keep writing.
I spent my sophomore year as the Viewpoints editor and my junior and senior years as associate editor. Through these positions, I learned and gained so much. I learned how to work with writers, often helping them defend opinions and arguments I disagreed with, which helped develop my passion for the freedom of the press. I guided writers as they worked on in-depth investigations of school policies and practices. I mentored editors as they learned to work with writers. I pursued my own writing projects that I was passionate about, which included documenting students’ reactions to the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s presidency, covering the discrepancies in accessibility on campus, and an investigation into practices of the Office of Residence Life. We even fought the removal of funding from the paper, and in the end, we were successful. These experiences have led to opportunities for me to write for local and national publications, none of which I would’ve gotten without my work at the Blue & Gray.
But the paper really did give me far more than just experience as a journalist. The fact that the end of my senior year was taken away so suddenly by the COVID-19 pandemic makes it all a little more difficult to say goodbye to the Blue & Gray, since we had no idea our last Wednesday night layout was the last one. I’ll miss the Sugar Shack runs where we’d all stuff ourselves into someone’s small car to grab donuts and coffee even though we easily could’ve done the five minute walk. I’ll miss celebrating birthdays with the other editors, and I’ll never forget when former editor Ryan Brauch turned 21 and used a pair of scissors to uncork a bottle of wine, terrifying us all in the process. I miss the Mason Ramsey yodeling crew of 2018. I miss when Hershey the dog was our loyal mascot (rest in peace, sweet boy). I’ll never forget the waffles versus pancakes debate, and I’m glad Kate finally stopped hoarding the pictures and got her pet wall together. I’ll miss having existential crises in Sushma’s office constantly, although she really deserves a break from me. I’ll even miss the spinning wheel of death on those ancient Mac computers (if you know, you know). While I always knew I’d have to say goodbye, it is hard saying goodbye to the paper in this way and not in the way any of us planned or wanted it to end. I wish there was something profound to say about what’s happened and the meaning of life or whatever, but that’s not really how I feel. I’m a journalist and I report facts. The fact is that this is really, really hard. It’s the worst time to be a senior in college. It hurts like nothing any of us could have anticipated. It’s okay to mourn what we’ve lost.
I will always be grateful for what the Blue & Gray has given me. I am pursuing a career in journalism, and I will always credit this paper for giving me the space to learn and grow. I expected to write a few articles and get some good experience. I did get that, but I also learned some hard but important life lessons, met my very best friend, pet a lot of dogs, and consumed a hell of a lot of donuts and iced lattes in the process. I didn’t expect all of that when I signed up for a one-credit class my freshman year, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. And those are the facts.