Campus Opinion

My Last Column for The Statesman

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I was a shy and confused freshman back in the spring of 2014 walking around the activity fair in Houston Hall trying to find a club, any club, that even semi-piqued my interest. The idea in my head of what college would be like came crumbling down that first fall. Everything I thought I knew about myself, and all the plans I made, didn’t seem to fit anymore. I was lost. Little did I know though that while I was wandering, trying to find my place, I would find The Statesman.

“Hi! Are you interested in learning about my group?” the boy, who I would later find out was named Praneeth, said as he stopped me in my tracks.

“Uh, sure, what is it?” I asked.

“We’re a political magazine called The Statesman. We tend to lean center-right, conservative.”

“Oh!” I said in surprise as he handed me a copy of a sleek magazine that read “Rearming the Archipelago.”

“Sure, I’ll sign up,” I said.

I went to the first meeting. I was the only new person to show up, and there were barely five people in the Huntsman room that was too large for a gathering of that size. They couldn’t believe they actually got someone to come. Joe, the editor that I would eventually succeed, tried his best to make me feel welcome, but I still felt awkward as everyone stared at me throughout the PowerPoint presentation trying to gauge my reactions.

They probably thought I wouldn’t come back.

I kept going to meetings every week, though. I stayed silent in the back of the Lippincott room. Everyone seemed to be friends already. I was the only freshman. I didn’t write the entire semester, afraid that my opinions weren’t well-formed enough yet, and afraid of the ridicule I might face if I didn’t come off conservative enough to these people or, worse, too conservative to the rest of the Penn community.

I look back now, and I question why I stayed.

Sometimes we don’t know why we do certain things. Only time brings clarity.

But things … they always happen for a reason.

***

To even begin to explain what The Statesman has meant to me these past four years has me at a loss for words. I don’t know where to begin. My notes are a jumbled mess of how this paper has impacted my life, and I realize that it truly has been my life in college.

Every senior has to let go. The friendships and relationships and memories you make at Penn, or anywhere else, construct a key part of the adult you become. The Statesman, for me, though, has touched every aspect of the life I’ve lived in college and it will continue to do so after I move my tassel to the left in May.

Letting go of it is like losing a part of myself.

No, it’s not just sentimentality kicking in, and I can prove it.

This essay is a reflection on how this organization has personally shaped and guided me, but it is also a tribute to its existence. It’s a thank you note to the staff, the founders, the supporters, the donors, and to the paper for what it has taught me.

I guess I’ll start here.

***

The anecdote at the beginning was the start of the long, winding road I travelled with The Statesman, but if it was not for the founders—Aidan McConnell, Nicholas Zarra, and Dillon Weber—the paper would not be here today.

Everything about my life would be so different. It’s hard to think about the big “what if.” What if there wasn’t a place for a conservative student, one who might feel isolated and out of place, to go to every week to be around like-minded people, even if just for an hour? What if students never got the chance to hear a viewpoint that didn’t match their own? What if someone was forced to keep silent on an issue they deeply cared about because they didn’t feel that any group on campus would accept their take?

The creation of this paper has given me, and those like me, a place here at Penn, and, after five years now of existence, it continues to provide a home for intellectually curious conservative and libertarian students.

To Aidan, Nick, and Dillon, I want to say, on behalf of all of us at The Statesman, how grateful we are to the three of you. Thank you.

***

 

I became editor-in-chief of The Statesman in the spring of my sophomore year. At that point, we were still functioning as a political magazine, and we hadn’t gone to print or updated our website in months. People had stopped coming to meetings, and I had slowly watched one of the few things I had come to care about at Penn disappear.

When I became editor, I had so many goals, but the main thing I wanted was for us to become a daily newspaper with a conservative opinion section.

The experience I had trying to achieve this goal was one of the most rewarding and stressful times of my life. I’m not going to lie: my grades took a hit that semester. But I was so invested in making something of The Statesman that I hardly noticed. I knew this paper would continue on long after I graduated. I believed in its purpose in the larger fabric of the Penn community. It was too important to only give fifty percent.

But, on an individual level, being editor changed, and made me into, the person I am today. I gained a confidence I never had growing up. I could finally speak in front of a room full of people without feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I learned invaluable leadership qualities that I take with me wherever I go. I became a better editor and writer. I figured out how to communicate with people effectively—those who liked me and those who disliked me. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear.

Last year, I went back to my high school to talk to juniors about the college admissions process and choosing the right school. Teachers I had couldn’t believe that I, the girl who never raised her hand in class, let alone got on stage, volunteered to put myself out there. They said I was different.

I had confidence.

I owe that to The Statesman.

***

With being editor, and otherwise being involved with The Statesman, I was given countless life-changing opportunities by our non-profit affiliate group, the Collegiate Network (CN), that have lead me to the career path that I am on today.

I went to my first CN conference the summer after my freshman year, and it was where I discovered that I wanted to be a journalist.

That realization, when you find what it is you want to do, what you were meant to do, is indescribable.

And CN’s guidance didn’t stop there at that conference that gave my life, and time in college, direction. They helped me get two internships—one after my sophomore year and one after my junior year—at conservative media outlets that provided me with the necessary experience to land a job in journalism. They’ve connected me with amazing people, with some of whom I have developed close relationships and lasting friendships. They have challenged me intellectually on innumerable occasions and have given me the tools to figure out why it is I believe what I believe. They’ve always been there to start a conversation, never to dictate a mantra.

The staff at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (the parent non-profit of CN that seeks to spread conservative thought on college campuses) have treated me with the utmost respect, and have supported me in all my endeavours with The Statesman and professionally. I can’t even begin to thank them.

As I move on to the Wall Street Journal this summer and to my fellowship with CN in September, I take with me the skills I have acquired at my internships, the connections I have made through this network of conservatives, and the ideas and values I hold dear that make me who I am.

CN is to thank for that.

***

And here comes the hardest part.

I want to thank all of The Statesman staff and board members—my friends, or, better put, my small dysfunctional family.

Especially Daniel, Eric, and Dominic, the three of you have carried on what I started, and, frankly, you have exceeded every goal that I had for this paper all in the time I have been here at Penn. That’s no small thing, and it means everything to me that you have grown to care about this as much as I do. I know that when I leave, this paper will be more than okay, and that’s all I ever wanted.

I could say how every member of The Statesman has touched my life in some way, how they have grown or how they’ve made me laugh, but to save some space I’ll try to sum up.

I’ll cherish the moments where I’ve bursted out laughing in a quiet classroom because of a funny group chat conversation, and the nights we’ve spent talking in my room until four a.m., and the legendary stories that get told over and over again, and our weekly meetings where it seems ideas are endless, and the roadtrips to Pittsburgh and Delaware and D.C. and Connecticut, trying not to lose anyone along the way, and all the memories we’ve made over plates full of Chinese food.

We’ve gone through some tough times, but the good strongly outweigh the bad in my mind.

You all have made my college experience so much better, and I’m not sure what I would have done without you. You’re all going to go on to do amazing things, and I can’t wait to hear about them.

Thank you for being a part of my journey and thank you for letting me be a small part of yours.

***

 

To close off this opus, I want to offer one piece of advice.

I meet and see so many people who are afraid of telling others what they really think. Like me at one point, they are afraid of the ridicule or social implications involved with coming out about who they are.

My advice: Just do it.

There’s no sense in pretending, and you’ll find that most people are pretty open-minded, and, you know what, those who aren’t aren’t worth your time anyway. Don’t go through your time at Penn hiding.

Because it’s so much better to find people like you.

Be brave. Be a statesman.

With love,

Maria Biery, The Statesman Class of 2018

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Categories: Campus Opinion, Opinion

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