Junior year was defined by moments — and the people I shared them with

Don’t let my sentimental nostalgia fool you. Junior year was not a blink. Between challenging classes, a demanding work schedule at the Daily Tar Heel and other organizations I’m involved in, this span of months has been the hardest of my college career — the most strenuous year of my life thus far. (But take that with a grain of salt. I’m only 21.) You’ve dealt with the same thing. Long days, late nights, lumps of sadness scratching at your throat. It seems like all that has become a part of life — the world caught in a lightning-fast spin.

But I’m not going to remember that part. Or maybe I’ll gloss over it. Because while it was the long hours, exhaustion and stress that seemed to overpower me for months, it’s the blinks that will endure. The in-betweens that kept me smiling through the week-to-week grind.

I will remember hiking the Boone Fork Trail with my friends and having dinner at Caroline’s house in Winston-Salem on the way back. I’ll remember piling into football practice with my sports reporting friends — my rattling nerves the first time I asked Larry Fedora a question. Then that question turned into a story, then another one. I spoke with some of the most inspiring people I’ve interviewed to write a story on rape and college athletics (still one of the most important stories I’ve written). My mom was so proud when she stocked up on copies that morning, after we ate dinner together to celebrate my 21st (We had to turn around mid-drive, because I forgot I could drink champagne and left my ID at home).

And how could I forget ACC Media Day? Or the thrill of walking around the football field with my friends before covering a game? Or almost falling asleep on Sunday in the office the day I ran a half marathon? Or the cartwheels of excitement in my stomach when I covered Late Night With Roy — my first time writing a story about UNC men’s basketball?

And then there were the tears. The unforgettable day I saw President Obama in person. Then hugging Caroline in the quad and shaking in horror after election day. Sharing my fear and grief with the other research assistants in the lab I work in. But we pressed on. We had to. Because now, our endurance is more important than ever. My Daily Tar Heel co-workers, Jane, Hannah, Danny, Benji and so many others, inspired with their resilience — responding with incredible reporting and unbreakable determination.

The escape I so desperately craved came with the people who make UNC a home, when we spent the night by a lake. We wore bathrobes for Morgan’s birthday and stared up at the sky on the dock. Then we came home and celebrated Friendsgiving with way too much food.

I’ll remember how glad I was that I didn’t wear heels on LDOC, how excited I was to come work at NBC Washington over winter break, how much I learned as I helped the digital team prepare for the Health Expo — and the dogs! What a reprieve from the stress of school.

I won’t forget the overwhelming rush when I came back. I sat in my bed on my first Friday night back, only to have Caeli climb up the ladder and sit with me until I felt better. How did I get so blessed with a friend like that?

Those feelings will stick with me — the reassurance of being surrounded by people who embody the best of humanity. Venting in my room with Brittany, lying in the couch at the DTH office with Sarah, Acy and Jamie, knowing as I pored over articles for the March Madness preview that the only reason I was making it through this was my friends on the sports desk typing next to me. I sat on the Iron Throne, I ran down Franklin Street after we beat Duke and felt like Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild, I cried reading The Old Man and the Sea, I danced like a fool to Rainbow Kitten Surprise. I burst into tears outside the DTH when I saw my mom and my sister Jane standing there — fresh off the 10+-hour drive from New Jersey to come save me from the crippling stress of the March Madness issue. The greatest surprise.

I will never forget Cuba. The week of reporting in Havana was too incredible for me to write a blog post about, because believe it or not, I didn’t have enough words to capture all of the incredible things I saw and the people I met. I had the honor of telling Diego and Coralia’s story: purely wonderful people. I watched talent in action, as Natalie, Emma and Echo worked to capture the story too. I saw Ernest Hemingway’s house and hung out with a group of teachers, reporters, videographers, designers and developers who shared my passion and motivation to produce something amazing.

I’ll remember driving to church in Burlington and eating Sunday brunch at iHop or Waffle House with my brother, talking about psychology and life in general with my friends in Anna Bardone-Cone’s lab, getting tackled while playing kickball with my class, spending a night painting scenes from Cuba with Danielle, DeLaney and Kiana, deciding to volunteer as a Writing Partner at Culbreth Middle School for the semester and finding that those few hours helping 6th-grade language art students and laughing with the 7th-graders on the literary magazine were a source of joy.

I drank coffee at night during Lock Ins for Cuba’s New Wave. I leaned on John and Sarah as we ran the editing effort during the Final Four. I took mental health milkshake runs with Sarah, Acy, Jeremy and John. I experienced utter bliss while rushing Franklin Street when we won the National Championship, then returned to the DTH and worked until 3 a.m. (Or was it 4?) All the while, I learned and grew as a writer, reporter and crafter through my classes in the J-School, as I watched teachers and friends create art out of words.

And then I was done. A blue cup at He’s Not with my creative sportswriting class, Caroline’s 21st birthday celebration on LDOC, the DTH banquet, the sports banquet, an epic Jenga showdown with Danielle and DeLaney and a few more memories wedged between studying and resting/recovering from a long year. And now, here I am, the circles under my eyes a little darker and the fingers moving across the keyboard a little bit faster as I realize I really should be packing right now — not typing.

Was it easy? Hell no. And I won’t forget that. The nights where survival — and sanity — seemed out of reach. But in the end, the moments where I came close to breaking will only remind me of the people who helped me make it through. We are survivors — no — we’re warriors. I will keep growing and changing, and this year will gather dust in my memory. But the blinks of beauty will live on. And the relationships I formed will continue to sustain me and bring me happiness. Not just at UNC, but for my whole life.

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