Editor grapples with legacy, finds silver lining

“Legacy — what is a legacy?

It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”

This is an excerpt from “The World Was Wide Enough” from Broadway’s hit musical, “Hamilton.” In the context of the scene in which this song is performed, Alexander Hamilton is taking a moment to sing as he seems to be frozen in time while a bullet from Aaron Burr’s gun is hurtling towards him.

In this quiet moment, Hamilton is reflecting on his life as it is about to end. Obsessed with being remembered, he took this moment to come to terms with all his loose ends, hoping that what he’d done during his time on earth would be enough.

I, too, am obsessed with my legacy. As I walk away from Waynesburg University and my two-year role as executive editor of The Yellow Jacket, I can’t help but think about the impact I’ve made.

From the moment I first became acquainted with The Yellow Jacket, I knew I wanted to be executive editor. It was something I felt deep within my bones, as if it were some ancient prophecy I was meant to fulfill. I worked hard for it, and by the end of my sophomore year, the long sought-after position was mine for the taking.

The beginning of my role was anything but hopeful. The paper’s previous advisor suddenly decided to leave Waynesburg, and I would be left to take on this huge role from the darkest depths of ignorance and confusion. For comparison’s sake, imagine someone forcing a blindfold on you as you prepared for takeoff in the cockpit with a plane full of passengers depending on you to survive. It was a moment of great turmoil, sadness and regret.

I thought being executive editor was over for me before I even had a chance to begin. Transferring schools seemed like a desirable option at the time, but quitting isn’t in my vocabulary. So I decided to stay.

In my first year, there were victories after victories. We won a record number of awards and were living like kings. My passion and drive were both alive, and I could feel myself begin to weave together my legacy. I craved success and did everything in my power to fill the footsteps of the giants who walked before me. I gave up so many nights of sleep and weekends with friends to climb to the top. It was work I knew I could be proud of — and I was.

Over the summer between my junior and senior year, I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Richard Krause, the chair of the Department of Communication and co-advisor of the paper. He encouraged me to make my senior year the “best Jacket yet.” This fueled my fire as my passion and ideas continued to flourish. I wanted it to be the best yet. That was a legacy I could get behind.

Unfortunately, nothing could prepare me for what was about to unfurl at The Yellow Jacket this past year. In a matter of months, we had seven staff members quit. More often than not, the reason for quitting was mental health — the stress was too much, and they were experiencing extreme burnout.

I couldn’t blame them, either.

At the end of my sophomore year, there were 29 people on staff. Today, there are 15, with only 12 that serve as active writers and reporters. We are functioning with less than half of the staff we used to have. Most of us have to take 3 to 4 articles a week, an impossible balance with classes, work and other extracurricular activities.

I myself was experiencing extreme burnout. I couldn’t handle the pressure or stress anymore, and I slowly grew to hate the role I once prayed for. There was no joy left in me to encourage others; no passion left to write anything more than a 500-word news brief. I was a shell of my former self, and it was unfair to both me and my staff.

At times, the only thing that kept us motivated was the potential for awards. We worked so hard, I thought we were bound to get recognized for something. Last year, we received 20+ awards. This year we received three.

I never felt my head hang so low as I watched my legacy begin to plummet deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit.

After feeling defeated, I decided to make my voice heard. I wanted to fight for the staff members I’d be leaving behind after I graduate. The fact of the matter is that a weekly, 16-page 11×17 newspaper isn’t sustainable. To keep the paper afloat, we would need to approach it in a different way.

Now here’s the crazy part — they actually listened to me. Next year’s paper will be half as long and will be printed half as much. There is hope.

I realize I’ve written this column acting like I’ve been all alone this whole time, but that’s simply not the case. I have so many people to thank.

Teghan and Luke: Thank you for always sticking with me and being two completely competent individuals I could always count on no matter what. I consider you both to be two of my best friends, and I truly couldn’t have done it without you guys and your “if you’re still in, I’m still in” mentality.

Jacob: Thank you for stepping up to the plate and going out of your comfort zone to become an impactful advisor. Your edits shaped my stories, and your mentorship shaped my career.

Sarah: I honestly don’t even have the words to say to you. You have stuck by me through thick and thin and have been such an incredible advisor these past two years. I am so proud to have been your first executive editor, and I hope I had the same impact on you that you’ve had on me.

There are so many more I’d love to thank, including Tyler, Grace, and the countless people whose incredible stories I’ve been honored to tell. My life is truly changed because of each and every one of you.

There was never a rush quite like the feeling I’d get after seeing a new paper on the stands each Thursday, or the gratitude I’d feel when a reader would reach out to me personally to say my story touched them. In the past few years, it’s been such a blessing to be able to serve my campus and community in the best way I know how: with my words.

As a leader, all I ever wanted was a great legacy to leave behind, but I’m not so sure if I got it. Perhaps I’ll go down in history as the “Editor Who Killed the Jacket.” This wasn’t my intention, but hey, at least I’ll be remembered. All I can say is that I’m thankful for every moment – good and bad – I’ve had as a leader. While others might forget, it’s a memory that will live in my heart for as long as I live.