Opinions editor bids farewell to The Daily Illini

By Andrew Mason

Well, that’s it. Even though there were many days when I thought it would never end, my time at The Daily Illini is over. Historical peer pressure says that I should write some sort of going away piece, as if I was retiring. Of course, I’m doing the exact opposite of that. Kind of scary.

My DI journey started with a friend who got a job in payroll our freshman year. She found out the opinions desk was hiring columnists for the following semester, and she thought I should apply. I should thank her.

I walked into this building as the youngest columnist on staff, completely expecting to be treated as such. But I was pleasantly surprised when my editor Jenette made me feel welcome and valuable. Unlike most columnists, I started coming to the newsroom to write my columns. While I was there, I was able to meet all sorts of incredibly cool and incredibly intimidating staffers.

Two of them, former editor in chief Vince Lee and managing editor Danielle Gaines, gave me my shot. Looking back, this was an incredible show of confidence considering that in the past year the opinions desk had come under siege with the publication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and an unfortunate editorial on the draft that had confused Democrats with Republicans.

I became opinions editor in January 2007, and I only had a faint inkling about what to do. Come to think of it, that feeling will probably return to me in a few weeks. The next two years were everything I hoped and feared it would be.

It’s hard to explain to others what working at the Daily Illini is like. Many editors put in 40 hours or more every week in addition to their regular classes. We do it for something like $2 an hour, a belief that what we’re doing helps the University community and a hope that what we learn here will help us in our adult lives.

While it can be soul-crushing at times, The Daily Illini has given me lifelong friends, excellent professional opportunities and what I’d like to believe is the closest thing to real-world experience available to any undergraduate on this campus.

I would like to thank every current and former writer and cartoonist who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Helping you write made me a better writer and listener. I hope one day we can all get together and see where everyone ended up.

I want to thank our editorial advisor Melinda Miller who showed me the basics and has remained a trusted sounding board for any crazy idea I’ve had.

I want to thank my fellow editors who have helped me get through the corrections (proudly, only a few), lawsuit threats (also only a few) and the dilemmas over how to square my odd duck desk with the rest of the paper.

Special thanks goes to Editor in Chiefs Vince Lee, Joe Lamberson and Steve Contorno. All of them made it a point to treat me as more of a partner than a subordinate, although I wonder whether this was by design or because they didn’t know what else to do with me. All of you allowed me the freedom to be bold, even if it was unpopular with the rest of the newsroom.

Most of all, I’d like to thank the people who read this page, including local newsmakers, faculty, administrators and student leaders. I hope that things you’ve read here gave you constructive criticism or made you think about something differently. And of course, if it didn’t, you can blame me because I authored 95 percent of the editorials over the past two years. If my body of work could qualify as a thesis in your department, let me know that as well.

As for the advice portion of my goodbye column, I can only say to readers and future Daily Illini employees that your best bet is to keep a sense of perspective. It’s important to invest your energy in things that really matter and not let things that don’t get you down. The rest of life comes down to how you treat people. I know that I would not be where I am today without the help of others, including my supportive family.

I wish the best of luck to everybody here at the Daily Illini, including my successor, Annie. Come January, she’ll have the same chance to have the time of her life.

Andrew Mason is a senior and the outgoing opinions editor. He will graduate this Saturday with a degree in The Daily Illini and political science.