When you’re working for a news organization, it’s very easy to get the impression that nobody trusts you.
At The Daily Pennsylvanian, I aspired to share the best stories that the Penn community had to offer; to translate the hearts and souls of my peers into words on a page. And I got frustrated countless times when my intentions were questioned, when distrust of my organization impeded my ability to share these stories.
I now realize that I should have been able to more fully understand this reticence. All my life I have been reluctant to share myself with the outside world. Painfully reluctant. Although I have put all of myself into my work, I have struggled to share the most essential parts of myself, even with those most important to me.
I’ve asked and expected others to do what I have refused to do myself — to open themselves up to being known by others. This contradiction bothers me deeply.
Over the years, I’ve rationalized this behavior in a number of ways, but at the end of the day, it comes down to this: I was afraid. And I still am.
But now, with this column, I have a chance to face this fear. So, with my time running out at Penn, I’d like to give you a bit of a late introduction to myself.
About 30 years ago, my parents met at a wedding between my dad’s brother and my mom’s childhood friend. To hear them tell it, my mom wasn’t all that interested at first. How my dad managed to change that, I will likely never know. They’ve devoted the rest of their lives to building my family.
I wasn’t much of an athlete as a child, but when you grow up in small town, rural Pennsylvania, you make do. I remember spending my childhood playing football with the neighborhood boys (even when I’d rather have been picking daisies) or belly-flopping down a slip-n-slide on a hill in my backyard when the heat would pick up.
Despite being two years my junior, my sister would often get the best of me and the other boys in our ragtag pickup games. Apparently, around this time, I told one of my parents that I wanted to marry her. To be clear, I’ve since learned what the concept of marriage actually means, but there’s still nobody that I admire more.
I remember walking down the halls of my elementary school in first grade and internalizing for the first time that I was “smart.” I wouldn’t quit sucking my thumb for several more years.
As a senior in high school, I had to be taken off the course in the middle of my last cross country race due to illness. As I despondently wandered around, I noticed my brother — four years my junior — crying under a maple tree. It may be tough for us to talk about it, but in that moment I realized there was nothing we wouldn’t do for each other.
About two years ago, I went back home to see my dog and my family and to get away from Penn for a bit. I was talking with my nana when she gifted me a brown sweater — one that used to belong to her second husband — and let me drink tea out of his favorite mug. It has a beautiful, big-eyed owl on it. He had passed away before I could ever remember him.
On May 15, I will attend Commencement. Afterwards, I’ll hug my friends and family and run up my parents’ credit card bill and talk about all of my big dreams and probably think a lot about owls and slip-n-slides and maple trees.
The truth is, the DP will never accurately translate the hopes and dreams of the Penn community into words, just like I could never fully put my soul into words in this column.
I could tell you that this past February, I told the person that has taught me more about journalism than anyone that I loved her. But I could never describe the way I feel when I’m around her.
When you try to fully understand someone or be understood, you are doomed to fail — that’s why it’s so scary. But that doesn’t mean we should stop practicing empathy.
We share ourselves with each other and we do our best to translate it into words and music and paintings because that’s how we tap into our shared consciousness, and that’s ultimately how we grow and evolve as people.
So in that sense, being a good journalist isn’t about being a great writer or eschewing bias or any of that. It’s about staring inevitable failure in the face and moving forward anyway. It’s about being empathetic.
Thank you so much to all my friends and family for supporting me through my time here at Penn — I love you all. And to everyone at the DP, thank you for helping me learn that being a good journalist means being a good person, and in some sense, being a good person means being a good journalist.
COLIN HENDERSON is a Wharton senior from Nazareth, Pa., studying finance and marketing. He served as the president of the 132nd board. Previously, he was a sports editor, director of internal consulting and a sports reporter. He most recently served as a circulation staffer.
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