Column: Because of the O'Colly, sharing human stories defines my college journey

Photo for senior column

O'Colly football reporters and photographers traveled to Manhattan, Kansas, to cover Oklahoma State's game against Kansas State in 2018. From left to right: Hallie Hart, Zach Hake, Adam Luther, Jeremy Kolok and Devin Wilber

The first time I attempted to write a feature story, my sports editor sent it back to me and taught me one of the best lessons I have learned.

As an enthusiastic but insecure college freshman, I dreamed of cranking out one of those 2,000-word pieces my mentors at the O’Colly so cleverly crafted, a gem that instantly captivated readers. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to try, but I had no idea what I was doing.

After I read my editor’s kind but wise feedback, I thankfully scrapped everything.

He encouraged me to speak to more sources. I had written about Arjun Kadhe, the star on the Oklahoma State men’s tennis team. I needed to write about Arjun Kadhe, the person.

When my final version appeared on the cover of the O’Colly, I held a copy of the newspaper as if it were an NCAA Tournament trophy and took a selfie with it to send to my mom (yeah, this is kind of embarrassing to admit). Sure, I had turned a subpar first draft into a complete story, but that wasn’t the main reason it meant so much to me. In the process of conducting follow-up interviews, rewriting and making many more changes with advice from colleagues, I realized working on feature stories fills me with an emotion I, as a writer, ironically can’t describe.

It’s the feeling a thrill-seeker might have while skydiving or the feeling a baker might have while perfecting a new pastry recipe. It’s sweet joy, but it’s more than that. It’s a beautiful realization there is nothing I would rather spend my life doing than connecting with others and sharing their stories. Because of the incredible people I met at the O’Colly, I gained the courage and the confidence to believe I can do that.

I went to an O’Colly meeting during Welcome Week before I started classes at OSU. I opened the glass door and stepped into the newsroom as a quiet, small-town girl who had never written for a newspaper or taken a journalism course, but with encouragement from a few students I had just met at my dorm, I decided to join them in the sports department. I fell in love with the idea of becoming a sports reporter when I attended OSU’s Sports Media Camp for the first time as a high school senior, and I was determined to gain any experience I could.

Quickly, I realized my new coworkers — along with my trusty AP Stylebook — would become some of my best friends. My peers at the O’Colly uplifted my spirits when I doubted myself. They challenged me to think from new perspectives. As I bonded with them, they taught me how to become a better communicator and form genuine connections with others.

During my four years on campus, we have bounced among three newsrooms, and every one of them was a home away from home. Yes, I am including the one I dubbed “Michael Scott Paper Company” because I could hear the toilet flushing in the bathroom above it. I have worked with two advisers, and I’m incredibly grateful for their generous help with story ideas, contest entries and more.

On the carousel of changes, writing was a constant. I wrote on my happiest days, and I wrote to keep the typical stress of college life at bay. Writing was there for me in cozy coffee shops, in cramped backseats of cars on road trips and in press boxes overlooking empty football fields.

The people I met motivated me, inspired me and kept me from ever succumbing to burnout. At first, I was shy to interview someone outside a scrum of reporters or make a phone call to a student-athlete’s parents I had never met, but my apprehension faded because of kindness from those I interviewed. They so generously shared the stories my former editor had urged me to find, the human stories beyond athletics, the stories that drive me to keep doing what I love.

I will miss working for the O’Colly, but I am grateful for the people and experiences that make it worth missing. Although I don’t know what the future holds, I have no doubt I want to continue writing feature stories.

In my email inbox, I keep the draft of my first feature along with the insightful editorial advice I received as a response to it. It shows me how far I have come, but it also reminds me I need to keep improving. The same people who were sports writing legends to me at the O’Colly now inspire me with their professional work, and I can always, always, look up to them.

Somewhere, there are other nerdy, sports-loving teenage girls who dream of writing feature stories. I would love to talk to them, but if one of them is reading this, I want her to know the best decision she could make is to step into her student newsroom when she goes to college. It’s OK to be a little shaky and nervous at first, and it’s OK if AP Style is unfamiliar.

If she listens to those who support her, writes as often as she can and values authentic relationships above everything else, then she will learn more than she could have ever imagined and gain the confidence that once seemed out of reach.