You can become one of the most recognized college journalists in the world while working at The Spectrum. Believe me, I learned that the hard way.
I had only been at the paper for a few months when I wrote an opinion piece about my distaste for tattoos that offended tens of thousands of people. Readers from all around the world sent me hate mail, calling me ugly and worthless. Many suggested I give up writing.
I thought my career was over. What I didn't realize was it was just beginning.
After spending the first few nights crying, I had an epiphany: If a piece of journalism can affect people across the globe, what if my stories could do so in a positive way?
That became my life goal. And the best part was, I wasn't the only writer at The Spectrum who understood the power of journalism.
I joined at a time when the newspaper was turning around its negative reputation on campus. The University at Buffalo doesn't have a journalism major, and in The Spectrum's 60-plus year history it had never won a national award. But that didn't stop the last few years' staffs from aiming for enormous goals.
We worked tirelessly to compete with some of the best student newspapers in the country - digging into stories larger than ourselves, hustling to be the first source in Buffalo to break news, pioneering a newscast to compete with multimedia news sources.
And in the process, we became a family.
Together, we made things possible at this newspaper that the University at Buffalo has never seen before. A small group of us, about 20 editors, worked together to turn The Spectrum into one of the most competitive student newspapers in America - earning 13 national awards in the last four years.
Experiencing my dreams come true was surreal. Experiencing them coming true with a group of people I care deeply about was indescribable.
My mom and dad, who emigrated here from Lebanon, always told me that hard work pays off. Last week, I got to tell them that I won one of those national awards - I earned first place in in-depth reporting for the Society of Professional Journalists' Mark of Excellence Awards.
My parents came from underdeveloped villages in Lebanon and were never able to pursue their own dreams. Their jobs served one purpose: make ends meet. Their only hope was that their kids could achieve their own dreams.
The look on their faces when I told them about my award made the months of hard work worth it.
Now, as I leave The Spectrum, I have a national award under my belt, as well as journalism connections around the country and an upcoming internship at The Buffalo News.
But what makes me choke up is when I think about how our group accomplished these things together, and the fun times we had in the process.
Each editor has had a remarkable influence on me.
I worked under two of the best leaders The Spectrum has ever seen. When I first joined the paper, former editor in chief Matthew Parrino promoted me quickly. He believed in me, and so I believed in myself. Our current leader, Aaron Mansfield, has an unmatched fervor for living each part of his life to the fullest, and being good to others in the process. And so I've strived to do the same.
Each of your characteristics has had an impact on me:
Sara's goal-oriented ambition; Brian's ridiculously offensive humor, contrasted by his warmth and thoughtfulness; Sam's selflessness; Joe's relentless attempts at getting me out of my shell (and it working); Ben's thrill to discover the unknown; Owen's incredible courage and talent; Eric's loyalty and companionship; Keren's hilarious sense of humor; and so many more of you who I wish I had room to name.
And to Jody Biehl, my mentor and journalism guru, I don't know how I got so lucky to work with a world-renowned journalist like you, but here you are in Buffalo and I am endlessly thankful for how much you've taught me.
To our Spectrum staff from the last few years: We did it. We have become one of the best forces of journalism in the country, and we should be proud.
What I'm most proud of is who I became in the process because of all of you. Your work ethic, kind hearts and loving friendships rubbed off on me in ways I'll never be able to adequately describe - you've made me a better person.