Ben’s Bench: One More Story.
So…it has come to this.
After two-and-a-half years of reporting, writing, editing, laughing, crying, yelling and staying up all night for the student news of UNH; after all the crazy politics, scandals, scares and thousand-word stories; after all the elongated and extensive Student Senate meetings and riled-up town halls and speeches; after all the enjoyably capricious Wednesday nights surrounded by peers you cannot help but love and poke fun at; after all the hot-takes, steamy gossip and slow news weeks; and after all the opportunities that Room 132 has given me, it is time to throw in the towel and give up my role at The New Hampshire student newspaper.
And I do not do this willingly.
I have been purposely pushing this senior farewell back – and delaying the inevitable – for days now, knowing that, when I finally email this to the paper, my association with this organization will become just another chapter in the over century-old story of TNH. I have been inundated with texts from my newspaper peers eagerly anticipating my final remarks, all awaiting my ultimate verdict on the organization I have called my second college home for over half my UNH career. Such a verdict, however, does not come easy or swiftly, and I have resisted pumping out an ordinary cheerio for a most unordinary association.
Even if I had wanted to do just that, today makes that impossible: TNH remains the one consistent aspect of my college life that has not been upended by COVID-19 and its alteration of every other facet of my life. What started out as a final spring semester driven by a desire to do what I had not – both socially and otherwise – and a shocking Senate scandal that echoed throughout every aspect of student life – ended in the most anticlimactic of ways: stuck at my home, cut off from society, delimited by the walls of my bedroom and strangled by the fear of getting within six feet of anyone outside my immediate family.
Surprise, surprise: it has been hell; as a creature who just now begun to fully appreciate the power of socialness and true companionship, it appears my realization came too late.
Although I know I have it good in the big picture – I am not infected or feeling COVID-19 symptoms, and I am extremely fortunate of my economic standing at the moment – I cannot help but feel two doses of guilt: one for those in my community forced to endure the virus’ wrath, and one for me.
The former is expected and (hopefully) shared amongst society as a whole as we eternally thank, bless, support and pray for the first responders and essential workers who risk their wellbeing for the wellbeing of the less fortunate as we speak. And yet, the latter remains personally and excruciatingly unshakeable, simply due to the fact that I feel as if I had failed to truly live the “college life” despite my distaste for it. I was never into the parties that populated dorm after dorm, and yet I always felt a slight pang of jealousy at the sight of simple good time accompanied by my friends and red Solo cups. As much as I disdained them out of both personal preference and the fear of hurting my abilities as a student journalist, I feel now the regret of not at least giving it the benefit of the doubt and going outside of my comfort zone.
Perhaps this is just FOMO kicking in at the worst possible moment, but I feel it all the same.
Despite all that, I am not asking you, my dear readers, to feel bad for me, nor do I have the resolve to end this farewell on a negative note. Rather, this farewell is truly dedicated to an organization that gave me a social foundation to begin with, one that I felt belonged to and where I truly found my college calling.
Because if I’m being honest, if it were not for TNH, I have no clue where I’d be.
In the fall of 2017, I felt lost for the first time ever: as someone who had excelled in the world of high school theatre, received immense enjoyment out of roles like Roger from Grease or Emmett Forrest from Legally Blonde, and garnered widespread fame and praise for my on-stage abilities, my multiple failed attempts at joining the world of UNH Theatre planted seeds of doubt as to whether I was truly good enough for the part. Numerous on-campus jobs followed, each one providing me with necessary paychecks but nothing in the form of motivation or direction. And after being fired from my last on-campus job, I was desperate for any opportunity, anything to give me some semblance of guidance or inspiration as to where to major.
And then, on a Monday in September 2017, as I wandered through the halls of the Memorial Union Building, I caught a lit room with people in it out of the corner of my eye. The door’s sticker simply red “The New Hampshire,” as about 20 individuals gathered for something I knew nothing about; curious, I walked in, greeted by unsuspecting and surprised eyes.
But whatever suspicions they had of my random entrance, however, quickly dissipated as they offered me a chance to write for their newspaper as a contributor. Immediately, my familiarity with it returned as I remembered reading about Donald Trump’s victory in the fall of 2016; out of a sheer desire to keep myself occupied, I accepted a pitch to cover a “fake news” speaker event in MUB Theater One, an event that, on October 4, would lead to the first words I would ever utter as a journalist:
“’Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s fake,’ assistant professor Katherine Aydelott, at the Dimond Library, said.”
From there, I slowly but surely accepted the responsibilities, trials and tribulations that came with the power of student journalism; and from that moment on, I will never forget the opportunities that came at me – and that I excitedly accepted – head-on, from Alycia Wilson asking me if I’d be up for writing about Student Senate the following January, to Bret Belden offering me the role of news editor just three months later, to my first political rally in March 2019 starring foreign policy and Tulsi Gabbard.
These were opportunities you could not just sit there and ponder over; they were yes-or-no moments, where a “no” could cost you dearly in the long run. And no matter what I faced – good or bad, successful or not – I took it on, knowing that something about it was worth reporting on.
Sometimes, those opportunities came when I least expected it, such as when the first claims of Student Senate misconduct came walking through the door while just chilling in the newsroom, as I did from time to time (some would say that’s too conservative). Other times, I had to find the opportunities on my own, such as traveling outside of campus to cover events like Bernie Sanders’ rally in Dover. Regardless of the how or where, though, they provided me with not just a greater mastery over the written word, but also a greater mastery over how to interpret the world fairly and honestly.
As much as I enjoyed it all, however, I realize that this weekly traditional journalistic experience could not and cannot last, especially outside the newsroom, where papers continue to fall by the wayside in the wake of expansive and advanced digital journalism. And while I applaud TNH for taking the steps to embrace that hi-tech future, I hope they never forget their physical roots and honor that heritage long after they stop printing.
As for me, though, the time has come to cease my own production as I steadily hand off one responsibility after another to my peers and successors. It has not been easy to pick the right person for those roles nor let go of them in the first place, but I have full confidence that those who come after me and my class will carry on the quality and passion that drove, in my mind, three of the best years in this organization’s history.
And I am not just saying that out of self-aggrandization; rather, I say that out of endless respect for my friends and colleagues at TNH. To put it bluntly, these past three staffs (2018, 2019 and 2020) have included some of the most welcoming, intelligent, talented, generous, selfless, passionate, humorous, empathetic and objective individuals I could have ever called a team. Whether as a large group of truth-seekers controlling the weekly Wednesday night chaos or as individual investigators on the hunt for a great lead, I cannot count the number of times they tolerated my eccentric angles and statements, my love for the color pink and my old-style sensibilities, and I am thankful for every one of them.
Some of them never strayed from their no-nonsense and “it’s nothing personal” approach; others reveled in duking it out with me any chance they got (or when I friendly antagonized them enough). But all of them shared one unbreakable quality in common: they never stopped caring for one another and me, and I feel they all deserve to know how I truly feel about them and their impact on my life.
And with that, I will:
To former Executive Editor Bret Belden – a steadfast chief of two years, you literally embodied the word “leadership:” you always knew how to navigate the ship out of tricky and risky situations in the roughest of waters, all while maintaining a calm and collected cool that oozed confidence and maturity. Your first election may have left me wondering how a sports man would approach a newspaper, but your first year and reelection all but assured me that you were not just made for the role; you were born for it. And while it was fun running against you twice, it was even more enjoyable to congratulate you on the victories you undeniably deserved. In other words, my Papa would be proud.
To former Managing Editor Ian Lenahan – Where do I even begin with you? Obviously, I cannot match your Shakespearean poetry or flowing prose that would make George R. R. Martin jealous, but I can say this: you gave me more helping hands than Allstate Insurance, more love than the Bachelor and Bachelorette combined, more honesty than C-SPAN, and more novel-worthy storytelling than Tolkien or Rowling. As I write this, my heart swells as you sympathize with my COVID-caused isolation and assure me that all will work out in the end, just like the best of movies should. No matter whether we brawled it out over high-steak eating contests, raised our fists (and glasses) over the superiority of apple cider over pumpkin spice lattes (depending on your point of view), or mutually reflected the state of college life and the world around us, you never ceased to fascinate or amaze me thanks to your talents, passion, beard-growing and buoyancy, especially when I never saw it coming (*cough* the mixtape *cough*). No matter where I go, no matter what they say, you’ll be here in my heart, always.
To former Content Editor Katie Lesnyk – Your time at TNH reminds me of my mother: she is always on top of everything no matter what the circumstances, and your attention to organization, detail and timeliness must not go unthanked. You were always up for enlightening conversations on topics I never truly pondered as a student, and I even felt enlightened when I thought I knew the whole story. You helped me realize once more that there is no such thing as too many questions, too many stories to report on, or too many voices to hear out. You gave TNH its content as well as its structure, and what looked vast and overwhelming to me, you handled as if it were second-nature (especially the second time around). Plus, as if you weren’t fetch enough, you introduced me to one of the most entertaining movies (and actresses) I have ever watched, which made Wednesdays all the more exciting. For all that and more, thank [you]!
To Former News Editor Emily Duggan – No matter what I had to say, you were always there to listen. No matter what I stressed over in life, you were always there to reassure me. And no matter when I felt unsure about my direction in life you were always there to encourage me to be myself. Whether we were at the editing desk together or investigating a major scandal, you approached every problem with sensible solutions, unbreakable resolve and a smile on your face. No matter what, you never failed to brighten up my day, all while digging into your stories and pages like a true journalist should.
To Former News Editor Madailein Hart – I beg of you to start an advice column; I would read it regularly because everyone deserves and needs to heed the wisdom you gave me whenever I asked for it. Your empowering presence and honesty were unmatched in and out of the newsroom, and I never felt embarrassed when you corrected me time after time. And when it came to journalism itself, the multitasking trophy goes to you: not only did you write great stories and a phenomenal (and regular!!!) column on books, but you also succeeded me as a news editor with unmatched grace, style and dexterity. For those reasons and more, I “Hart” you and wish you all the best.
To former Arts Editor Caleb Nathan Jagoda – From running the arts section single-handedly to rising through the ranks of Main Street, we at TNH do not deserve you and your laid-back expertise and adeptness. Your hands swept the keyboard and InDesign window like Eminem swept the paper with words: always in-tune, always on-time, and always enhancing it with a swagalicious vibe that had “hip” and “cool” written all over it. You never feared the alternative and embraced all kinds of expression, going so far as to encourage me to do the same. From rocking the Backgammon board to searing Earl Sweatshirt’s glorious face (and his album Some Rap Songs) into my brain, to not thank you would be like “playing with magic, hide blessings in my sleeve.”
To former Sports Editor Samuel Eggert – If TNH were a basketball team, you’d be the all-star passing point guard, shooting three after three from all angles while granted great protection from a team that had nothing but respect for you. You’d also be its coach, armed with a playbook of earnestness and blunt truths that easily whipped Wamp City into shape for the next game. On a personal level, I always knew that your insistence that I stay on-task was always for the better, even if I presented initial stubbornness, and you always reminded me to take my job as seriously as you did at all times. On top of your resolve, you possessed a gift for radio, and I was grateful to serve as the producer of “HoopCats,” the top plus-minus podcast in the world that improved my audio skills in turn. Even with the absence of an NBA season, I still hold true that you could outdo LeBron any day, so never stop shooting them hoops.
To former Web Editor and Content Editor Hannah Donahue – Before you arrived, my fellow Green Wave alumna, it never crossed my mind that I would ever see one of my former Dover peers – especially one from the same Drama Club – working for the same organization in college; when it became a reality, your presence and skills made the experience all the better. Whether it was kicking off an improved online experience for writers, editors and readers alike; sending good vibes when I was in a bad place; or teaching me the wonders of the Bachelor and Swedish Fish, it honestly felt great to reunite with a former classmate who cared just as much about TNH as I did, a rarity as valuable as winning on that show. This is the second time I will be missing you, but I leave you with double the thanks and gratitude for your friendship after all these years. Break a leg out there!
To former Sports Editor and Executive Editor Joshua Morrill – I may never forgive you for beating me at that London Broil contest last fall, but I do not let that blind me from your exceptional performance at TNH, so much so that they decided to make you their next leader. In the short time you have been leading me and the rest during this unprecedented transition period, I applaud your commitment to timeliness and quality, whether it comes to classic reporting or our digital presence; if this performance is anything to go by, you are the man to lead TNH into the next decade and phase of its evolution, as well as the one to pick the best of the best to assist you in that goal. The sun shines bright on you, Mr. Morrill, and I will be rooting for you when you face Caleb (or some other “worthy” opponent) in that delicious championship round.
To Business Consultant Kathryn “Kally” Riddinger – Just because you do not write does not mean that you are not deserving of reflection, especially when you were a reliable voice of reason and sympathy for me in the face of seemingly impossible problems to solve, and then some. Like a good journalist, you never assumed one side over another, but let both sides play out, address the core of the problem and encourage a compromise, all with the acknowledgement that no one person did everything wrong or right. You understood what it meant to be human and authentic; in turn, helped me learn just that, because you knew that TNH was more than just a newspaper. It was a team of passionate people, and you were, by far, the most passionate of them all, so never stop teaching the world what you have so willingly and lovingly taught me.
To Staff Writer Jenna O’del – Before I met you, I had never really thought much about the fascinating nature of etymology, but you never came close to bugging me when you proudly showed off your knowledge and passion for it, as well as pic after pic of 100-year-old specimens I never knew even existed. On top of that and your exceptional knack for great science reporting – such as being able to investigate how radio waves can help determine how lightning forms, of all things – you got me to like tea, an accomplishment onto itself. You were truly a gifted and eye-opening companion who succeeded time after time in opening my mind to aspects of life, nature and areas of study that too many others in college frequently overlook, and, like Maddie, always had a good reason for correcting me whenever necessary, just like a good teacher should. No matter what field you enter after graduation, I wish you the best in passing your bug for ardent scientific research and innovation to the next generation; unlike COVID-19, it’s one infection we all deserve to catch.
To Design Editors Devan Sack and Taylor Starkey – Not only did you both give TNH the weekly makeover its inviting InDesign pages deserved, but you also added to the fun of Wednesday nights. Devan, you emitted an aura of awesomeness I could always rely on no matter where I stood on the totem pole; Taylor, you and your skills never failed to liven up the conversation and teach me your real name again and again (it’s still true that I remembered it out of fear of actually having to face you in hand-to-hand combat; it’s just one fight I could not win). Whether I got the names right or not, I never regretted putting my stories on your pages.
To Staff Writer Zach Lewis – Otherwise known as the Swiss Army Knife of TNH, you could write anything and it would be a winner, whether it be news of a rockin’ Bernie Sanders rally at the Whittemore Center, a three-headed arts review, or the tenth chapter of the epic “Adventures of Tracy and James” saga. Seriously, though, you should really publish the entire story for the world to experience whenever it wraps, because I believe it is the next Harry Potter; if that success fails to pass, I won’t know what’s wrong with the world, because they’ll be missing out on some serious literary gold.
To the rest of the TNH team, past and present – Even if I did not list your name above (because even my articles have word limits), please know that your contributions to the paper were, and continue to be, vital to the success to both the organization and the preservation of UNH’s student press, especially in the wake of the uncertainty that is digital reporting. If you are leaving this year, thank you for helping me become a part of this exceptional association; if you are staying for another year or two, please know that you are the potential pioneers of a brand new chapter in TNH’s story, the authors of a brand new way of seeking and confirming the truth.
To the TNHers of tomorrow – Do not let the appearance of an antiquated newspaper discourage you from embarking on the first step of your journalistic journeys: this organization needs your support and passion more than ever before, especially with all that is happening in the world right now. While the platform and look of TNH may change in the near future, one thing will never change: this team’s commitment to objectivity, honesty, and exposing the real deals of student life at UNH. Should you decide to take part, Josh will be eternally grateful for your service and commitment; should you stay, I promise you will find him to be a figure and friend you can trust.
Although TNH offered a wonderful cast of characters who directly shaped my time at UNH, I’m on enough a roll to want to thank those outside of TNH who indirectly and spiritually contributed to that experience:
To Dean of Students John T. Kirkpatrick – one of the most reliable, wise and approachable faculty members I ever had the pleasure of speaking to on more occasions than I can count. Your adages, stories and honesty contributed greatly to my investigations, assignments and personal inquiries alike, and UNH will have very big shoes to fill when you leave this year. After 40 years, your impact there can and will never be erased.
To Presidents Mark Huddleston and James W. Dean, Jr. – Each of you oversaw this wonderful campus for half of my time at UNH, and your leadership never faltered, even in the toughest and greyest of situations or climates. It was beyond a pleasure to speak with both of you whenever I had the chance, and neither of you ever strayed from your commitment to one thing and one thing only: the wellbeing of the student body.
To Dr. Richard Aliano – Your POLT 401 class inspired my freshman self to study the fascinating field of political science at UNH, thanks to your ardent and traditional lectures that perfectly blended old-fashioned knowledge with a fervent love and New-York-inspired drive for the subject at hand. While I still regret not taking another of your courses before you departed, your one-of-a-kind teachings will stay with me for the rest of my life.
To Professor Melvin Dubnick – Having witnessed two of your classes during my time here, I always equated your name with quality teachings on the everchanging political landscape. Whether I was taking part in online DFs or being encouraged in the classroom itself to share my thoughts and stay awake, I always enjoyed your courses and will be eternally grateful for your straight-forward, accessible and steadfast intellect.
To Professor John Gianforte – You gave me my first true introduction to the fascinating space that lies beyond our atmosphere, so much so that it inspired my parents to get me Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” documentaries for me for Christmas. After a lifetime of only knowing my bulk of astronomical knowledge through PowerPoints, you gave me the chance to experience a real observatory and truly peer into the night sky for the first time, reassuring me that the sky is far from the limit.
To Professor Tom Haines – By far the face of UNH Journalism outside of TNH, you taught me what TNH did not, from Digital Reporting to the underlining Issues of Journalism and everything in between. Whenever I had a question, you had the answer, and whenever I had an idea, you had the ears and open-mind ready to hear me out. Your contributions to the future of the paper have been additionally valuable as you help an old-fashioned product become a modern, state-of-the-art experience.
To Daylo – A band that features not just great student artists, but also great friends (I’m looking at you, Sophia and Chase!).
To Peter Jennings, Charles Gibson and Walter Cronkite – My journalistic icons and inspirations who introduced me to the power of truth as a kid, and whose contributions to the field turned it into something the world cannot live without.
To Jeff Leaf and Marge Mersereau – Through the power of drama, comedy, music and stagecraft, both of you taught me how to not just be brave and adaptable, but also – more importantly – myself. You broke my childhood shell of apprehension and cast me in roles I will never forget, whether it be an Oompa Loompa, a 50s’ mooning greaser or a leading Harvard lawyer. Ever since, your spotlights have never left, and will never leave, my heart and soul.
To Frank Sinatra – My fellow rat and one-of-a-kind b-day soulmate, whose class, voice and charm has inspired me my entire life to possess the same and remains just as elegant and enduring as it did over 60 years ago.
To Phil Collins – A god in every possible way. What else can I say?
To Lindsay Lohan – The last person I ever imagined I would root for. And yes, the rumors are true: ever since “Mean Girls,” there’s been something so grool about you I’ve discovered over the last two years that I cannot describe and yet endlessly admire. Whether it be your talents, voice, endurance or ability to come “Back To Me,” there’s no denying it: this is your year.
But of course, all this love for others and this passion for the art of journalism would have never been possible were it not for the family I am blessed to love:
To Grandma and Grandpa – For your old-fashioned sunniness and appreciation for the simple things in life; I send you positive vibes and prayers during this testing time.
To Nana and Baret, Jr. – Two wonderful and extraordinary relatives I wish I could have gotten to know better, but your spirits remain in our hearts forever.
To my brother, Sam – No matter how often you annoy me, argue with me and call me “lame,” I could not have asked for a better bro to love and learn from. As “lame” as I may say you are, you are nothing but “cool” in my book.
To my dad – A magical wizard of a father capable of wonderous technical and physical feats on top of even greater life lessons. You taught me how to truly be a man and become self-sufficient, and although I am stuck at home right now, your teachings and care have forever taught me the priceless value of independence. In other words, I love you forever.
To my mom – Where would I be without you? I cannot even begin to imagine that question, that’s how much you mean to me. The guiding force and voice of reason of my life for the last 22 years, you are one of two best teachers life could have ever granted me. You are on top of everything no matter what it is, and, if nothing else, you are always right about anything and everything, without question. I will love you until the end of time.
And finally, to my Papa – I already documented a great deal about you in my Letter from Quarantine, but it stands repeating how much you impacted my life. You possessed the astuteness and authority of a Navy captain and the gentleness and maturity of an experienced Purple-Heart veteran, and yet also the energy and boundlessness of a kid in his second childhood. You always insisted you were fine, and yet you so selflessly gave us more love and support than we could ever account for, even when we never asked for it. In short, you were a miracle, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I am eternally blessed to have known and cared for. Your happy-go-lucky spirit will live on in countless stink bugs and fond memories no matter where we go next. Oh, and also, BEAT ARMY!!!
And with that, so ends the story of my TNH life. Even now, with all of this said, I still feel reluctant to pull the plug on one of the most life-defining experiences I have ever had. Yet, I must, but not without leaving my successors and dear readers with a traditional tidbit of advice or some kind of adage that you can all use or apply long after this year ends…I mean, if only I could.
Thanks to this virus, nothing is certain or predictable anymore, and no matter how much we all attempt to return to “normal,” the world we once knew is no more. But while we may have lost much of conventional society for now, there is one thing that can survive any crisis: hope.
It is hope that keeps us listening to the experts and taking the necessary steps to stay healthy.
It is hope that keeps us persistent and consistent in our hunt for the truth, and our crusade to hold the powerful accountable for their words and actions.
It is hope that prompts us to stay optimistic and never lose sight of the faint light at the end of the tunnel.
And while it is hope that warns us to stay in touch with the reality of our current isolation, it can also inspire us to act now for a better and less catastrophic tomorrow.
Whether we free ourselves from this forced quarantine next month, next year or somewhere in between remains too far off to call. In the meantime, though, I advise you to hold true the teachings of a certain Christopher Cross, whose anthem “Sailing,” at least in my book, remains a lesson in reminding us to keep the faith and never stop planning for your future. Virus or not, it’s coming, and we as responsible Americans and Wildcats must be ready to face it no matter what.
Or as Mr. Cross would say, “The canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see…just a dream and the wind to carry me/and soon I will be free.”
Because the way I see it, achieving that freedom is never a question of “if,” and only a question of “when.” And that “when” will always be sooner than you think.
Once more, for The New Hampshire, this is Benjamin Strawbridge, over and out.