In the spring of 2009, as a freshman and one of this website’s video editors, I slinked in and out of editorial meetings, hardly speaking to anyone else, shy and scared. Meanwhile, the publication’s founders, then seniors, dragged a deep fryer to the newsroom. They called themselves The Town Fryers and plunged mozzarella cheese and burritos into their vat of grease. They cooked us French fries at meetings. They showed me how to stay sane as a journalist and as a student: Be kooky.
This was the campus media tradition I entered. North by Northwestern is young. We don’t trace our history back to old men with funny moustaches. Our roots grow from kids who launched a blog out of Communications Residential College in 2006. They wanted to push student media onto the Web. They set the tone with which we speak today, mixing reporting and frivolity, interactive features and cute animals. Smart and silly, side by side.
We wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s our voice, and it’s the voice of so many college students, people floating across the gulf between teenage years and maturity. I aim to make that passage without losing what made youth good: care for others, the feeling of belonging, trust. But we’re told the gulf is widening. And as it does, as jobs elude us, as we delay long-term plans, perhaps we cloak our peril in humor. We giggle at pictures of kittens online while eyeing our debt and wondering if there are enough dreams to go around.
Here we offer you a few fragments of this contradictory life, written by graduating seniors. I’ll admit, this project is not an imprint of our school culture’s every corner and fold. But I hope you’ll catch a glimpse of the whole through the parts we present here. We have tried what Chekhov advised young writers, what this school’s fiction-writing program made into a mantra for me: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” By meditating on the small details of Northwestern life, we hope to show what it meant to have been students here.
In the tiny things, the happenstance pains and joys we’ve written of here, I hope you see a reflection of yourself. And I hope your eye catches the silhouettes of those you’ve known — and those you’ve never met — who have shared these years with you. In this project, as in our six years on the Internet, we’ve tried to scratch an image of our jocular, perilous lives onto the record, stroke by stroke.
Over our time as students here, NBN has written about so many of you: what you wear, what you make to eat, what pisses you off, what you love. We have helped you pick your dorm. We have blogged The Rock. We’ve reviewed bands and photographed your friends drunk on the Lakefill each spring. We have hosted fierce debates over racism, over wealth and entitlement, over promoting religion at a secular school.
We’ve also followed the battles fought by those of us whose complaints against this school remain unresolved. Who said Northwestern cared too little about diversity, or workers, or high tuition, or our career paths, or a safe alcohol policy, or our mental health. Who leave this place having seen some change, but likely not as much as they would want.
We have gathered all these fragments of our lives, the grave ones and the buoyant ones, and held them up to the light. I hope our work has spoken to you all: both to those of you shipping out with job offers and to those of you who will float on, now that you have graduated, as unsure of your destination as you were four years ago.
Let me tell you a story. The evening before my last exam, I rode my bike up to Seabury. The doors to the seminary library, often locked, stood open. I found other doors open, too. They led to another library, blanketed in dust and pale in the fading sunlight. Down the hall, I followed stairs up past the top floor to a single door that opened into an attic. There I saw the chapel organ’s pipes and a steep, bare iron ladder that reached up to a trapdoor in the ceiling. I scuttled up it, afraid I might fall, and clambered onto the floorboards in the room above. I could hear cars below me, the voices of people walking down Sheridan. I listened to them. I listened and gazed above me. I could see bells, great big ones and little ones in rows. They hung in the shadows. They waited to be rung.
That is what this publication has given me: four years of dangerous, joyous surprise. I saw danger in the nights spent worrying we would fail, in the angry letters and snarky comments that poke at the skin of any editor. But I have taken joy in the stories you have shared with us. I hope we’ve returned the favor, surprised you. I hope our work has made this campus more informed, engaged and broad-minded. But whether this work has moved you to see Northwestern differently, or whether it has given you merely a distraction from class, or both, I am grateful that we could be a part of your lives.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for laughing and for getting angry. Thank you for caring. And thank you for looking at these shards of glass with me. I hope you see the moon in them.