I’ll never forget those rambling phone calls in the stairwell of MFC. Bleary-eyed and not quite compos mentis, I dialed the familiar 516 area code and caught up with family and friends from home.

“Yeah, we’re going on seven hours now,” I’d say. “A few stories are on round three, which is good news. I feel gross, though. Too many Einstein bagels.”

I’m grateful for those on the receiving end of my dispatches from final checks. As I sat there like an exhausted Spongebob, they gave me words of encouragement and gently prodded me to stick it out.

So I would leave the stairwell, slouch back into my seat at the long table and stare at an InDesign document until colors and text magically took form (Andie Linker and Emma Kumer often worked that magic for me.) The collective Spotify playlist would be on its third cycle by then, but someone would make a joke about it and initiate a group Andy’s order (RIP) and we’d laugh and keep chugging along. These are the moments I look back on now with a strange fondness. We really did that! We sat in a room for hours on end and put together a magazine.

Writing, editing and designing alongside fellow journalism nerds was a uniquely validating experience. It gave me the confidence to engage with interesting people and ideas beyond the campus bubble. At NBN, I had the green light to write about what I really cared about, from local hummus offerings to the history of Chicago house music.

It’s no secret that the career path of a journalist is a challenging, circuitous one. I’m beginning to realize now that those long nights in MFC were glimpses into an ideal newsroom, and I’m not sure if I’ll experience anything like it again. They primed me for the lingo and workflow of a professional publication, but they also sent me up for disappointment. You’d be hard-pressed to find an editing experience as pure as final checks, that heady mix of fatigue and adrenaline followed by an almost unparalleled sense of accomplishment.

Peddling the finished magazine at the Rock was my favorite part of the quarterly cycle. My smile telegraphed an alarming [SpongeBob when he realizes Squidward likes Krabby Patties] level of joy as I flung magazines to unenthused students and professors as they tried to avoid my wide-eyed gaze.
But I couldn’t help it. My happiness was buoyed by the memory of final checks—the previous long weekend spent sitting at a table and writing or editing or designing or doing nothing punctured by moments of pacing down the corridors and up the steep stairwell of MFC, clutching my phone as I chronicled my frayed mental state to those over the line.