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Breaking down semester number five

First day of fall semester

First day of fall semester

Every semester’s end becomes bittersweet for me. It’s a relief to be done with schoolwork for a few weeks, but in a small way, I will miss, for example, my biology class, as I will probably never again take a course in that subject. As I reflect on the fall that was and all that lie ahead, I think about everything I learned this semester, that wasn’t ecosystems related.

I learned how to prioritize my life better. I understand what activities bring me happiness, and I do them. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it because I shouldn’t waste time not being happy. I spent time with people I really care about, and I nurtured relationships that are important to me. I learned more about why I love the things I love, and I realized everything I have done in my life so far had a reason, even if it seems arbitrary.

I learned that as you get older and life gets busier, you will lose touch with people you really thought you wouldn’t lose touch with. That doesn’t mean the friendship meant less or didn’t mean anything, but you were in each other’s lives for a reason when you needed to be, and that reason doesn’t necessarily exist anymore. Sometimes realizing that sucks, but you’ll find your way back to each other if and when you’re supposed to, and the people who matter most will make time for you, and vice versa.

I learned having a support system of family, friends, professors and colleagues goes a long way, especially when the work is piling up and the stress is building. Not only will they do their best to help you however possible, but they will also encourage you when you’ve lost faith in yourself. There really are good people in the world.

I learned that sometimes people really do suck and are difficult to deal with, but that doesn’t give you any right to be rude and you can always learn something from them. Even if at times, you may want to punch them in the face, you don’t.

I spent more weekends than I care to admit inside doing homework rather than out experiencing things, but I learned that even those nights could be memorable. Deep conversations with your best friends are never a waste of a night.

I learned to appreciate people’s passions, no matter what they are, because everyone has a story, and I hope I gave some people the opportunity to share theirs. I enjoyed talking to students around the country and hearing their perspectives on the world, and I think I learned something with every article I wrote this semester. I can look at each one and say I had a reason for writing it and it was worth writing, and that’s all I could ask for.

Thank you to everyone who helped me learn these things this fall. Thank you to my support system of family, friends, professors and colleagues who make my home, school and work lives worth getting out of bed for. And perhaps most importantly this semester, thank you to my Italian classes, library pals, coworkers, other friends, family and basically anyone I came in contact with this December for putting up with me during the Jayhawk volleyball season. You are truly too good.

As Cicero (at least in Conspirata) would say, “The years sweep on us like leaves before a gale, and it cannot be helped,” and I am excited for the opportunities 2014 brings. Through all of my experiences, I figured out more about the life I want to live these next three semesters and post-college, and I better prepared myself to be ready to move on from KU in a year and a half.

I think that’s called growing up.


Thankful for Thanksgivukah, among other things

HanukkahFor the only time in our lifetime, Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah fall on the same day, and I am thankful for that. Last year, I “lit” candles in my dorm room while sharing the moment with my family on FaceTime. It was a good compromise, but nothing can match being  with each other as we partake in a tradition our people has been doing for thousands of years. Many times, Hanukkah falls while I’m still away at school, so even though it’s rather early this year, that works out quite well for me because I can spend the holiday with my parents and my brother.

My family, who is always proud of me and encourages me to do whatever it is I want to do, is what I am thankful for this holiday season. As the years of college pass, I am beginning to realize that soon enough, I’ll be out in the working world, who knows where, and I won’t necessarily be able to spend every holiday with my family. So, I am thankful that we are able to spend most of Hanukkah together this year.

I am also thankful for my family away from my family, the friends at KU and elsewhere who put up with my rehashing of the volleyball team’s strengths and weaknesses and with my constant quest for story ideas.  The old friends with whom I Skype or get coffee and chat for hours on end. The new friends I learn from, in the classroom, newsroom and office. The close friends with whom I can talk about absolutely anything, who don’t take ‘nevermind’ for an answer. I am thankful for all of our chats, whether they’re on the floor, through a mirror, at E’s, at the library, at a restaurant, on FaceTime, in the office, in a car or in Allen Fieldhouse.

This semester I have had so many opportunities to learn about what I want from journalism and to allow my journalism to do good for the world. I’m thankful for my positions at USA TODAY College, The Breakdown, Good Morning KU and KUJH News. I look forward to producing more next semester, and I look forward to continuing in my position at the Dole Institute of Politics. This semester has been a challenge in some respects, but I have learned from each experience. Those challenges have lit a fire under me that make me want to strive to do great things in my last three semesters at the University of Kansas.

And it’s possible I would not have quite gotten through this semester the same way if it had not been for Jayhawk volleyball. I know my love for it is a little incomprehensible, but going to those matches always brings a smile to my face.

In looking back on the year, I must mention that I am thankful to have had the opportunity to take my birthright trip to Israel last January. It brings a new meaning to my Jewish identity, as well as to celebrating Hanukkah this week. I will forever remember the feeling in my heart when I set eyes on Jerusalem.

And in looking ahead, I am thankful for the support system I have of family, friends, coworkers, and past and current teachers and professors. Post-college life gets closer by the day, and it’s a scary world out there. Knowing I have support in whatever I end up doing is an immeasurable feeling.

Remembering why I took this position

“Have you ever talked to someone with a disability, in a non-professional setting?” I was asked during one of my interviews for my USA TODAY College article last week. “No,” I replied, and proceeded to listen in awe as the woman across the table from me at the Kansas Union told me she doesn’t understand why people are afraid to have that conversation. She showed no nerves.

I heard about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through a friend at the Dole Institute, and upon further research, I learned of the advances in accommodating people with disabilities that the University of Kansas has made in recent years. I decided to write a USA TODAY College article about how universities are accommodating people with disabilities because I wanted to tell this story of students and schools making a difference in their communities. Sharing those stories could cause other students and schools to start doing the same.

The woman I talked to at the Kansas Union last Thursday has autism. The first question I ask my interview subjects when I begin any interview is for them to spell their name for me. This time was no different, but when she responded, she not only verbalized the letters, but she also signed them using American Sign Language. Immediately, I knew this would be a different kind of interview. I listened and watched as she described how students in AbleHawks & Allies did bathroom checks and can’t look at a bathroom the same way now and as she discussed how KU is opening doors (as she made the sign for opening a door) and creating a welcome environment for all Jayhawks.

Because of the nature of the collegiate correspondent position, most of my interviews are over the phone, but being able to sit down in person for this one allowed it to have a profound effect on me, so much so that I’m still thinking about it days later. I’m grateful to have been able to have this experience.

Last week, I talked to a blind student, a graduate who has autism and two student presidents of campus organizations that advocate for the rights of students with disabilities at various universities. I hope I was able to do them each justice in the 650-word story because these four individuals are truly inspiring to me. Not only did they make me think about little things differently, but I don’t think I will ever be able to walk into a building the same way. I will look for handrails in bathrooms, accessible front entrances and braille.

A lot of people are scared to talk about disabilities. They don’t want to offend anyone or say the wrong thing, and that’s totally understandable. However, if we let our walls down and have these types of conversations, changes will be made. The University of Kansas is constructing a new, accessible entrance to the front of Strong Hall, and that’s because people pushed for that change to happen and didn’t stop until they found success. Lessons such as that can be applied to any university and any issue. When we realize that, we are unstoppable.

When I was trying to decide what to write about for USA TODAY College last week, I became transfixed on something my high school journalism adviser told me. I was feeling a little disillusioned by journalism a few weeks ago, but my high school journalism adviser told me to, “Be the valiant one. Don’t get sucked into anything else” and reminded me why I took the collegiate correspondent position and am pursuing journalism. I want to do good for the world.

At the very least, writing my article, “Universities work to improve accommodations for students with disabilities,” did good for me.

To my vests:

Vest MosesIt is finally legitimately vest weather in Lawrence. I, for one, couldn’t be happier. In an esteemed place in my closet rests the most wonderful items of clothing I own: Blue, Fuchsia and Red. My vests.

Blue, Fuchsia, Red, we’ve had good times together.

Blue, remember that time I fell asleep at the movie theater? We both knew I wasn’t going to make it through that movie, and you, with your turtle-neck-like features, were there for me. Obviously, we didn’t want everyone to know about my tiredness, so your slick collar helped shield my resting eyes from the public. 

Bike vestFuchsia, I wouldn’t have been able to ride that tricycle without you. A regular jacket would have confined my movements like a straightjacket, but you, with your perfect form, allowed me to dominate that bike like a pro.

Red, you’re my newest vest – the only one I bought myself! You’re a KU vest, which gives me an excuse to wear you to football games and volleyball matches (as if I needed an excuse to wear you!). Jayhawk spirit AND all the pleasantries of a vest? The absolute greatest!

Shopping vestOh, and Blue, thank goodness for your agile zipper. Without you, I just would not be able to shop properly. There are not enough hands to inspect shirts while holding other items.

I think my favorite part about you guys is your inside pockets. We all know why. They’re the perfect size for chocolate chips, popcorn chicken, sandwiches and scones. I couldn’t have pulled off half the jobs I have without your inside pockets! We’re so stealthy.

Snowy vestPeople always ask me about the arm thing. You know, how vests are perfectly designed to only cover the torso and not the arms. They’re always curious as to whether or not my arms are cold and if my torso is the only part of me that’s chilly. They just don’t understand you, my vests. They don’t understand the convenience of your inside pockets or maneuverability of your sleeveless nature. They don’t understand my attachment to your sleek design and snow-absorbent body. 

I understand where they’re coming from. I mean, not everyone can appreciate a good vest. They just can’t fathom how great it is to be able to move my arms wherever I want without them being constrained by a jacket or sweatshirt. You’re brilliant, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Colorado vestFall brings crisp air, falling leaves, Thanksgiving and a colorful sky. It’s vest weather, and that, as you guys know, is the best weather.

Thanks for everything you do!

P.S. Your inside pockets are also the perfect size for Thanksgiving leftovers.


Watch The Breakdown from Sept. 27

Watch The Breakdown from Sept. 27.

The editing bayYesterday, Eric, Caitlin and I launched our first live episode of The Breakdown! You can watch it from the link above. I am interested in your thoughts and constructive comments, so please let me know. In this week’s episode, Caitlin and Eric discuss the controversy surrounding University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth’s recent Tweet, President Obama’s visit to the Kansas City-area last week and the latest political headlines.

We enjoyed putting this show together. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it because we are filling a void for University of Kansas students. There had been no broadcast news medium dedicated to political affairs at KU, and now there is, thanks to The Breakdown.

I recently decided to look at every opportunity that comes up in my life with the view: Will this help me in my quest to do good for the world? For The Breakdown, the answer is yes because it helps my fellow students become better and better-informed citizens. Promoting civic engagement is something I find important.

Also, for this week’s episode, my main role was to put together the pre-taped package about President Obama’s visit. Here is the finished product:

Introducing: The Breakdown

My road to becoming MacKenzie McHale

For seven years, I have known I want to be a journalist. Watching NBC 12 and Today every morning filled me with the desire to be the reporter standing under the balloons at political conventions (i.e. Andrea Mitchell) or traveling to third world countries, trying to make the world slightly better of a place (i.e. Ann Curry).

Over time, my reasons for pursuing journalism have evolved. Beyond telling stories, giving voices to the voiceless, helping people and making a difference, I want to search for the significance in the ordinary and shape the nation’s conversation, ensuring that actual news is reported and journalism remains a tool for the people.

In ninth grade, I began writing for The Sentinel, Deep Run High School’s student newspaper. I learned how to write, report and investigate stories, and I took those skills and tried to leave my mark on The Express at Blue Valley Northwest High School. At The Express, I served as a writer and copy editor. We wrote stories we thought mattered to the student body. We faced ethical dilemmas and personal challenges, and it was the greatest journalism foundation.

At the University of Kansas, I have worked as a copy editor and correspondent for the University Daily Kansan. Jayhawks Decide was my opportunity to make every editorial decision, choose every story idea, frame every shot, craft every graphic, edit every soundbite and produce something I am proud of.

Now, my reason for this blog post. For the past few weeks, my friends, Caitlin and Eric, and I have been working on KU’s new political affairs program, The Breakdown. The BreakdownCaitlin and Eric began forming the idea of a political show for KUJH, KU’s student television station, because they think college students should understand political issues so they can be responsible and informed citizens. I approached Caitlin and Eric with the desire to join as a producer for The Breakdown because, truthfully, I thought the idea was brilliant and yearned to be part of it from the beginning. Each week, Caitlin, Eric and I will find headlines, write scripts, discuss talking points, line up interviews and produce a show that will tell KU students what matters, why it’s important and how Lawrence factors in to this huge world of politics.

And yesterday, we launched The Breakdown. I wore a headset to communicate with the director and stood behind a camera while Caitlin and Eric hosted the show. It was an incredible feeling to hear them recite the words WE wrote and make the product WE wanted. We are responsible for every aspect of this show from its beginning, and we are excited to break down the political headlines for the University of Kansas every week.

In the past few months, I have considered a news producing career. I have always thought I wanted to be a reporter and be the one standing in a hurricane sharing facts and stories, but the feeling I had when I was wearing that headset yesterday told me I could be just as happy as a news producer. This role would allow me to follow all the reasons I am pursuing journalism that I described at the beginning of this post. So maybe instead of being the next Erin Burnett, I’ll be the next Betsy Fischer Martin, the longtime executive producer of Meet The Press.

MacKenzie McHale is the fictional executive producer of News Night on HBO’s The Newsroom. Her vision described in the first episode is my hope for my future:

“Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; a place where we can all come together.”

Check out The Breakdown online, on Twitter and on Facebook.

A year filled with apples and honey

Apples and HoneyTonight begins the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which means I am enjoying some apples and honey. It’s Jewish tradition to eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah because they symbolize the hope for a good and sweet new year. This evening, Jews young and old, in lands near and far, from different backgrounds and with different views of the world are all dipping apple slices in honey, and that is pretty sweet.

This morning, I read what I wrote on “Between the commas” last Rosh Hashanah and realized my priorities and things I am grateful for have not changed, only expanded. Last year, I mentioned the importance of my trip to Italy, an editing internship (that I decided not to take), old friends and my trip to Virginia to see family. All of those (in some respect) are still my priorities.

In hoping for a good and sweet new year, I reflect on how sweet this past year was for me. I decided not to take that editing internship in the fall, which allowed me to focus on Jayhawks Decide, Between the commas, Circolo Italiano, the Dole Institute and increasing my involvement in the Jewish community on campus. I am happy to say I don’t regret that decision. As I move ever further toward the end of college, I reflect on how each class, each decision and each activity has affected my overall experience; I like who I am becoming and the steps I have taken to get to where I am.

In January, I took my birthright trip to Israel. It wasn’t just a trip though; it was a pilgrimage that allowed me to get closer to my roots and identify more with my heritage. I hope to return some day. And after the trip, I took my current job at the Dole Institute and learned how a common mission can bind people together for life.

I am so grateful for my family, my friends, my professors and my colleagues who have supported me in deciding to go to Israel, figuring out what I want to do with my life, overcoming (minor) existential crises and giving me role models I can aspire to. Knowing I have these people in my corner motivates me and helps me get up on those mornings when I just don’t feel like walking up those hills. In this new year, I plan to work harder at maintaining relationships with my extended family members, as well as with those friends who I don’t have the chance to see regularly.

As I look to the new year, I remember the lesson I learned at the end of August: Things fall apart so better things can fall together. At the end of the month, I found out I didn’t get an opportunity that could have helped shape the rest of my life, but a few weeks later, I became involved in a project that is probably one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved in. Not only will it help shape the rest of my time at KU, but it could also determine what I ultimately decide to do in journalism.

I feel lucky and thankful as this new year begins and think it will be filled with apples and honey. I am excited to see where my diverse interests in journalism, Italian, Judaism, politics, writing and current events will lead me. As I mentioned to someone last week, I don’t know what my dream job in journalism is right now, but I’m completely OK with that because I see nothing but incredible avenues ahead in this new year. L’Shanah tovah u’metukah! To a good and sweet new year!