Exit Letter: An Unforgettable Journey

For her last issue serving as editor-in-chief of The Student, Yee-Lynn Lee ’23 walks through the two and a half years she’s spent on the paper, and the meaning that it has had for her at each step.

My journey with The Student began, fittingly, with an issue published by The Student.

It was May 2020, the end of my freshman year, and two and a half months after the pandemic had dispersed Amherst students across the world to continue their learning remotely. As the national news reported on a seemingly non-stop barrage of suffering, loss, and injustice, The Student published its annual Commencement issue, highlighting the stories and accomplishments of 13 graduating seniors who had left their mark on the college, even as they had to navigate a final semester that nothing could have prepared them for.

Having just finished a semester that left me with a profound sense of helplessness, and a year that left me feeling lost, unfulfilled, and altogether unsure of what I was supposed to be doing with my time at Amherst, I read those profiles with great attentiveness, hoping to find some sort of guidance or inspiration — anything that might help me also make my college career a meaningful one.

Among the different places where the seniors had made their mark — the Association of Amherst Students, affinity groups, resource centers — one stood out in particular. In editors-in-chief emerita Shawna Chen’s ’20 and Emma Swislow’s ’20 profiles, they recounted the intense, fun-filled, and intimate community that was The Student’s newsroom. The image of a tight-knit group of students all investing themselves in a single project and supporting each other in the process stirred something in me, and I decided then that I would join The Student.

Yet, despite my sudden resolve, I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to do on the paper. When my sophomore fall rolled around and I was filling out The Student’s interest form, I haphazardly checked off a bunch of things that sounded interesting — arts writing, design, those seem cool; opinions writing, maybe; definitely not news writing, that’s boring. Perhaps it was another stroke of fate, then, that left me determined to write for the news section after I attended The Student’s intro meeting, drawn by then-news editors Ryan Yu’s ’22 and Zach Jonas’ ’22 pitch of it as an immersive way to get to know and engage with the larger community.

That first semester was characterized by a sense of novelty, as, even though I wouldn’t really experience that initial draw of newsroom community until I joined the editorial board the following semester, I discovered the different things I enjoyed about writing for the paper: the hands-on learning, the satisfaction of getting published, the unique connection of interviewing (even when it was happening over Zoom). In a semester that took place within the continuing anguish and oppression of the pandemic, when the discussions in my Zoom classes and the mountain of readings, problem sets, and essays that came with them felt hopelessly detached from anything that really mattered, The Student seemed to offer an opportunity to do something of real consequence, even if its scope was limited to the Amherst community.

I felt this sentiment most acutely when, by then an assistant news editor for the paper, I covered the campus response to the Atlanta spa shootings the following spring. Although it was emotionally draining to have to tune into the reactions and experiences of Asian students during the interview process and again during the writing process, it was also invigorating in a way. By writing the article, I felt that I was able to channel my own grief into something that could potentially have an impact on the community — something that might just mean something to someone.

Certainly there are limits to what the news can do on its own in simply bringing attention to issues. But I came to see this as, at least, a necessary first step to change; in particular, I came to believe in the power of stories to foster a shared understanding, to allow us to see beyond each of our limited perspectives and come together as a community.

At the same time, my love for working on the paper was only deepening from being on The Student’s editorial board. I feel so lucky to have been able to work with Zach and Sophie Wolmer ’23 to run the news section that first semester I became an editor. Looking back now, I marvel at the sense of teamwork we were able to have in our little section, even as we spent most production nights working from our respective dorm rooms and communicating only over text. Having people to share in, among other things, the excitement over the latest news and the accomplishment of finishing everything for the night made the weekly grind not just manageable, but something to look forward to.

Thus, when my editors-in-chief, Ryan and Becca Picciotto ’22, offered me the editor-in-chief position last fall, I knew deep down I wouldn’t say no. That isn’t to say I didn’t have very real reservations about the consistency and stamina required for the position. As that fall semester went on, I watched as Ryan and Becca took on the Herculean task of restarting the in-person newsroom after three semesters remote, which included having to reestablish nearly from scratch the processes and routines of putting together our print issue. On the other side of the lively and chaotic fun that characterized the earlier parts of their production nights were the long stretches into the deep and dreary hours of the night, which often came with crises that would pop up during one of those late hours and require a last-minute scramble to address.

When I stepped into the editor-in-chief position this past spring, I naively believed I would be able to immediately reform our weekly production timeline and avoid the long nights (and early mornings) I saw my editors-in-chief suffer through. But, as with many things that Covid has affected, the newsroom was not going to recover from the pandemic in just one semester. With the departure of our most senior editors at the end of the fall semester, the gap in recruiting and retention from the previous remote year now left us with leadership breaks in key sections, disrupting the mentorship process the paper so crucially depends on. Production nights began to regularly drag longer than even the worst nights of the previous semester. There has been many a Wednesday morning when my mental checklist of tasks left to do was so interminable that every minute had to be carefully budgeted just to make our 9 a.m. print deadline.

It has become somewhat of a tradition for these exit letters to address the question many have when they hear of how grueling this position is: “Why do you do this to yourself?” Certainly, there is not just one answer and sometimes there isn’t really any answer at all. If I had to give an answer now, though, I think it would lie in the deep responsibility that The Student has to our community. I will admit that I am kept up on Tuesday nights in part because of a case of perfectionism that often has trouble letting go of even the smallest inconsistencies. But what weighs most heavily on me has always been the pressure of making sure our stories are as solid as they can be before they go out. As a campus publication, The Student tells stories that no one else is going to tell, and with that comes an even greater need to get them right.

And it’s not just each individual article we publish, but also the story of the college that we tell with our publication as a whole. How can we tell a more complete and comprehensive story that includes the efforts and experiences of all the different groups and departments that make up the college community? What are the stories that we’ve told before, and the ones that we leave out? I’m so proud of and grateful to all our staff who have dedicated their time this past year to engage with these questions and to continue to push the paper forward, even amid the challenges and the other commitments we all juggle.

Indeed, there is much to celebrate. This semester, under the leadership of former news editors Caelen McQuilkin ’24E, Sonia Chajet Wides ’25, and Eleanor Walsh ’25, we brought our features section back from a 19-year hiatus — an effort that was also made possible by the diligence of Leo Kamin ’25, Ethan Foster ’25, and Michael Mason ’25 in taking over and carrying on our news section. Our articles are now often accompanied by stunning graphics courtesy of Nina Aagaard ’26. Our design editor Brianne LaBare ’25 has worked tirelessly to streamline our layout process. Thanks to her and the collective effort of our editors to shift back our editing timeline, production has been ending earlier, finally hitting a few weeks ago the 3 a.m. target I had set before my tenure began (a big improvement from the spring, when the free space on our newsroom bingo board was “Lynn stays up past 8 a.m.”). And this is not to mention the work that every section has done to expand in the past year, and the conversations that take place every week about how we can best serve our community.

Of course, The Student still has much it can improve on, and it always will. I am confident that this work will continue under the next editors-in-chief, Sam Spratford ’24 and Liam Archacki ’24, who will be stepping into my position starting next semester.

As I sit outside our Morrow basement office writing this exit letter on my last production night, though, it is not really all of this that is at the forefront of my mind, but rather the very thing that led me to join The Student in the first place. Listening to the familiar chatter emanating from the newsroom (interspersed with bursts of laughter and the occasional groan of frustration), I can’t imagine what my Tuesday nights next semester will be like without it.

To all the editors I’ve worked with in my tenure as editor-in-chief, thank you for everything. As many an editor-in-chief has said before, it really is the people that make The Student a truly unforgettable experience.