Farewell Column: Editor-in-chief Clara Turnage

Posted on May 1 2017 - 8:02am by Clara Turnage

Farewell column season is my least favorite time of the year. For the past three years, goodbye columns have marked the time when I have to deal with my friends’ graduations. I have to confront the fact that they’re leaving and I might never see them again.

That’s a little overdramatic. Then again, I’m a little overdramatic.

Anyway, now it’s my turn. Now I’m leaving. Providing we have a new staff (we do) and I can pass my classes (I might), these are my last few days as editor-in-chief of The Daily Mississippian.

I didn’t come to Ole Miss because I grew up as a lifelong Rebel. I didn’t bleed red and blue or even follow our sports teams. In fact, the first time I came to campus – besides orientation, which was mandated – was to move into my freshman dorm.

We moved in early – nearly a week before school started – and in those few days, I decided I would work up the courage to go apply for The Daily Mississippian. When I spoke to my mother about it, I told her I wanted to be the editor-in-chief by the time my senior year rolled around, which was a million miles away. To her credit, she told me she thought it was a great idea. She later confessed she didn’t think I had a shot. Not because she didn’t believe in me – she did. I was just not an outspoken person then.

I grew up a reader and a writer – not a speaker, not a leader. Certainly not an aggressive, in-your-face reporter. I’m still not, if we’re being honest.

But in the last three years, I’ve overcome a lot of the anxiety I had concerning interviews and asking tough questions, probably because it was necessary.

We had to cover difficult, interesting topics – things I didn’t understand before I came to college. I hadn’t formed opinions about subjects like the Confederate emblem in the Mississippi state flag or the various ties Ole Miss has to its past when I became a reporter for The DM. So, when I came face to face with our university’s myriad of problems, controversies and complexities, I came with fresh eyes. Some might say I came without the ties that would endear me to Ole Miss’ traditions – and they may be right – but I also came without preconceived notions of what this institution is and to whom it belongs.

And often, when these troubles became too much for me or I didn’t know how to proceed, I spoke to Patricia Thompson, assistant dean of the Student Media Center. I’m going to miss having important conversations – and unimportant conversations –  with Ms. Pat.

We call her School Mom, and that’s an alarmingly accurate moniker. She is whom I come to for advice, to vent, to inquire. She always had time to edit my rough – often very rough – drafts and, what meant more, she always had time to listen. She’s been a positive influence on me as a journalist and as a person. I will miss her so much.

I don’t think enough people realize that The DM is inextricably bound to the university, to its people and to its issues. We have a rich and diverse – if often silent – audience. And I wish that weren’t the case. If we had half as many people who disagree with our columns and coverage write letters to the editor or become columnists, we’d never run out of content – and the opinion section would become a better representation of our campus.

And – despite what you might hear – that’s what we want. Your voice is important; your opinion matters. But you have to speak to be heard.

It’s been stressful covering this campus – its eccentricities and obsessions, its deep roots and budding communities. But it’s been a great honor to chronicle our university’s history as it happened in my years here.

I know the incoming staff feel the same way. The great responsibility and great privilege of serving our campus is theirs now, and I leave you in good hands.

As much as I learned in my first three years with The DM, I think this last year has been the most influential. I can’t imagine freshman me confronting the issues that have arisen in the past 12 months. Mom was right about freshman year Clara.

The point is: I didn’t come here ready to be editor-in-chief – no one does. I didn’t come to Ole Miss ready to go out into the world as a journalist – no one does.

The Daily Mississippian made me a better journalist, a better leader; I’m prepared to tell you it made me a better person.

And I can’t tell you how grateful I am.