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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Let me tell you about the best decision of my life

Almost everything about my life today, I have this newspaper to thank for.

Over the last four years, I’ve often wondered what I would write in this column.

I’ve watched my friends and colleagues graduate and leave their words of wisdom behind as they moved on to bigger and better things, and it made me ponder what insight I might be able to impart when my time finally came to do the same.

Well, that time is now. In 12 days, I will be a graduate of the University of Florida. And after seven semesters at The Independent Florida Alligator, my stay here has now come to a close.

Even writing those words feels surreal to me.

The Alligator means more to me than I could ever say. After all, how do you properly encapsulate an experience that had such a visceral effect on who you are as a person? How do you say goodbye to something that played a bigger role in your life than you ever could have imagined?

When I joined this paper two weeks into my first semester on campus, I had no idea that I was making the best decision I have ever made, and probably will ever make.

I knew I wanted to write about sports, but I had little direction in terms of how to make that happen at the time. I applied to The Alligator on a whim based on the advice of a friend who worked for the UAA, Turner Street. (If you’re reading this, Turner, thanks for that.) As I entered the cramped basement of Weimer Hall in August of 2017, I met then-sports editors Matt Brannon, Dylan Dixon and Jake Dreilinger, filled out an application that would certainly make me cringe looking back at it now and grabbed a slice of complimentary pizza. I had no way of knowing how my life would change that day for the better.

I didn’t expect to get the job; I had no experience, whatsoever. The application asked for clips of my work, and since I had never done anything resembling sports writing, I submitted a 4,000-word research paper I had written my senior year of high school about concussions in football.

If you guys read even a single word of that, I’d be amazed.

I still haven’t forgotten (and probably will never forget) the feeling of sitting in my dorm late on that Tuesday night getting the call from Matt, the sports editor at the time, to let me know they were bringing me on.

I was thrown on the golf beat, and I realized how out of my element I really was. I was asked to interview one of the team’s assistant coaches almost immediately, and I had no idea what to do. I’m sure she was cringing alongside me as I powered through my nonsensical questions. Still, I convinced myself I nailed it.

I remember submitting my first story and thinking, “I bet this will be the best damn golf story they’ve ever read.” Imagine my shock when I opened the Google Doc to see nearly my entire article highlighted for corrections.

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It forced me to check my own ego tremendously. I’ve never let myself forget that feeling, how inadequate I felt in that moment. I used it as motivation, and as a constant reminder that there’s always room to learn more, improve your skills and grow as an individual.

The three years since then feel like a whirlwind. In that time, I’ve covered lacrosse, men’s basketball and football.

I had the privilege of serving as the sports editor in Fall 2019, the greatest honor I’ve ever received in my life. Those three months were probably the hardest, most stressful and sleepless of my life, but they were also the most fulfilling.

I had the opportunity to travel around the southeast covering Gators football, attended 12 of 13 games live and checked SEC stadiums off my bucket list with some of my best friends. I had to convince myself it was real the whole time

If I had told my 13-year-old self I’d be able to do any of that by the time I was 21, I would have never believed it. It was an experience I’ll never forget as long as I live.

I’ve never felt such a sense of ownership over anything I’ve done in my life. Never have I felt like I belonged the way I do at The Alligator.

And that’s why now, the thought of having to leave is so painful. This newspaper has been such a key aspect of my life the last few years, it’s inconceivable to think about not being a part of it.

The Alligator has been an inextricable part of my college experience. I can’t even tell you where I would be now if I hadn’t found it, but I can tell you I wouldn’t be the same person.

I’ve met so many talented people who pushed me to be better every single day. But more than that, I’ve met friends that will last a lifetime. Good, caring people who are passionate about what they do.

Hell, I even met my girlfriend, the lovely and talented Lina Ruiz, at The Alligator.

Almost everything about my life today, I have this newspaper to thank for.

To the amazing student journalists who came before me, thank you for everything. I’ve learned all I know from you, and your guidance and patience toward a young, brash, over-confident reporter will be forever appreciated.

To everyone still there, I hope I was able to give back even just a small fraction of what this paper has given me. I’m proud of every single one of you and am always here for you if you need me.

I believe it was alligatorSports legend Ian Cohen who first coined the phrase, “I didn’t go to school at UF, I went to school at The Alligator.” Earlier in my college career, I didn’t completely understand what that meant.

But now, as I stare down the barrel of the real world, I can fully appreciate the wisdom of Ian’s words.

So many thanks:

Everyone I’ve met at The Alligator has impacted my life in some way. I wish I could thank all of you, but here’s a few that I have to say.

To Matt Brannon and Dylan Dixon, thank you for taking a chance on a wide-eyed freshman with no experience. I’m still not exactly sure why, but that decision changed my life.

To Ethan Bauer, one of the best reporters I’ve ever met, thank you for all the knowledge you shared and for teaching me that there’s no such thing as a feature that’s “too long.” I probably learned more from you in the year we were on staff together than from anyone else.

To Jake Dreilinger, Mark Stine and Alanis Thames, thank you for giving me the opportunity to be the sports editor. My imposter syndrome that whole semester was real, but it was lessened by the confidence you all showed in me.

To Mari Faiello, thank you for being the best Assistant Sports Editor I could have ever asked for. You kept me in check, and I would have lost my mind that semester if it weren’t for you.

To Sam Campisano, Kyle Wood and Dylan Rudolph, thank you for being amazing football beat partners and road trip companions. There’s no group of guys I’d rather trek through the Deep South with.

To River Wells, thank you for being an amazing friend and jam buddy. We got hired together, and I couldn’t imagine being at The Alligator without you there, though I’m still a little salty you will be the sole elder statesman now. Socially distanced sesh at The Bull soon?

To Dylan O’Shea, thank you for being a constant source of laughter and joy. You’re one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, and you constantly build up your friends. I’m bummed we didn’t know each other earlier in college, but I’m glad we met when we did.

To Brendan Farrell and Graham Marsh, DUUUUUUVALLLLLL.

To Payton Titus, hiring you may have been my greatest contribution to The Alligator. It’s a weird feeling when you hire someone who is already better than you, but it’s a feeling I had to get used to, as will many other people in this industry. You’re so talented and are going to do amazing things.

Tyler Nettuno was the sports editor of The Alligator. You can follow him on Twitter @TylerNettuno.

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