I’ve been obsessed with words for as long as I can remember. The way they can make you feel, what art you can create or how they shape you.
And I love words, for I grew up having trouble arranging them in my speech the way I could on paper. So I gobbled them when I could, whether that was reading or writing elementary books before I understood what world I lived in.
People say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Words, these stubborn intangible puzzle pieces, are mine.
Journalism, especially student journalism, is powerful and it matters. No matter what your reservation is, places like The Alligator must be saved, for journalism is the preservation of truth and accountability, and we are its future.
I’ve thought a lot about this column, The Alligator’s somewhat pretentious and traditional way of saying goodbye. I’ve stressed about what my message would be or how this would come across. But that doesn’t matter. In journalism, the truth does. That’s why I’ll be honest.
Frankly, this paper is frustrating. It’s tiresome, and we do really hard work. But just like words, what lovely soulful puzzles, this newsroom saved me.
As a wide-eyed transfer student who stumbled into this somewhat cult-like paper, it took a little time to find my footing. But I didn’t need to be stuck on the ground. Here, as a Black, biracial woman (with several other marginalized identities), The Alligator has given me a space to be myself. And it is here that I’ve flown.
The best editor I’ve ever had dragged me into this paper during the Summer of 2020. It was then that the world kept descending into chaos. And for a time, I did too. I didn’t believe in myself, even though I had been an editor-in-chief prior to coming to UF. I felt like a fraud.
But Grethel Aguila gambled with my imposter syndrome, and published my first story, one that I wrote through a UF reporting class. It detailed a vigil and march for Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, a longtime classmate of mine who was missing and then murdered in my hometown of Tallahassee. I saw her name and picture flash across the TV, with each headline and story, I breathed anger. The former Black Lives Matter activist deserved respect and honesty.
So, I did my best to observe and tell the news with the viewpoint of the people who knew her.
I filed the story with Grethel and it was then that she became my advocate.
“It’s a moving, well-written piece,” she said in a text message that night. “You’re very talented. We’re all learning as we go along. The Alligator is a great place to learn and grow as a journalist.”
“I’m kinda new to this so my writing isn’t perfect lol,” I messaged back.
I shrugged off her sentiments initially, but she was right about this paper. When an editor here tells you you’re a good writer, trust them.
I contributed more pieces that summer and after she made a few attempts to convince me, I applied for her desk on the Metro team (I’m biased, but it’s the best desk here). The editor that Fall called me and offered me the position. I was shocked.
“This is like the best student paper in the country,” I shouted to my parents on a sticky August night. “And he called me.”
I continued to work with Grethel who saw my potential on Metro and after three weeks, she promoted me to the Criminal Justice and Breaking News position. Then, she pushed me to take her place as Metro Editor.
At this paper, I’ve grown from an anxious, self-doubting student to someone who loves spending nights that welcome the dawn calling writers about their stories and their lives. With Lianna and Anna, I have tried to help bring diversity and become an advocate for students just as that editor did for me.
It is here that I’ve refused to listen to past put downs from teachers about my ability to be a “natural writer.” It is here that I’ve discovered a newfound confidence — one that is unapologetic.
It is here that I’ve grown from the young journalist who stuttered through phone calls with the g’s when I said good morning or goodbye.
But I can say goodbye now. I can say a lot of things thanks to the heroes in this student paper.
Asta Hemenway is a senior journalism major. She is a lifelong Alligator and was the Engagement Managing Editor.
Asta Hemenway is a third-year senior majoring in Journalism. Born in Tallahassee, she grew up Senegalese American. When she’s not writing or doing school, she loves watching Netflix and Tiktok in her spare time.