Since I transferred to UF almost two years ago, all I’ve ever wanted was the ceremonial photo in the recycled newspaper dumpster — that was my primary reason for applying to The Alligator. It was on everyone’s Instagram, and in my mind, that was the emblem of a successful journalism student. I needed to be in that dumpster.
But what I ended up finding was much more than a dark cavern of garbage. Over the last few months, I learned about my boundaries and how little it took to push them. I covered things I never thought I was capable of, and I curated relationships with enlightening people around Alachua County. I was captivated by my sources because I often found myself covering people who were perpetually fighting against the status quo. People who were bold enough to have a voice, but might not have an outlet for their message.
At The Alligator, I covered rural Alachua County for the Metro desk, a new beat I had the pleasure of defining throughout the semester.
I reported on the centennial of the Rosewood Massacre and the descendants who dedicated their lives to preserving a painful history. I was the only one to gain the trust of an LGBTQ couple who was forced out of town by a homophobic commissioner, coverage that impacted a local election. I met with farmers of color to discuss how climate change is disproportionately affecting their livelihoods. I was in Tallahassee to observe history as the Florida Board of Medicine revoked the rights of transgender youth seeking health care.
With all these pioneers of change, I sat with their pain. I cried with them. I laughed at their jokes. But above all, I was inspired by their stories. My sources reminded me of why I chose this career: Every day, I get a chance to connect with people who go to great lengths to better their community. I love this job because I get to lead with empathy and never stop learning.
As a senior who always felt late to the game, I spent the last year hustling to catch up. It seemed like everyone started writing for The Alligator in their first year, interned at a newspaper in their second and had a job lined up by their last. But despite the setbacks, I’ve grown more this semester at The Alligator than any other. Although I absolutely prioritized the paper over my classes — with my grades reflecting that — I got the skills and confidence I would need to move on to my first internship at the Sun Sentinel this summer.
I couldn’t have done any of this without the support from my incredible family. Thank you Mom and Dad for allowing me to pursue a career that ensures no money. And thank you Gramps for always being the first to read my work. You all are and always will be my first audience.
Only two months ago, I was unsure if I was even capable of being a journalist. Imposter syndrome hit hard. But now, I know there are professionals out there just as confused as I am, and that they persevere by following the same principles I try to embody: empathy and curiosity.
I’m so grateful for this challenge and the opportunity to speak with beautiful, moving people. To the best student paper in the country, you helped me overcome my quarter-life crisis. Keep on telling stories that matter — print is not dead yet.
Jack Lemnus was the Spring 2023 Rural Alachua County Reporter of The Independent Florida Alligator.
Jack Lemnus is a fourth-year journalism major and rural Alachua reporter. He loves to practice his Spanish, fill his bookshelves and gatekeep what he considers underground music.