It’s done, here it is. Maybe I put this off because I was genuinely busy, or maybe I was trying to find an excuse to be busy. Anyway, here it goes. 

When I first walked out of The Alligator office as an inexperienced sophomore two years ago, I planned on never walking back in. I had finished my first story ever, picked up from the contributing writers list, and it was torn apart, ripped into shreds and spit back out. What was printed in the paper did not feel like my work. It was alien to me. 

I vowed never to return. I was upset, not fully understanding the process of editing, news or really anything yet. About a year later, I decided to give it another try. I don’t know why, if it was the reporting extra credit or maybe I felt more confident in my writing, but I picked up a story again. 

This time, it wasn’t so bad. 

My story was still heavily edited, not even mirroring the original, but I understood why. So, I continued picking up stories, gaining momentum with reporting each time. 

And before I knew it, I went from a reporter to a managing editor at The Alligator in a year, and this paper has changed my life.

Sometimes, people ask why I started at The Alligator so late as a junior, and I don’t always have an answer. But I know I did the right thing.

When I started in Spring, I was ready. Eager to report. Excited to write. 

But the best thing about The Alligator, aside from the clips and the nights spent breaking news, is the people. 

I’ve met some of my best friends at this paper  friends that help you grow and support you. 

These friends have introduced me to myself. I’ve learned from them not only as a reporter, but as a person struggling to be confident in myself. So to them, thank you. 

Not walking back into the dimly-lit, carded side door known so well at the paper would have been the biggest mistake of my life.

Kelly Hayes was the digital managing editor of The Alligator

Kelly Hayes is a journalism and political science junior at the University of Florida. Before becoming a staff writer at The Alligator, she wrote as a contributor, and also as the marketing intern for The Florida Museum of Natural History.