Journalism, Ohio University

If I learned one thing

And I met all these kids. We have fun.

Over a delivery pizza and the rest of my thawing dorm fridges’ contents, I had a conversation with one of my best friends Friday night, reflecting on our first year in Athens.

We mutually recalled coming to school as wide-eyed, lanyard-bearing freshman unsure of what our first year away from our families would bring.

There was as much excitement associated with the move to school as there was uneasiness about what we’d find when our parents waved us goodbye. Up until I watched my dad’s truck roll away from the commuter lot perpendicular to my dorm, I had never been alone.

That feeling lasted about five minutes.

I remember walking around that night with people I haven’t talked to since, yucking it up and pretending I knew what I was doing with that whole “going to college” scene.

We ate our first of many free meals from Baker (OU’s student center), and made friends with people we’d never see again.

And then we went back to our dorms, flipped on our laptops and decided college was pretty cool.

Fast-forward three months, and we were polishing off the last of our first round of final exams in preparation for our first way-too-long Winter Intersession.

Distinctly, I remember having a talk about how college wasn’t the big party everyone made it out to be. We said it was hard work; too hard to have that much fun and be any kind of academic.

And in another three months, sometime in the midst of a cold, long winter quarter, we realized we were wrong. We just really weren’t doing it right.

We cared too much about school, and not enough about our friends, nights out and other stuff. We were too caught up to go to that Wednesday night hockey game, or take that hike on a Sunday.

But when we realized that 350-page reading assignment could wait until finals week, that’s when we started to understand what it was all about.

The greatest new thing is the Facebook cover photo. No, not because I’m really all that pumped about seeing more pictures of girls’ feet, Lil’ Wayne, rainbows or duck-face group photos, but because of quotes.

I’m a sucker for a good quote, as I’ve written before. And I found a pretty decent one courtesy of someone’s cover photo the other day.

It said something along the lines of, “Nobody remembers the nights they spent going to bed early, but they look back most fondly on the nights where they didn’t sleep at all.”

That’s a bit too gushy for my taste, and I’m not all that into completely sleepless nights, but there’s a lot of truth in its point.

I don’t remember much about the times I re-read my notes before going to sleep, but I can vividly recall the evenings I shrugged my shoulders and did something cool instead.

Some of the best nights I had at school ended with talks about life as the sun rose. That’s when you learn things about people.

I’ll speak for myself, I guess, when I say we were right about half of our Fall Quarter equation, though. School is hard work, and you have to put in ample time to keep any sort of respectable grades. It isn’t high school — you can’t just show up, participate and anticipate good grades.

That may seem like a “duh” statement; similar to the one every teacher has been telling you when explaining the next grade since the beginning of time.

“It’s ok now, but remember, when you get to ___ th  grade, everything gets a lot harder, and people don’t check up on you. We’re just trying to prepare you for next year.”

Seriously, how many times have we all heard that?

One of the greatest things about being a freshman (or new anywhere, for that matter) is that everyone has very low expectations for you. It’s fantastic. If you know anything about what you’re trying to do — even the slightest notion at all — you will be far defying every goal set for you by your superiors.

That’s freshman year in a nutshell. Our class of journalists had a semi-decent idea of what we were doing, and were made out to be these super-kids.

Ok, that may be a figment of my imagination. We just had a little bit of base knowledge and a collectively suitable work ethic, so we were deemed “good” at our positions. That’s more realistic.

Where the predicament sets in, though, is next year. Not because of that whole sophomore slump thing everyone always talks about, but because of expectations.

In 2011-12, we had no expectations. Everything we did was an anomaly.

“That kid’s really good, for a freshman.”

“Wow, you’ve already found an internship as a freshman? That’s great!”

“You’re only 18 19 and have worked a real journalism job already?”

Insert “sophomore” into any of those statements and it is run-of-the-mill.

Talk about juniors, and if they haven’t done those things, they’re behind the curve.

Seniors? They better know what’s up by the time commencement rolls around, or else they’re working PR. Or something.

I’ve learned a heck of a lot since I left home for the first time last summer, but not enough to shake the picture of that wide-eyed, confused teenager I still think I am.

Nothing I’ve figured out this year has been enough to convince me what I’m doing in my life is right, or if I’m going about it the right way.

Instead of sitting on a patio in Cincinnati right now, I could be in an apartment in South Bend, Ind., or on my beach at home.

Who’s to say those aren’t the right places for me, but on the same note, who says exactly where I am isn’t perfect, either?

I can talk my way through the future of journalism with the best of ‘em, tell you a thing or two about the athletic department’s budget and maybe, just maybe, sing a little bit better than I could when I first moved to Athens. The last point might be a bit of a stretch.

But if I’ve learned one thing, just one thing, this year, it’s that I honestly don’t know what’s next.

I used to answer the oh-so-typical conversation starting, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” questions by saying I wanted to be a Sports Illustrated columnist when I graduated.

That’s dumb. Now I say, simply, “I don’t know.”

And if what I’ve done this year is any indication, that’s the right answer.

My outlook about things. Photo courtesy of Cullen Challacombe.

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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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