Op-Ed, Column, Opinions

Goodbye and A Guy Named Steve

We’ve arrived, inevitably, at the end of things. Three years and thousands of words have all been building to this moment: my final column. There are a few dozen versions of this where I rehash the past, settling scores or changing endings or vying for redemption. I don’t want to do that, though. I want to talk about Steve.

When I arrived at Boston College, 18 and anxious, I had no intentions of becoming a columnist. I spent most of my time trying to adjust to new classes and the existence of men after 14 years at a small all-girls school. I desperately wanted to be liked, and, even more than that, to be seen as smart, capable. But, for the first time in my life, I was afraid to raise my hand. I remember lying awake at night in my Gonzaga double, listening as my fan clumsily pushed too-hot air around the room and wondering if things would get better—if college would ever really be as great as books and movies and second-hand stories led me to believe.

If I would be the kind of person who had stories worth telling.

By mid-September, I convinced myself that having some kind of direction would make me more interesting. I wanted to feel like I had found a path to somewhere instead of just groping my way through the ether. I wanted the overblown confidence of the pre-med people.

I decided, armed with big-hearted optimism and an obsession with The West Wing, that I wanted to be a speechwriter.

To that end, I spent an entire Saturday googling speechwriters. If you worked for a major politician in even a speechwriting-adjacent role, I didn’t just look at your Twitter or LinkedIn; I found your personal Facebook. Specifically, I found Steve.

Steve has an impressive speech-writing resume that I won’t detail here, but trust me when I say that I had no business talking to him. I especially did not have any business cold-contacting Steve’s personal account via Facebook Messenger to ask for an opportunity to grill him about his career. But against all odds, Steve overlooked the fact that reaching out to him that way was at best inappropriate and at worst, kind of crazy. He graciously offered to talk on the phone.

I took the call sitting on the windowsill, back braced against my dresser, looking out over Hammond Street. Steve took the time not only to answer my many questions, but to ask some about me in return. I like to think that he saw me when I couldn’t see myself: young, afraid, desperate to find my way. Misguided, but well-intentioned. Before we hung up, almost as an afterthought, Steve told me he thought I should write a column. He said that all speechwriters need a good voice, and a column would help me find mine.

Somewhere between talking to Steve on the phone and writing this, my column became inextricably bound up in my college experience. It brought me friendships and first dates and adventure and heartbreak and pride and embarrassment. Love, even. I wrote the memories I had always wanted to have into existence. I camped on Brighton campus, hunted for skunks, met my neighbors, puzzled over eel sex, and stood up for myself and my beliefs. I stopped caring so much about being likable and started thinking about being good.

I realized I had stories worth telling.

When I feel grateful for my column and all of the friends and memories that came with it, I say a silent thank you to Steve. For seeing and believing in me when I needed it. Because even now, years later, I remember what it is to be young and afraid and lost on the way to somewhere else. It’s a place I still find myself sometimes.

With graduation looming on the not-so-distant horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Steve told me when I thanked him for talking to me. He laughed and said that one day in the future, after years of people helping me, I would pay it forward. Now more than ever, I hope he’s right. I hope that one day I, too, get a hideously inappropriate DM from a lost college student asking me to talk.

If I do, I know one thing for certain. Just before we hang up, almost as an afterthought, I’ll tell them to write a column. I’ll say that everyone needs a good voice, and a column will help them find theirs.

If they’re half as lucky as me, it will change their life.

Featured Graphic by Liz Schwab/ Heights Editor

April 10, 2022