To think that it was an all-campus email from The Badger Herald that changed the entire course of my college experience boggles my mind to this day.

Just three years ago, I was an engineering major, set on a path to obtaining a successful and stable career. But the thought of getting involved with some of the university’s athletics programs through the Herald’s sports department sounded like something worth checking out. One new writers’ meeting, six beats and one trip to cover the Final Four later, here I am writing my final piece for a publication that has caused me to lose sleep, hair and probably my liver, all while gaining friendships, experiences and skills I would be nowhere without.

I’m usually not a person who believes in things like fate, but sometimes I can’t get over the impossible chain of events that led me to this point. I have often thought about what my life would be like had I never opened that email, but had just deleted it like most every other campus emails I get. I would probably be far less stressed out about post-graduation life. I would most certainly have to field fewer questions about what I plan to do with my degree. And I don’t even want to think about money because I’ll just cry. But every time I go through this thought process, I always land in the same spot: I wouldn’t change a thing.

All of the late nights writing, editing, traveling and headlining seemed like a pain in the ass sometimes and proved to be one of the biggest commitments I have made in my life. Oftentimes my grades would serve as a reminder of the size of the commitment I made to the Herald. But what I have learned in my four years in Madison and three years with the Herald will stick with me forever.

I have covered everything from women’s tennis to men’s basketball, and have learned a lot along the way. But if there is one thing I can share from my experiences it is this: The athletes that compete for the University of Wisconsin are special.

Being a devoted fan of Wisconsin athletics since attending my first Badger football game when I was in grade school, I thought of these student-athletes strictly as athletes and never thought beyond the television screen or stadium. But with the access I gained to the various teams on campus through my work for the Herald, I saw an entire side that fans don’t see on game day. Fans see the athletes that consistently play at a nationally competitive level. I was able to get a glimpse into the juggling act the players have to constantly deal with. From daily practices, traveling, dealing with guys like me after every practice and their schoolwork, Wisconsin’s athletes truly epitomize the term student-athlete. I have mixed feelings about paying college athletes, but I do know that they earn what they already get and don’t nearly receive the recognition they deserve.

It puts into perspective the commitments I have in my life. Sure, I have to deal with a full course load and 30-plus hours a week for the newspaper, but I don’t have thousands of people critiquing my every move while I do it.

As I reflect on my time in college, and especially with the Herald, there are three things I believe have truly positively affected me as a person. First are the friendships I have made. All of the people I have spent countless hours with in the press box, in the office or at the Plaza made all of the work worth it. All of The Badger Herald versus Daily Cardinal softball and football games, all of the parties and champagne-soaked nights will forever be a part of me and would have been nothing but for the people I shared those moments with.

Second is my growth as a journalist. I attribute a great deal of my maturation as a writer, reporter and person to my work with the Herald. There are only so many things you can learn in a classroom, but being out in the field — working on deadlines and the pressure of knowing that hundreds of people will read my articles — all pushed me to a place that my high school self would have never thought possible.

And the last thing I will take with me is covering the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s run to the Final Four. Being able to experience the emotion of the tournament firsthand is something I will truly never forget. It will be difficult to top. Watching the team hoist Bo Ryan on the floor of the Honda Center after Wisconsin earned a trip to the Final Four and the pure, unfiltered joy that filled every person’s face, especially Ryan’s face, truly affected me. Even being in the locker room after they lost to Kentucky in the Final Four and watching as the team I had followed all season grappled with its season-ending — and in some cases career-ending — defeat made me appreciate even more the amount of effort each person put into that season.

It has been one hell of a ride, Madison. I have grown to love this city, this university and this newspaper. And no matter where my future endeavors take me, each of those things will have a special place in my heart forever. Thank goodness I opened that email three years ago. Cheers, UW.