As graduation approaches, I've become a bit nostalgic about my time here at the University of Wisconsin. As a result, I wrote a column Tuesday about my thoughts on higher education, yesterday I discussed UW's role — or lack thereof — in undergraduate success, and this time around I'll talk about getting involved in student organizations.

I've always found cleaning incredibly rewarding.

It really dawned on me sophomore year, sometime between scraping caked-on urine from the edge of the second-floor toilet bowl with a plastic brush and scouring the edges of the stairwell to remove a visibly thick, dark-gray blanket of dust from the carpet. I was living in a four-bedroom apartment seven-guys full, just blocks from Camp Randall, and I'm pretty sure it was my turn to put the pieces back together after some massive party we had thrown the night before.

By the end of the day, I was disgusting and the place was spotless — and I had never felt more accomplished. There's more than something to be said for a day of hard work, and it always feels good to put in a fighting try in order to get something truly rewarding out of it in the end.

And I've come to think that's the same reason the University of Wisconsin as a whole is so successful — that's got to be why people fall in love with this place. It's not exactly related to getting the beer smell out of your furniture, as much as the Princeton Review would have potential students believe that's Wisconsin's allure — it's the ability to put in virtually as much work as you can muster in order to get something truly satisfying in the end.

I'm hard pressed to think of a single friend or acquaintance on campus who sits around all day playing video games and eating pizza. It's just not how we do it here at UW: Students here don't take their education sitting down, and we have a copious supply of incredible student organizations to show for it.

Between our student government — which, albeit misguided at times, is comprised of an fiercely dedicated set of students — and the vast amount of student media on this campus, it's clear our nearly 30,000 undergraduates don't take many time outs.

Perhaps most demonstrative of that is the student group I've become entangled in since freshman year — that whose pages you're turning at this very moment.

I've worked at The Badger Herald for almost four entire years now, and I've watched generations of staff members come in and eventually bow out, some staying longer than others. I somehow became the non-Davy veteran in the office — almost by surprise.

Over the years, I've been given the opportunity to do everything from writing news stories on hairballs — excuse me, bezoars — to designing news pages to crafting Editorial Board pieces. I've scrubbed the floor and cleaned the fish tank, and I've piled PowerMacs into the back of a car during a power outage in an effort to relocate the office. I've screamed over the phone at the top of my lungs from 2,000 miles away and spent countless nights sleepless. I've been ruined by disappointment at times and overwhelmed by joy at others.

And it's been wonderful.

But what never changes, regardless of the names in the staff box, is the absolutely insane amount of dedication people have for this place. Our news associates spend endless hours every day to write literally hundreds of stories over the course of the semester. Our page designers stay until 2 or 3 a.m. on a normal basis to button up production. And our photographers tear apart their schedules just to make it halfway across Madison in the middle of the day to get yet another speaker photo for tomorrow's edition.

It's hard to imagine what would compel a student to take on another 40 hours of work a week, but you wouldn't think it was out of the ordinary after a few days at our Gorham Street office.

For me, it first came from the ability to own part of the production. Crafting this newspaper with your own sweat and tears (literally more often than you think), it's yours. The more work you put in, the more satisfaction you get out — it's simple.

As much as I lament my perception of higher education coming to its stunning demise, this campus is overflowing with opportunity at every corner just waiting to be explored. And as much as others might covet a small private institution with the resources to provide more one-on-one student support, getting the most out of the experience requires students go out and get it themselves — it's not the sort of thing a university can provide directly.

When all is hopefully said and done come May 19, I will have defined my own college experience. But I have the University of Wisconsin, and legions of incredibly dedicated colleagues, to thank for making it possible.

On Wisconsin.

Taylor Hughes ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in information systems. Please don't fail him, seriously –or you'll have to listen to more of this next semester.