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Ryan Rainey is the Editor-in-Chief of The Badger Herald

One of the most chronically repeated maxims about the University of Wisconsin holds that this institution, ostensibly renowned worldwide as a model for public higher education, is simply an “economic incubator.”

This is a convenient way for technocrats in Bascom Hall to explain to their counterparts down State Street what exactly UW does. Many legislators and policymakers understandably fail to acknowledge UW’s significance beyond an economic lens to take home to their constituents, and the university becomes just another item in the state’s biennial budget. The administration receives enough funding to keep that economic incubator running every two years, and the process continues every odd-numbered year.

Yes, UW is an economic incubator, and yes, Madison would likely be nothing but a gasoline-and-motel stop on Interstate 90/39 without the strip of academia between Park Street and Highland Avenue. But more important than the economics and the systematic churning out of a new workforce is an almost indescribable quality of humanity that emerges from an experience at Wisconsin.

In the last four years, that’s one of the crucial lessons I’ve learned about this university: It educates more with humanity and humility than with the brand of cynicism that dictates education’s only value lays in its economic output. And in spite of a legislative assault on higher education’s humanity throughout the country, UW will continue to be a human institution for coming time.

So I’ll say, at the risk of sounding presumptuous, that UW has made me a better person in addition to giving me marketable skills.

I came here in 2009 from a typical exurban household and since arriving have learned two new languages, fulfilled the dream of exploring a distant nation and learned the virtues of good writing. The promise of living in a larger city like Washington, D.C. or Chicago drew me to a mid-sized place like Madison, where I could put on some urban training wheels before moving to a larger city.

Now I’m leaving Madison for one of those larger cities, happiest that this was a place where — after experiencing death, divorce and financial ruin within my own family — I was finally able to develop a kinship with those who I now love as part of my own adopted family. 

That kinship would not have been possible without The Badger Herald, the experience that I will remember as the centerpiece of my experience in Madison. The Herald taught me things not learned in classrooms: the confidence (or arrogance) necessary to prove the strength of your convictions, the humility to know when you have reported incorrectly or wronged someone and the skepticism that defines every successful journalist.

I often carry out a thought experiment in which I never walked into the Herald’s offices and thus never became a journalism student. In an ideal world, my GPA would have been several-tenths higher, my life would be quieter and my appreciation for other parts of student life here would have increased. I’d probably be about 20 pounds lighter, too.

Every time I reach the same conclusion: Because of the Herald and the goodness I’ve seen in the people I work with and have grown to love for the last four years, I love UW. 

My bond with the people who also love the Herald kept me motivated to stay and learn to love the archetypal late nights at the office. This newspaper is a living example of that human quality of UW that technocrats ignore, and like the university, it will continue to hold that example regardless of format. The Herald is consistently steadfast with its commitment to independence from the university’s administration, but it will continue to succeed because of a love for the UW community that cannot be ignored or imitated. 

The staff that has worked with me this year has taught me lessons about journalism, resilience and loyalty in ways I never could have expected. My successor, Katherine Krueger, is not only one of my closest friends but also one of the most capable student journalists I have met at UW. Her tenure will surely be highly successful as the Herald becomes one of the first student media outlets to transition into a new climate for student journalists, and the team she has assembled for the task, led by incoming managing editor Katie Caron, will likely accomplish more in one semester than previous Herald staffs have accomplished in years.

At some point in the next two weeks, I will become one of those thousands of graduates of UW held up as someone with a job – another success for UW’s economic viability. The Herald will drift slowly down my resume as my life continues, and my diploma will collect dust on a bookshelf.

Both institutions, however, have left an unerasable imprint on my conscience that will remain a permanent part of my identity.

From what I can tell, most UW alumni relive their time in Madison through their lifetime Union membership, an annual drunken visit to the Memorial Union Terrace during the summer and a stroll down State Street. I plan to remember my time here that way, too. But I’ll never forget to stop into the Herald’s office and have a chat with the editors of this incomparable student paper.

The Herald will always help bring the UW’s unique human quality to Madison, and UW will always leave that permanent imprint on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of students who pass through in the decades or centuries to come. Being one of those students has been the privilege of my life.

Ryan Rainey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies. He’ll be moving to Washington, D.C. this summer to intern for The Huffington Post’s politics section. He’d like to thank his family-Garry Rainey, Christy Rainey, Rylie Rainey, Patricia Post and Bob Reynolds-along with Laura Checovich, Brian Phelps and Katherine Krueger, for the last four years.