When my grandfather snuck books — which his coworker typed up during the night time — into his small communal apartment in the Pecherskyi neighborhood of Kyiv, my mother would hide them in one of the cabinets.
In secrecy, my mother lost herself in the words of Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” — stories the Communist Party banned in the Soviet Union.
For simply typing up these stories, my grandfather’s coworker would go to jail.
For simply distributing the book, her husband would go to jail.
For simply reading the book, my mother and her father would go to jail.
These books were part of a dissident practice during the Soviet Union known as samizdat — “to self publish.”
Everyone back then knew the risks of being caught in possession of state-censored material, but these books and pamphlets contained one of the most valuable commodities in the Soviet Union — one that could not simply be bartered for in the black market for a worn-down pair of winter boots or an extra loaf of bread: The truth.
It’s only fitting that decades later, I would find myself standing outside the office of the University of Wisconsin’s truly independent student newspaper.
When I first walked up the stairs to The Badger Herald office, I told myself I wasn’t going to have a huge involvement with the paper.
I am a biology student, so I’ll just be a copy editor for The Herald for this first semester and maybe then start writing an opinion piece here and there … I could probably move up to an associate next semester and maybe later become copy chief …
But then, during spring 2016 semester, I found myself in the middle of a protest about #TheRealUW. And then I realized I had a reporter’s notebook in one hand that was collecting quotes for one of my editors, and my phone in the other that was live tweeting students’ stories around campus. I began to learn more and more about the truth of the experiences of marginalized students at UW, and I realized at that moment that the plan I had walking up the steps was just not going to happen.
My mother could have never gone to a newspaper at my age and told them about the persecution she faced as a Jew in her own country. I have that ability with the press of a “publish” button — and I never really thought about how lucky I am to have that.
Looking back, I never fully realized how lucky I am to be able to be part of an organization that works day and night to make sure students’ voices are heard, that our university officials are able to be held accountable and that we create productive dialogue surrounding contentious issues on campus.
That’s not to say that I haven’t made mistakes at this organization. I’ve made many of them. And again, I was lucky to have an incredible team of some of the most talented, brilliant people on campus helping me realize them, and grow from them. These same people have, throughout the years, challenged me to help me realize when I’m truly ready to stand by my decisions, and when I can accept to step back.
I have learned and unlearned and have grown and fell down countless times throughout my time at The Herald. Each and every time, I have felt grateful — for the opportunity to be part of this organization, and to be surrounded by the incredible people that make it up.
This year of uplifting student voices, creating new partnerships with the community and watching The Herald realize all our dreams would not have been possible without the unweathered determination and grit by this year’s management team.
Yusra, you are moye serdtse, mere dil. I will be forever thankful for the undeserved honor of working alongside you this entire year.
Teymour, thank you for never letting me go back to the copy couch.
I look back at my time at The Herald and get lost in thinking about the amazing people I have met at this organization. Matt, Peyton and Lucas are three of them — and as they take over this ship next year, I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.
Yusra, Teymour and I are about to put this last issue to bed. To them, the staff that helped create it and the campus community that helped filled it with your truths — thank you.