If you’ve never been to The Badger Herald office, here’s what you need to know — it’s a piece of shit.

The lights constantly flicker, questionable stains cover the ceiling, there are several holes in several walls, the couch sheds on you, our mascot is a life-size cutout of Anchorman wearing the most unsettling Edgar Allen Poe mask anyone has ever seen, the fridge is stained with beer and on one of the desks sits an unopened Fresca that’s at least ten years old that came out of our broken vending machine. It’s gross.

So, as I constantly ask myself, how did it become my second home?

My career at The Badger Herald has been a constant set of rude reckonings. I came into college my freshman year with a meticulously-crafted vision of my future — I was going to work hard, get all As in my bio major and one day become a scientist. I joined The Herald as a news reporter because writing was a hobby, nothing more. I accepted the promotion to associate editor because I liked it, and I needed an extra-curricular to look well-rounded for grad school anyways.

Until one day, writing wasn’t a hobby anymore. That first November of my freshman year, I was covering an expert panel on Indigenous issues on campus and then I was crying in the Memorial Union bathroom because our university hurts so many students so badly through their inaction sometimes, and as a news editor for the fully independent student paper, it was my responsibility to do what I could to hold them accountable. Writing turned from a hobby to a necessity, an itch buried in the back of my skull that I had to scratch at.

The Herald forced me to reckon with myself, reckon with what I love to do and reflect on whether or not I was actually staying true to myself while spending so much time pursuing the truth. The Herald taught me the value of transparency, and it compelled me never to become someone I’m not.

Working for The Herald isn’t easy. It’s all late nights and sprinting to ASM meetings and cold-calling sources and trying to ignore the twelve unopened slacks from your co-editor and waiting for WordPress to load and agonizing over a feature and writing up breaking news when you’re supposed to be listening in class. It’s hard and often unforgivable. This year, especially, has been so suffocatingly lonely.

But when it’s not a global pandemic, working for The Herald is as thrilling as it is hard. Because when you’re not trying to wrangle your sources or field pitches or scroll through half-redacted records requests, it’s hanging out in the office with people you know a little too well. It’s Audrey yelling at Katie about semicolons and Erin throwing ping pong balls at Harrison and everyone reminding Shayde that no, Plaza’s still not open on Mondays. It’s filming TikToks with Keagan and Arushi and whining about midterms and playing flip cup in the nasty conference room once production’s done — someone accidentally knocks one of the awards off the wall and someone else asks where the hole in the wall’s from again and someone else is giggling about a hot new sports writer.

It’s doing cartwheels down the hallway and drawing the “drink if you’re on the Board” circle a little too wide on the pizza box and the sound of thirty bottles of champagne popping one after another at the end of the semester. It’s room-temp Hamms and someone twerking on the Editor-in-Chief desk and John wrestling aux away from Harrison so that he doesn’t play Glass Animals for the fifth song in a row.

It’s Nuha telling everyone how she’s from NYC and Ahmad showing off his incredible photos and you accidentally getting lime White Claw on your brand new Herald White Claw sweatshirt at the softball game against the Daily Cardinal. It’s Arushi trying to convince Patrick that we should start reviewing sex toys in Banter and Molly telling everyone to go get free vegetables on Sunday and another “we’re better than The Cardinal” slack in #squad.

It’s standing in an insufferably long line outside Plaza and trying to decide if it’s worth it to get “69” tattoos — for 1969, the year the Herald was founded, of course — and it’s a cacophony of yelling while trying to figure out what kind of pizza to get on election night. It’s a million little moments that make The Herald home.

And sure, it’s just a student paper, it’s supposed to just be a hobby or a resume-booster, but there’s a reason every BH alum has a million stories about their glory days as a student journalist. The Herald office may be a piece of shit, but the people you work with and the work you do together keep you coming back in every week. And even if this year was exceptionally hard, I’m so eternally grateful to everyone who has worked so tirelessly through the most absurd and traumatizing current events to keep this experiment going, 52 years and counting.

To my teammates, and to the ones we’re passing the torch to.

Harrison. You broke barriers this year, as the first pandemic EiC for The Herald. You are everything I’m not — organized where I’m scatterbrained, charismatic where I’m introverted. You’re a natural leader, and I believe you’ve made The Herald home for the next generation, in a year where that’s felt impossible.

Molly, we ran digital news together in 2019, with the scrappiest shoestring team I’ve ever worked with. We covered protests together all through summer 2020, through one of the most devastating and exhausting times any of us have seen. We’ve been through the ringer together, and your commitment to fair, equitable journalism is continually inspirational to me.

Erin. After Molly, Nuha and I interviewed you for news associate that snowy winter day in Fair Trade, I turned to the others and said “she’s going to be EiC one day.” Guess what? I was right. Was anyone surprised? Your maturity, well-spokenness and commitment to independent journalism even as a freshman have deeply inspired me since day one, as much as it’s reminded me of myself when I was a starry-eyed underclassman looking to make a change. Your journalistic compass is spot on and there’s nobody else I trust more to lead this experiment through another year. You, Arushi and Savannah are the kind of people that make me so incredibly proud to call myself a Heralder, and I know you’re going to do great things.

Arushi. Your commitment to journalism is absolutely tireless. You will not let a story die or the university rest, and it’s that dogged commitment to accountability and investigation that is so rare yet so incredibly valuable these days. You push every single person on staff to be better every single day, and your commitment to social justice, antiracism and equity journalism is exactly what every paper needs. I’m deeply thankful for your work, and I know you’re going to lead the Herald to new places next year — but please also remember to sleep and don’t overdose on caffeine :very-fast-party-parrot:

Savannah. I’m so glad I introduced you to The Herald, inspired you to write one news piece, which turned into ten, then fifty, then a hundred and a thrilling byline contest with Erin. We joke about our inability to say no to writing an article, but without your work and your skills wrangling our news team, pushing them to new heights, we’d be in a worse place. This pandemic has been hard, but you’ve led the news team through it like a champ, and I can’t wait to see what you do as Managing Editor.

I’m not leaving-leaving the University of Wisconsin (grad school gang), so this might not be the last piece I write for BH, and I’ll definitely be in the office again, maybe just to cause problems. It’s hard for me to imagine attending UW without the constant presence of The Herald, without the shitty office, the hard work of our staff and the ridiculous antics that make it all more than worth it. But I know the skills I’ve developed and the million memories I have will stay with me forever.

One last time, #BHforlyfe.