A year ago when some of my friends graduated and moved on to a life outside of The Badger Herald’s ink-laden pages, I told myself I would do everything I could to avoid writing the same, sappy farewell column — whether it be about the freedom that words have given me as an outlet for my thoughts or the intense emotions that I felt during some of the Badgers highest peaks and lowest valleys.

Now one year later, I have decided that I will do both.

When I joined the Herald four years ago as a shy, awkward freshman, the first thing I remember about the newspaper was the dingy, dirty office that once hosted our nightly operations. At first I thought I had stumbled into the abandoned attic of Madhatter’s bar. But at the top of two flights of creaky stairs sat a wide-open space that would become my second home in Madison.

In that office, the Herald hosted some of the most intelligent students I had the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from in college. To be honest, at first it was intimidating. I wondered if I could ever have the same knowledge and expertise that they did.

But as I put in the time to learn the ins and outs of this field of employment that so interested me — and made numerous mistakes, including a major fact error in my first story — I developed a new confidence and found my voice on a campus of thousands of college students.

When I look back, it’s only fitting that my own progression mirrors that of the first beat I covered: men’s soccer.

When I first stepped onto the field to interview the men’s soccer team, butterflies and nerves dominated my end of the conversation — probably not helped by current head coach, John Trask, who can be intimidating to say the least.

And yet, as I began the long trek from the University Bay practice field back to my sophomore home on campus after I was finished, I immediately pulled out my phone to call my mom, so that I could gush about how exciting the entire process had been.

For the first time I had the inside scoop, and I was hooked.

During those two years spent getting to know the intimate details of that team, we both experienced countless highs and lows. After all, we were both nobodies, still with everything to prove.

But they stuck with it and kept improving, as did I.

This fall, the Badgers went on to their best season in years and a NCAA tournament appearance to boot. While I had graduated on to bigger and better things covering the football team, I got one last chance to go back to where it all began and cover their first postseason game against UW-Milwaukee at the McClimon Soccer Complex.

That moment when the final whistle blew and UW had clinched a 1-0 victory is probably the one sports moment I will remember more than any other from college — more than the privilege of each football game I covered, or even being in Madison for Wisconsin’s impressive run to the Final Four last month.

It brought my young career full circle, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending to their college story or my own.

In my brief time writing for The Badger Herald, I had the privilege of narrating one of the best golden ages in UW athletics — whether it be the men’s cross-country national title, three football Rose Bowl appearances or countless NCAA tournament appearances for many of the other programs. I can only hope that I did each one of those stories justice.

Now even though I move on and take my ideas and words to a new city — where a new set of mistakes and learning opportunities lie in wait — I will never forget where my passion for language blossomed.

Until we meet again, Madison. Thanks for everything.

Nick is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. He’s heading to Houston in June to begin that next stage of life that apparently comes after you finish 16-plus years of school. If you want to want to stay in touch or share any final thoughts with him, shoot him a tweet @np_daniels.

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