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In Conclusion…

by Heather Berzak

Sitting in the run-down basement of what used to be the “School of Communication and Media” as a wide-eyed freshman, I learned about what being a journalist meant from Professor Tara George and instantly had a gut feeling that it was for me.

What took me four months longer to learn, was that she would become my gateway into an organization that guided me through the highs and lows of a profession I had come to fall in love with, The Montclarion.

From my first article being published in the spring of 2017, to shyly showing up overdressed to The Montclarion’s banquet that year, I instantly felt like I I belonged there. That fall I met Christina Urban, the news editor at the time, and we clicked immediately. She showed me the ropes of how to copy edit, manage writers, develop pitches and deal with crisis situations.

My first Montclarion banquet in the spring of 2017. Photo courtesy of Heather Berzak

The first Montclarion banquet I attended in the spring of 2017.
Heather Berzak | The Montclarion

Writing articles soon became second nature, and I found myself bouncing all around campus to make sure I was reporting stories as straightforward as possible, as well as knowing the ins and outs of the copy-editing process.

In the fall of 2018, after a year of training as an assistant, I became a co-news editor, and eventually, as my co-pilot graduated and passed the gavel, the news editor of the organization that spring. It was here that I did my fair share of thinking on my feet, problem-solving, investigating and developing real genuine connections with the staff on my own, along with my confidence only getting stronger.

Strong enough to where former Editor-in-Chief Haley Wells trusted me with her position for the fall of 2019, and I vowed to her that I’d keep the bar she set in leadership, New Jersey Press Foundation (NJPF) awards and overall journalistic integrity high.

Here I was, a senior in college, now at the top of the organization I had joined as just a nervous little freshman just a short 2 1/2 years ago. I knew it would be a huge responsibility, and I had my reservations at first, but it was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my college career.

Throughout one short academic year as editor-in-chief, I’ve been able to develop meaningful connections in one way or another with every member of the Montclarion staff. From our in-office pizza parties, early morning critique meetings to our memorable trip to Washington D.C. in November.

The Montclarion staff still made my 22nd birthday special with a little celebration on our Washington D.C. convention trip. Heather Berzak | The Montclarion

The Montclarion staff still made my 22nd birthday special with a little celebration on our Washington D.C. convention trip.
Heather Berzak | The Montclarion

On that trip, my birthday was the second to last day we were there, and my staff threw me a tiny birthday celebration in our hotel’s dining room with a card signed by everyone, a tiny cupcake and tiny macaroons – in skinny fashion of course. Even in D.C., they made it happen, and that’s the true definition of a family, one that lasts a lifetime.

We made sure for everyone’s birthday to make each member of the staff feel a little special, and even in the midst of everyone’s chaotic lives, there was a special place for everyone in the tiny office, where we shared laughs, tears, heart-to-heart conversations and even sleepovers in (Ben).

For the last few months of being editor-in-chief, that tiny office was made even tinier, transferred to shared computer screens to be exact, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We knew we had a bond, but this was the ultimate test not just for me as a leader, but for my staff when it came to keeping The Montclarion afloat.

This time was and still is emotional for everyone, with each staff member facing their own personal battles during this ongoing situation (I wrote about these battles more in-depth in an op-ed for a class). There were scuffles, there were feelings of defeat and there were silent wars being fought quite often, but nonetheless, my staff delivered.

The Montclarion staff during a Zoom meeting that took place in lieu of an in-person meeting during the COVID-19 outbreak. Mackenzie Robertson | The Montclarion

The Montclarion staff during a Zoom meeting that took place in lieu of an in-person meeting during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mackenzie Robertson | The Montclarion

We became a central outlet for campus-related news during the outbreak, and as a team, we pushed out content whenever it was necessary. Faculty and administration looked our way as we stayed on top of the latest news while incorporating the student voices of our campus, something we know is crucial to our reporting.

We had to transition our new staff over via Zoom interviews and training, and our staff made sure it was an easy transition despite the lack of human interaction. I am nothing short of proud of how we handled one of the biggest moments in our lifetime, and I know the staff will continue to fulfill their duties.

*Whew* Well time for shoutouts. First off, I want to thank Christina Urban for taking me under her wing when I was a lost soul. She conditioned me to be the journalist I am today, and we still keep in touch, that bond is everlasting.

I want to also thank Haley Wells for trusting me with the biggest role at The Montclarion, and I hope she is proud of the work I’ve done and the staff has done to carry on her legacy.

To Tara George, my second mom, thank you for believing in me and keeping me so enthusiastic about being a journalist and being a part of The Montclarion throughout my entire collegiate career, I will always look to you as one of my first mentors.

My right-hand woman, Mackenzie Robertson, you have been my rock throughout this entire year. From picking up sweatshirts together to planning our D.C. trip to managing the COVID-19 outbreak coverage, you have been such a huge help and contributor to the success of our organization this year. Above that, you have been an ear, a voice and a sense of comfort and kindness to me in our toughest times and I consider you a friend of mine for life. I am so blessed The Montclarion gave me you, and I know you are going to do great things in the world.

To Adrianna Caraballo, thank you for taking on the biggest job of the COVID-19 coverage. You really stepped up this year, and this will serve you well as you continue to deliver important stories to the real world in our career.

To Alexa, Rebecca, Olivia and Adrian, you have been such amazing friends and coworkers, and I am so blessed to be sharing this graduation with all of you. You will do great things in your careers and in life and I look forward to rooting for you all.

To Jen Losos, I trust you with this big responsibility that will be coming your way. You have shown confidence, determination, personability and intelligence that will guide you throughout this new adventure, and I have no doubt you will kill it.

To Thomas Neira, I have no question you will make a great managing editor. So long as you make sure you both work as a dream team, because it will serve you both well as you tackle challenges and get to celebrate success throughout the next academic year.

The 2019-2020 Montclarion staff at our annual holiday party in Morehead Hall in December 2019. Photo courtesy of Anthony Gabbianelli

The 2019-2020 Montclarion staff at our annual holiday party in Morehead Hall in Dec. 2019.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Gabbianelli

To next year’s entire staff, it has been such an honor being your leader, and I look forward to seeing you all shine in your own special ways next year. You have all shown such wonderful growth and potential throughout the past year and I know that will only get stronger as you take on new and recurring editor roles.

This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a see you later. I live only 15 minutes away, and I will make sure to visit whenever I can. Good luck as you transition to this new chapter at The Montclarion, and this organization will always have a special place in my heart.

Oh yeah, and we won 10 NJPF awards this year… Pretty cool to know I was part of a team that did THAT. Do me a favor and make that number 11 or higher next year, I’m watching!

Skinny legend, out.

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