Farewell column: Nostalgia, ultra

I’ve been dreading this column for about two and a half years.

With only 16 days left in my time as an undergraduate, it is my unfortunate turn to continue the tradition of the “former sports editor’s gratuitously long, convoluted farewell column.” Combing through sentimentality has never been my strong suit, but considering the Daily Cal has been the only notable thing I have done during my time in college, donning this nostalgic mantle seems unavoidable.

So I’ll start from the top.

I’ll be honest. I set my sights on being editor by the spring of freshman year, my second semester at the sports desk. Blame it on a desire for power, my ego, Only Child Syndrome.

It was probably all three. But above all, I knew early on that the Daily Cal would become irreplaceable. By the time I left my very first interview with Michael and Sean  — finally exhaling and unclenching my fists as the nerves dissipated — I knew I had found my people.

I have religiously followed sports long before I knew what “religiously” meant. With a father who had spent most of his life playing baseball and soccer and who intended to teach his child everything he knew, my fate was secured long before I was born. I spent most of my formative years watching sports for hours and hours on end, consuming anything I could get my hands on. As my infatuation grew, so did the online community that obsessed over the same things I did. Where else would I find such riveting arguments about whether the NL should keep the DH or how the 49ers franchise could be salvaged from its mediocre ashes?

As I got older, that same community never appeared to emerge in real life. I never found the same brand of enthusiasm amongst my classmates. Any time I wanted to discuss free agent signings or offensive line play, I was left to scour ESPN to find anything interesting.

But as soon as I joined the Daily Cal, I finally realized that people who spent 60 percent of their waking hours watching, talking and analyzing sports like I did actually existed. I found a camaraderie at the sports desk that — for as niche as I dreaded it to be — was more engaging and brilliant than I realized it could be.

(Record scratch.)

Cut to fall of 2015, when my tumultuous tenure as sports editor began. Those feelings of comfort and camaraderie? Out the window and replaced with visions of inboxes never cleared. Turns out, a job that forces you to always be on-call, work anywhere between 60 to 70 hours a week and dictates that you sleep a maximum of about five hours a day gets under your skin very quickly. All that resentment of feeling “overworked” during my first two years of college paled in exhausting, relentless comparison to this.

I’m still trying to determine the most stressful day of that semester. It might have been during the very first week of the job, when production ended a touch after midnight and I had to spend the next eight hours writing a 1,500 word feature on a Cal football player. Oh, and then had to meander to Dwinelle to take a midterm, 50 percent conscious and 0 percent prepared.

It might have been that December, when I was en route to Texas to cover the Armed Forces Bowl, only to be stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for 13 excruciating hours. (Thank you, completely predictable Midwest weather!)

Yet somehow, as I write down each painful detail of my time as editor, I feeling nothing but gratitude. Sure, it’s over a full year later and my circadian rhythm is still trying to repair itself and seeing an Adobe InDesign icon still triggers flashbacks of 15-hour days. But somehow, that semester was incomparably the best time of my life. The unforgiving workload and general plummeting of my GPA was somehow entirely mitigated by everything I learned and every incredible friend I made. So with that, your graduating class of 20 — oh right, sorry. Not quite time for that yet.

Michael and Sean, thank you for the whole “hiring me” thing, I suppose. I never would have been half the writer or editor I was without the example and expertise you provided. Riley and Shannon, thank you for pushing me to turn my editorship into a reality and for always being willing to advise once it was.

To everyone I had a part in hiring that has stuck around long enough to read this column, I know I was equal parts strict and difficult to please, but I am infinitely proud of all of you and every byline you produce will always put a smile on my face.

My loveliest Alaina, you were a better, more tolerant assistant than I deserved. Thank you for accepting my often-short temper, my lack of patience and my demandingness, all of which must have made me impossible to work for but hopefully a serviceable editor. Hooman, I’ll never forget how we bonded over Grantland (R.I.P.) and plus-minus. Your friendship on and off the (field?) office has meant so much more to me than you’ll ever know.

To all the friends I’ve made here over time (you know who you are), despite the difficulties that have been woven into my college career, your company has given me an incalculable amount of laughter and joy (and now, sappiness).

This place has handed me some unforgettable moments during the last three and a half years, from covering a national championship to interviewing future NFL players. But in all honesty, it will always, always be the people that I remember most. I would say the 15-hour workdays were worth that at least, wouldn’t you?

Contact Michelle Lee at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @michelle_e_lee.