A Man, The Ram, and a Plan

I’m a little nervous posting this, considering that you could say I’ve been working on it for the last 25 years. Of course, even with that much lead time, I’m still up against the last minute. So I have consistency going for me, at least.

Set the Wayback Machine for 1993. I’m eagerly looking forward to the start of my freshman year at Fordham. One day I receive a stuffed manila envelope with a copy of the mammoth 75th anniversary issue of The Ram, one of Fordham’s campus newspapers and the one I’ve already set my sights on joining. Page after page is filled with recollections from former editors; fond remembrances of the stories they covered, the hours they worked, the setbacks they overcame, and the relationships they formed. I read the thing cover to cover, more than once. It looks like such a grand undertaking. I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Over that summer, I formed a plan. I would get to campus in the fall. I would start writing whatever I could. I would join the editorial staff as soon as they would have me. Someday, I would become editor-in-chief. And when 2018 rolled around, I would contribute to the 100th anniversary celebration.

Move In Day was a spectacular start to The Plan. My parents and I pulled up to my dorm, and orientation advisors began helping us move boxes up to my room on the third floor. As we walked back down the stairs, I realized I recognized one of the OAs as Tim Wood, the editor-in-chief who sent me that 75th anniversary issue. “Thanks for the help,” I think I said. “I’m going to write for you!” I definitely said.

That evening on Edwards Parade, the campus quad, I sat with a group of freshmen as we introduced ourselves an talked about our hopes for college. “I’m Dave,” I said. “I’m going to write for The Ram.” As luck would have it, one of the OAs leading our group was Dawn Yanek, then one of the features editors. Within a few days, I had my first assignment – write a somewhat-humorous take on my first week at Fordham. I had dreams of following in the footsteps of Dave Barry, so this was about as perfect a first assignment as I could want. It went well enough that the editors didn’t lose my number, and I kept writing throughout that semester, until it was time to follow The Plan and apply for the next year’s editorial board. Even though I had been writing in features, I was chosen as one of the news editors for Volume 76.

Ram Vol 76 Announcement

I gave this clipping to my dad after I made the editorial board.

And thus it came to pass that I became very familiar with how the campus looked shortly after dawn on a Thursday morning when I finally put my section to bed and stumbled home to catch a nap before class. (If the locks in my room worked, which they sometimes didn’t, but that’s a whole ‘nother story that I’ll save for a Finlay Hall commemoration.) It was a challenging year, as I learned to come to grips with the feeling of running just fast enough to keep from falling off the treadmill. Editing a section of The Ram is a labor of love, and sometimes there was a heck of a lot more labor than love. Not everyone who started that year on the staff stayed there, but as 1994 came to a close, my friend and classmate Jen Mussi and I decided to stick it out and apply for Volume 77’s executive board.

And this is where The Plan started to falter. Jen made it to the executive board. I didn’t – I got moved over to features for another year as a section editor. I was happy for Jen and resolved to put together the best section I could, but I could see the writing on the wall. Without any experience in the staff’s highest leadership positions, it would be darned hard to earn that editor-in-chief spot in a year’s time. Not impossible, but not likely, either. I had tried as hard as I could, put every fiber of my being into the effort, and barring an unforeseen chain of events, it wouldn’t be enough.

And thank heavens for that.

As features editor, I assigned myself that humor column I had always wanted to write. When the faculty advisor said the column needed a name so people would understand it was satire, I chose the snarky “Warning: This Is Not News.” (I was 19 at the time, so I’m forgiving myself some snark.) That title lives on in this site’s domain name. My partner and I built a staff that got together every week to brainstorm and enjoy each other’s company. It was a blast. I realized that even more than the bylines, I loved that experience of helping other people coax an idea into being and bounce it around. At the end of the year, I recruited a bunch of those writers to join the Volume 78 staff.

Ram file cabinet

I marked the cabinet with Volume 78’s issues. Still there in 2016.

As I had figured, Jen moved up to editor-in-chief spot. I became her right hand man as executive editor. Because this was 1996 and the musical that everyone was playing was Rent and not Hamilton, I couldn’t adopt that as my theme song. But we did write like we were running out of time . . . because we usually were. We sometimes had to report on significant tragedies on and around campus, and even a week between issues seemed like nowhere near enough. As I watched Jen lead us through those challenges I knew that we were both in the right place. I could make the final calls when I needed to . . . but I was at my best standing slightly off to the side lending support, asking questions, building on ideas, and being a sounding board.

I learned from that experience that I would need to find a career and a role that played to my strengths, not necessarily the one with the best-sounding title. When my time at The Ram and at Fordham was over, I was a bit adrift for a while. Eventually I went to grad school and became a teaching assistant. I still remember standing in the classroom as a particularly good discussion rolled along. I recognized a feeling I hadn’t really felt since helping to run brainstorming sessions at The Ram. Today, I teach high school students and I advise our student news club. The kids put together a website, not a paper . . . but the essence is the same.

Wedding picture

Pattie and I get married with Jen standing by.

Oh, and those features staff meetings? The ones with all the writers I recruited to the staff? One of them, Pattie Gillett, became a copy editor. We started dating at the start of my senior year. We just celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary. Jen was my best person at the wedding.

So yeah, maybe The Plan didn’t quite work out. Then again, what I really planned on was to be part of an institution with a long and proud history, to bond with the talented people who shared that journey with me, and to celebrate that institution as it continued long after I passed the baton to others.

Mission accomplished.

Happy anniversary, The Ram. Thanks for everything.