ZOROMSKI: Four years later


Mark Zoromski (right) and a group of Marquette Wire students at the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame Dinner in November 2019. Top row: Matthew Martinez, John Steppe, Kennedy Coleman, Bridget Fogarty, Mark Zoromski Bottom row: Natallie St. Onge, Jenny Whidden, Chelsea Johanning, Sydney Czyzon Photo courtesy of the MPC.

As I look out from my Johnston Hall office on this dreary day, I’m hit with a profound sadness.

Profound sadness. Two words I have refused put together since 2007. Losing a 16-year-old daughter, that’s profound sadness. Nothing can compare, so in my mind those two words can’t possibly go together for anything else.

Yet here I am, staring out the window, and it’s the only way I can describe this feeling. A tinge of sadness for me, to be sure. But profound sadness for the remarkable young woman crossing the desolate Wisconsin Avenue, both arms wrapped around a large box, headed for the only car parked on the northbound side of 12th Avenue.

Her entire year is in that box. Four years, no doubt, are in her heart as she walks away from Johnston Hall for the last time in the most unceremonious way imaginable. No cap nor gown, no final all-staff meeting, no joyous end-of-the-year banquet. No goodbyes, no hugs, no cheers, no celebration. Just an empty crosswalk leading to an uncertain tomorrow.

I can’t see if she’s crying, but I am.

Sydney Czyzon deserves better than this. All our seniors do.

Right now, my heart weeps for Syd. Next, it will be for Mackane Vogel, general manager of our radio station, when he comes to gather his personal belongings from the student media offices. After him, it’s Jenny Whidden, managing editor of the Marquette Tribune.

They’ll pack their boxes, then as I use disinfecting wipes on everything we touched, they’ll unceremoniously walk away from Johnston Hall.

I look at Sydney’s now-empty office next to mine, then take a few steps to gaze at the empty newsroom.

It’s lifeless and sterile and surreal.

But suddenly the newsroom leaps to life in my mind’s eye, with editors, reporters, copy editors and broadcasters everywhere. The bustling group, led by a handful of talented seniors, is working on deadline.

I see Jenny, an extraordinary journalist, huddling with chief designer Chelsea Johanning, a political science major with a talent for just about everything we do in student media. They’re brainstorming layout ideas for the Tribune. Every Monday I think they can’t possibly top last week, but they always do.

There’s copy chief Emma Brauer, patiently explaining that people are tested for the presence of the coronavirus, not COVID-19, which is the illness the virus causes. She reminds her staff that as an organization, we’ve decided to use the term “first-year student” rather than “freshman,” for reasons obvious to us but oblivious to others.

Kindhearted MUTV general manager Kennedy Coleman walks briskly through the newsroom, on her way to the control room to talk with Sam Lee, who will use his talent to direct tonight’s live television show. They’re both once again ready to expertly and calmly guide us through breaking news.

Partially hidden in the corner is projects editor Matthew Harte, nicknamed “Lil Harte” because when he was a first-year his big sister Stephanie was editor of the Marquette Journal. He’s meeting with national award-winning investigative reporter Martz Martinez, secretly discussing their latest projects desk piece.

To my left, Annie Dysart and the opinions desk are going through this week’s staff editorial with a fine-toothed comb. I remember the first thing I said to the editorial board four years ago: “I will defend your editorials to my last breathe, but promise me that they will be meticulously researched.” Promise kept.

Skylar Daley gathers the arts and entertainment team to look at her design of the Tribune’s entertainment pages. Mackane, Alec Fischer and Caitlyn Birmingham are headed to the radio studio to train another volunteer DJ, one of hundreds they’ve trained in the past year.

Sydney Czyzon is nowhere in sight, yet I see her everywhere. I see her leading our organization by clearly articulating her vision and passionately driving it to completion. I see her commanding attention and admiration by speaking her mind quietly, respectfully and directly. I see her developing a plan to increase minority representation in our organization and leading us through the process of writing a comprehensive code of ethics. I see her carefully creating a culture of excellence accomplished through kindness, inclusiveness, hard work and dedication.

I see 80 — yes 80 — national, regional, state and local awards this year. 285 awards in our four years together.

I see journalism majors, anthropology majors, math majors, digital media majors, electrical engineering majors. 20 majors in all. A cross section of campus dedicated to making the Marquette Wire the best it can be.

But mostly I see resilience. Resilience to continue important reporting in unprecedented times, despite being scattered across the country rather than in our newsroom. Resilience to continue publishing the Tribune and Journal online. Resilience to produce audio and video stories with nothing more than a cell phone.

And most of all, resilience to overcome the disappointment of rescinded job offers, canceled internships and unceremonious Johnston Hall exits rather than triumphant stage walks.

Seniors, you deserve better than this. But know that your resilience is inspiring, your grace uplifting, your dedication energizing. I am forever grateful that God brought us together.

This story was written by Mark Zoromski. He can be reached at mark.zoromski@marquette.edu.