CZYZON: Gaining confidence along the way

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Sydney Czyzon (center) and Wire staff look over the Arts & Entertainment section of the Tribune.

This moment is surreal.

I spent four years working for this. I knew it was coming. But there’s no amount of advance notice that can prepare someone for the myriad of goodbyes that accompany graduation.

These are not normal circumstances. A pandemic took away final hugs, group pictures and senior traditions. It claimed would-be conversations between reminiscing friends. It demanded constant attention, shocking the world with devastating stories of death and despair.

The second floor of Johnston Hall sits empty. The places where bodies once sat late into the night are now vacant. The excitement and passion in the air, previously filling our newsroom, is now splintered among bedrooms in hometowns.

With hardship comes lessons. This unexpected transition leaves me with a deep sense of gratitude for the relationships, spaces and experiences that form my identity, many of which I found at the Marquette Wire.

My time in student media started with a mixture of insecurity and ambition. Like many first-year students, I was intimidated and shy. I dipped my feet into the water with copy editing, timidly admiring then-senior students who commanded the newsroom. I wanted to be a leader. I yearned to become a good journalist who could mentor others to success.

I wasn’t sure anyone else saw my potential. And if they didn’t, it wasn’t their fault. I didn’t advocate for myself. I just worked hard and hoped someone would notice.

It was November of my sophomore year when I met with Mark Zoromski, director of student media and my academic adviser. I emailed him for help getting into a class. Even though I couldn’t get into the course, Mark told me to stop by his office anyway.

I wandered around the basement of Johnston, where the newsroom used to reside. I found Mark’s office and walked in. He asked about my plans for the next semester. I told him I was applying to be an assistant news editor. He continued to ask thoughtful questions and listen intently. I could sense his authenticity and caring nature.

I listened as Mark reassured me of my potential. Mark told me if I continued working hard, he could envision me as executive director of the Marquette Wire one day.

I left that meeting with the biggest smile on my face, texting my roommate as I hurriedly walked across the bridge to Straz Tower. I couldn’t wait to tell her all about it. The position was my dream, and suddenly I had someone who believed in my ability to achieve it.

That conversation changed my life. It impacted the way I encourage others. It revealed the importance of telling people they are capable.

I earned that assistant editor job, working alongside Jenny Whidden, who lived next door to me in Straz Tower when we were first-year students. We became known for our late-night giggles in the basement newsroom, giddy to be part of the action. We gave one another courage. Sometimes, one of us needed a push to ask a manager about a story edit. Other times, we needed a nudge to speak up about a headline that could improve.

With time, we gained confidence. Jenny traveled to Spain to study abroad. I applied to be managing editor of the Marquette Tribune.

I got the position. I cried. I was given a platform to make change, lead peers and spearhead stories that would make a difference. It was everything to me.

My Mondays consisted of coffee runs, printer noises, newspaper pages and silly moments with editors when our brains strained to keep working.

But to me, the most fulfilling moment was March 26, 2019 — the day Left Behind published. I had worked for hours behind the scenes with editor Matthew Martinez. I knew the story was deeply moving. It would unveil the physical discipline used by an academic adviser on a student, Walter Spence, who later died by suicide.

During that semester, I applied to be executive director of the Marquette Wire, longing to expand my newfound skills and leadership abilities. I envisioned a welcoming culture that valued compassion over raw talent. I planned to set expectations that would advance our credibility. 

When I earned the position, again, tears fell. My efforts were validated. The hiring board trusted that I would foster success at the Marquette Wire.

A year later, I hope I’ve done that.

Student journalists deserve the same respect as professional journalists. Independent student media serves the essential function of holding officials accountable, shedding light on issues that matter and enabling voices to be heard.

To my fellow Wire staff members, thank you. Continue pursuing your visions. Don’t doubt yourselves. Be kind to one another. Cherish every story. Listen to people. Explore your interests. Above all, remember the reason for your work.

To our readers, listeners and viewers, stay with us. There are greater things to come.

This story was written by Sydney Czyzon. She can be reached at sydney.czyzon@marquette.edu.