The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 26th

Farewell Column: Walking into the unknown

<p>Devon Johnson, opinion editor.&nbsp;</p>
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Devon Johnson, opinion editor. 

Editor's note: This column references instances of sexual assault, which may be triggering to some readers. 

It's incredibly difficult to write a farewell to The Daily Tar Heel, and to the University, when it seems like there is no definitive end to my college experience. 

Yesterday I went on a walk through the mostly-empty streets of Chapel Hill, part of which included my usual pre-COVID-19 walk to the DTH office along Rosemary Street. As I passed by the big blue mural overlooking the 'how long can I park here without paying before I get a ticket?' parking lot, I was surprised at the amount of longing I felt for my famously defective office chair at the Opinion desk.

As previous editors have mentioned in their own farewell columns, The Daily Tar Heel can be an unforgiving place to work, especially if you are a person of color. As one of only two Black editors, and one of the small handful of non-white people in the office at any given time, this reality was definitely part of my experience. 

This is not to say that my co-workers weren't kind, or that anyone was directly hostile toward me, but a work environment is more than the sum of its interpersonal interactions. There is a distinct feeling of discomfort when you are an "only," regardless of whether you feel this way due to your race, class, gender or sexuality. The sense of feeling like you are an out-group member among the people who are supposed to make up your in-group makes it hard to reach a true sense of belonging within an institution like The Daily Tar Heel.

I am grateful for the professional growth that my time at the DTH has afforded me, and for the friendships I have made, truly. But the twist in my gut that I feel whenever I think of the times when someone I work with has left The Daily Tar Heel because they felt unwelcome, or refused to apply in the first place, are what truly makes leaving so bittersweet.

This dissonance is representative of a lot of the feelings I've had as I come to the end of my time at UNC. Throughout the remainder of my walk, I passed places that unexpectedly ambushed me with memories that conjured even more complicated feelings. 

I walked past the house where I was outed at a party during my first year, the fraternities where too many friends of mine were sexually assaulted and the last place that I saw a dear friend before she unexpectedly passed away. 

In times like these, it's easy to only notice the ghost spots along our path; the heavy, painful memories that tend to come around more frequently on a cloudy day during quarantine.

But toward the end of my walk, I strolled past places where I met some of my dearest friends, learned my most important lessons and laughed so hard that I cried. I looked across Polk Place with an unimpeded view, imagined the smell of Linda's sweet potato tots and recalled countless heartfelt hugs, glasses of wine and sunset friend dates at Tru. I even tripped on a brick for old times' sake.

As we all leave this place and wander into an uncertain, intimidating future, I hope that we allow the tough memories to guide, but never impede, our paths. I hope that we always strive to do what's right, and continue to hold our communities and institutions accountable to the highest standards of justice. Finally, and on a lighter note, I hope that we get to have a graduation ceremony at some point, because that would be neat.

Stay safe, call your friends and go Heels.

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