The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 5th

Column: Goodbye for now

<p>Sonia Rao, assistant City &amp; State editor pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.&nbsp;</p>
Buy Photos Sonia Rao is The Daily Tar Heel's City & State editor.

I have to be honest. This year has been, without a doubt, the hardest of my life. My mental health has been at an all-time low. My grades have been awful. I’m tired and completely burned out. 

And being a student journalist during a pandemic was a big contributor. 

There were moments working for The Daily Tar Heel this year when I broke down and cried. There were moments when everything was too much, and I didn’t think I could do it. Too many sleepless nights, too much prioritizing work over everything else in my life. 

At some point in the past semester, I realized these feelings are not healthy. There’s a work culture at both the DTH and UNC where students romanticize getting no sleep and working so hard they forget what else brings them joy in life. That happened to me this year. 

So, I’m taking a break. Next year, I won’t be returning to the DTH office. I won’t even be returning to UNC. I’m disenrolling from the University and taking a gap year. 

I want to remember what it feels like to be a person first, not a student or a journalist. I’m going to spend my gap year traveling (COVID-19 permitting), volunteering and very consciously not thinking about journalism. 

I’m lucky enough to have received a scholarship through UNC’s Campus Y (shoutout Global Gap Year Fellowship) to fund this. I know that taking a gap year is not a feasible or realistic option for many students. 

But, if you’re reading this, I’m encouraging you to take a break.

A few “wellness days” this semester was not enough time to recover from the deep emotional toll of living through a pandemic. People are worried about their own health and that of their loved ones, on top of the increased stress, anxiety and burnout that remote classes and isolation have caused for college students. 

I promise you don’t have to make perfect grades, have an internship every summer or drown yourself in work to be accomplished. Sometimes, just existing is enough. 

I do have to acknowledge, working at the DTH hasn’t been all bad. I’m so proud of the work my peers have done this semester. 

The DTH is where I gained confidence and learned that I could accomplish things I didn’t think I was capable of. It’s where I met some of my greatest mentors, role models and friends (Anna, Kayleigh, Brittany, Henry, Maddie, Praveena, Maeve, Brandon, Will, Paige, etc., I’m looking at all of you). 

It’s where I started to believe, hey, maybe I can actually do this journalism thing as a full-time career one day. But that day is not today. 

I don’t know if I’m going to come back to the DTH office yet. In addition to a sometimes-toxic work culture, the DTH, as a predominantly white and privileged newsroom, doesn’t put communities of color first. I’ve felt disappointed at decisions the paper has made, stories we’ve written and microaggressions I’ve experienced in the office. 

If I do come back, it’ll be to help change this newsroom for the better. But I guess part of the beauty of taking time off is that I don’t have to know what comes next just quite yet. 

For now, I’m going to leave all of you with a quote from what I strongly believe is the best piece of literature of all time – "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" book five, ”The Last Olympian”, by Rick Riordan:

“For once, I didn’t look back.” 

@sonjarao

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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