For someone who is arguably the loudest and most obnoxiously talkative person on The Massachusetts Daily Collegian staff, I am at a loss for words. I’ve never been good with goodbyes; they’re too painful, particularly when I’m saying goodbye to a group of people and a place that I have made my home for almost five years at the University of Massachusetts. So, here I am, sitting in my favorite local café, Share Coffee, fighting a stream of tears from rolling down my cheeks while attempting to ignore the twisting knot of sadness in the pit of my stomach because I know that this is a goodbye I can’t avoid. The Collegian has been everything to me – it is the epitome of my college experience – and I must let it go.
I still recall the first time I walked into the newsroom: I witnessed a decrepit pit of an office located in the basement of the Campus Center but yet, it was simultaneously cozy and loved by the folks who made it their own. Despite the office’s ugliness, the people within it made it come alive with joy, laughter and late nights filled with hard work. I remember the string of past sports head editors who sang to show tunes and Demi Lovato songs, and I remember basketball games and spring softball matches with WMUA. I remember stupid but hysterical inside jokes that we all know will last a lifetime (mostly because I will never let some people live them down), I remember arguments and reunions and so much more. Every year has been unique and my experience at the Collegian has been filled with immense change.
When I began my career at the Collegian, I was an assistant graphics editor. Years ago, the graphics section was a tight-knit group of guys who pulled me into their family and introduced me to the many wonderful people of the Collegian. Looking back, I still miss those nights arguing with James Desjardin and Cory Willey over Jurassic World, long conversations with Madeleine Jackman and Jackson Maxwell and giving Ross Gienieczko a hard time over which graphic to attach to his article for the night. I appreciate Mark Chiarelli for always taking time to ask me about my day, Matt Vautour for being a rock I can rely on and more. I could go on forever. If I were to write all of them down, I could fill a whole novel with the amount of treasured memories I’ve made throughout my time at the Collegian. But that wouldn’t be appropriate given the fact that I have become the head photo editor. Yes, I left my precious graphics team in order to pursue photojournalism.
Caroline O'Connor, far right, as the head photo editor the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, sitting to two of her assistant photo editors, Alvin Buyinza, left, and Jón Asgeirsson, center.
I fell in love with photography when I began to photograph my paintings and I knew I wanted to take my skills to the next level. However, I didn’t know then that joining the photo section would change my life as much as it did. At first, I was only photographing news events but eventually, I was given a sports event to cover – a UMass football game at McGuirk Stadium. I was mutually curious and clueless about how to photograph such an event, but as soon as I was on the field, I felt an exciting adrenaline rush send a thrill through me. At that moment, photographing my first game, I knew I found something that felt right. However, tragedy hit my family and sports photography became an even more important part of my life.
When I was in high school, my uncle passed away from pancreatic cancer after a long battle and my beloved grandfather died suddenly on New Year’s Day in the same year. My cousin Kyle was broken. In fact, that whole side of my family was after the passing of two family members. Kyle played in many competitive hockey leagues during my family’s tragedy, and my mother and I turned to hockey games in order to ease some of the pain. We would attend my cousin’s hockey games together and cheer him on. Hockey became something more than a sport for me – it was something that healed me. So, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was in college, I knew I wanted hockey to be something I photographed. I needed it.
The year I started, the team was horrendous. They only won five games that season. It was like the team reflected how miserable I was during that time when my mother was going through chemotherapy treatments. Time went on and I would photograph a single hockey game or weekend series and then drive three hours home afterward in order to be with my mother. Slowly, the team improved significantly, and so have I. My mother is in remission now and life has gotten largely better too. Hockey is not the reason those things have happened for me, but I still give the sport a lot of credit. It healed and saved me in a very indirect way, and I can’t thank UMass hockey enough. The people that work there, including the UMass hockey staff and the sports beat writers that I attend almost every game with, have become close friends and family.
Caroline O'Connor photographing a UMass hockey game next to one of four photo holes cut out of the rink's glass.
Tonight, Dec. 11, 2018, may be the last night I photograph a UMass hockey game, and it is also my last night at the Collegian. The fact that the two have overlapped with each other seems symbolic to me. I’m not ready for the end, but I know that it is near and this is goodbye. But the one beautiful thing about photography is that I will always have the photos to look back on, as those will permanently preserve the precious memories for me. Life will go on, I will leave the Collegian and UMass hockey, but the experiences will remain frozen in an image. To the Collegian: Thank you for being my family, I love you! To UMass hockey: Thank you for healing me, I will hold onto that forever.
Caroline O’Connor was the Collegian photo editor and can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for future reference.