My graduation date is more than a year away, but I somehow feel lodged at a point of valediction.
And as is the case with most goodbyes, there's always some time for contemplation and a good laugh at who you used to be. And so that's me today as I write my last words for The Daily Beacon.
Today's been like that feeling on the eve of high school graduation, naively talking about the great big world out there and leaving some place more familiar behind.
That comfortable setting for me has been the Beacon since the day I set foot on this campus as a wide-eyed 18-year-old.
Two and a half years and more than 300 bylines later, I would like to dole out a sincere thank-you to the people around me, past and present, who have made my stay in the basement of the Communications Building what it's been.
Special thanks to a wonderful sports staff, Assistant Sports Editor Brad Shepard, former sports editors Bryan Mitchell and Josh Pate, Student Publications Director Jane Pope, and the people at the men's and women's Sports Information Department.
I also would like to thank Beacon columnist-turned-media critic Rob Huddleston for giving me something to rattle my mouth about on my way out the door.
I was informed by word of mouth about Huddleston's Monday column, which chided members of the local media - myself included - for picking against Tennessee in last week's game at Florida. While I won't defend my pick, chiefly because I explained rationale in a column that ran Tuesday, I would like to refute and set the record straight on another issue.
And that's journalistic objectivity.
I don't know Rob Huddleston, and Rob, I'm sure you're a real swell guy, but you really missed the boat on this one.
You said in your column Vols fans should "bleed orange and white 365 days a year." While I agree that fans ought to be loyal, that sense of fraternization should be left for the fans. We're journalists. We write. We inform people of the news, good and bad, in a timely and accurate fashion. That's our job, not to pull for the Vols.
If the media fell into a "natural" allegiance for a team, as you called it, I wonder if all news items would be reported. Or would writers start to turn their heads when racy or potentially negative stories surface? People need the facts without bias, and they'll read those facts in our newspapers. The group of people I work with on a day-to-day basis are dedicated to this very idea.
You also said that local writers should be ashamed for allowing the "competitive nature" of making predictions get in the way of "loyalty."
For some, the response to that is simple. Guys like Knoxville News-Sentinel Sports Editor John Adams and sports writer Mike Griffith, both of whom were mentioned in the column, didn't go to school at Tennessee.
Adams is an LSU alum; Griffith went to Michigan State. They don't give a flip about UT athletics; it doesn't even strike a chord with them.
For people like myself, who attend or graduated from UT, it's not so cut and dry. To be honest, I came to the university in '99 a card-carrying member of the Volunteers' fan base. I liked Tennessee. I always had. I always thought I would. Like Huddleston, I just didn't get it.
But somewhere in the middle of my sophomore year, it began to click. This is my job, I realized, these are just people.
That's a little secret people, especially in this area, tend to forget. The 70-plus guys decked out in orange and white on fall Saturdays? Yeah, those are people just like you and me. They're not gods, and they don't want to be. They're incredible athletes who just happen to remain fallible human beings, much like myself.
And my ability to err was shown last week when I picked Florida. I took the Gators because I thought they would win, not because I "didn't believe in the Vols" or anything like that. I am picking Tennessee this week in the Southeastern Conference Championship because I think they are going to win. It has nothing to do with me getting back on some sort of bandwagon; I think they're the better football team, at least this week.
My business is not to believe and root, it's to inform and occasionally, if not accidentally, entertain. My time at the Beacon has taught me that among so many other things.
I know who I am, and I can look back and laugh at that 18-year-old kid because I'm not him any more.
Bob Seger chimed into my thoughts today way back in 1976 when he sang, "There I go, turn the page."