As I write this final article as a student reporter, my page is empty, but somehow so full of reflection. The words, yet to be laid down, repeatedly turn over in my head. Writing is always drawn from insight and capability, but during times like these, words are a writer’s soul made with letters.
That’s what makes writing difficult. To look back on and fathom the journey from fall term’s tragedy to graduation is to pierce a scar. This is the last I will write on the subject and my last article for The Mainstream in general. That is tough to comprehend, difficult to agree with, but, above all, sad to consider.
The Mainstream paper has been the outlet of my emotion, my catharsis for the past. Without it, well, I doubt much healing would ever have occurred within me. Now, I can see that hated October day more clearly without being stricken by the knowledge that it happened, that my school was forever changed in the stroke of minutes. That day exists, we here wrote on it, we led a movement for information and progress, but we also have since begun to cauterize our wounds.
Words are a relief and have been the biggest detractor of pain for many. Whether we journal in private or speak to a counselor or friend, words are freedom from the negative emotions that weigh us down. No, the pain does not subside completely following a period of writing or a conversation, but none of us are the worse for expressing.
Research by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, of the University of Texas, Austin, shows that expressive writing (writing about trauma) has helped college students reduce pain medication and visits to health centers. Research done at the University of Chicago has found that students who write about their feelings and ideas before an exam score higher grades. That made The Mainstream my best outlet for emotional exercising. Although we here had to cover the events, and in the process perpetually reopen our closing wounds, in a way our goal was to heal long term. Every word tore a new gap in the heart, but it was through these gaps that our fury and pain was released and purged. However, freedom from trauma is never a straightforward path. “Recovery does not necessarily mean complete freedom from post-traumatic affects. Recovery is an individual experience and will be and look different for everyone. In general recovery is the ability to live in the present without being overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of the past,” the Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre explains.
Therapy helped others. Speaking to a counselor is just as much a conscious decision to heal as it is a series of psychological discussions. Trauma cannot sustain itself when feeding on live words; instead, it slowly decomposes until nothing but sadness is left or anger that it controlled you for so long.
Healing also comes through community support, and the community we experienced this year was exceptional. When the campus first reopened, a plethora of hugs, kind words and true empathy were given by everyone. Simple acts of kindness like the ones given those first few days were the base foundation for the campus’s healing. A hug given by a stranger had a rippling effect like a leaf atop still water.
Something deeply human was reflected in these interactions, as if all that was vile at the time morphed into an understanding that most people genuinely care for others.
The Roseburg community, and Douglas County as a whole, actively helped to enliven UCC’s spirit. Signs promising prayer and well-wishes, citizens rallying around us, the supporters lining College Road to welcome us back, the donors who continue to provide aid, they all still amaze me. Every day I see a “UCC Strong” sticker in someone’s rear window or see someone wearing a shirt with a message of solidarity. It is a small gesture, but a new world of hope forms from knowing that others care.
“Simple acts of kindness like the ones given those first few days were the base foundation for the campus’s healing. A hug given by a stranger had a rippling effect like a leaf atop still water.”
The embrace of our troubles spread farther than the reaches of Douglas County, too. The recovery dogs that came to campus were another simple gesture, but their effect is beyond description. Even if one student felt comforted in the embrace of the animals, and that helped them inch closer to normalcy, then their impact could never be understated.
Professors and students of the University of Oregon — once unknowns, now friends — supplied us with camera equipment and other commodities. And while I appreciate that to this day, what was better were their words of acknowledgment and support. The biggest school in Oregon cared for us, genuinely, and suddenly that imposing place and those imposing people were human.
Where I have seen the greatest impact, however, is among the UCC staff and student body. On Oct. 1, the UCC I knew disappeared, replaced with a residence of trepidation and grief. There were questions from us all on whether we would return to a place that reminded us of the greatest harm we had ever witnessed. The school and its denizens could have crumbled beneath the negative concept of their school, but they instead relied on the history and emotion of its previous 51 years as an educational establishment and returned. Without that struggle, growth would never have happened. People here have changed in a slow yet steady evolution, a process that should have been decades in the making, but took only a few months.
I changed. For a time, the world was a bit less purposeful, a bit less comedic, and I was at its center, frozen. Maybe that is a bit too much to say, but certainly my old way of living is gone.
Life has evolved. There are times when I look at this vast, beautiful campus or admire the river that saws the land around us down, and things are clarified. These were all here before, and tragedy did not burn the land or wilt the water. The world is not destined to be hated or pitied; what we first feel in ourselves we see in it, and only then does it change.
Melancholy is not the destiny of my world. I decided that after much deliberation and anxiety. Of course, I had my own heroes who helped me create that perception, and I call them that knowing their actions were not worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster or even a newspaper profile, but they affected me to seek change.
All it took were some words or a simple gesture. The actions seem so remedial, as if their simplicity makes them unworthy; there is nothing further from the truth. My mother, Tara Kness, and the rest of my family supported my endeavors, gave me counsel and never believed Oct. 1 was the end. My girlfriend, Jenica Lamoreaux, stayed by my side and helped prop me up while I did the same for her. And, of course, I was helped by The Mainstream staff, whom I’ve lived with and consider family, including adviser Melinda Benton, who has looked over and nurtured my writing to a respectable quality, Alicia Graves, who took over the role of editor and has kept this newspaper above ground, and the rest of the staff, my friends, whom I could speak freely with in a wide range of matters from the shooting to more lighthearted topics like the newest movies coming out. Without them, and without writing, I would not be the same man I am now.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
– Fred Rogers
Words are not enough to describe the change in me this year has brought, but they were enough to affect it. People have influenced me, and the bravery of each individual student and staff member who returned to UCC after Oct. 1 has inspired me. I hope, one day, that the school can look back on Oct. 1 and not see the tragedy that befell it, but instead see the long path of recovery and growth it excelled in. UCC deserves to be more than a memory of pain; it deserves to be known as the place that defeated it.