There should be a Schoolhouse Rock episode about how the Orient’s production night works. Without the help of a nifty jingle, I will not attempt to describe the full process, but rather set down here that it involves six rounds of edits, various photo and design checks and a weekly $50 snack budget. Around 30 people are in the Orient House for production at various points throughout the night, and when their jobs are completed, they go home. This generally takes between 11 and 15 hours and happens every Thursday beginning at 4 p.m. And yes, there are still errors in many editions.
Most of my friends know this, at least vaguely, because most of my friends are either on the Orient or have heard me yammer on about it. I have spent all four of my years at Bowdoin as a member of the Orient’s production team, with this last year as one of the paper’s two editors-in-chief.
For fear of allowing the rose-colored nostalgia to wash entirely over my experience, I will admit that it was not always easy. Two sets of editors-in-chief cajoled me out of quitting when I was prepared to do so, after the first Thursday night of my freshman year and then again the first Thursday night of my junior year. My strongest friendships have been made, but also put through the wringer, by the editorial process. Nevertheless, as the clock ticks closer to zero on The Best Four Years, it is clear that nothing has defined my Bowdoin experience more than this paper and the people who create it.
In certain ways, the Orient has been a typical Bowdoin extracurricular. Some highlights include meeting my first Bowdoin crush, seeing the physical manifestation of a collective’s hard work and making lifelong friends. But one decidedly unique aspect of the paper is how public it is—campus, and beyond, can see and judge our work. The Orient gets plenty of flack, and a significant amount of it is deserved. But every week, I have had the pleasure to be a part of a group of incredibly smart individuals who put their entire hearts and minds into the enterprise. We might take ourselves too seriously, but it’s hard not to care when we spend so much time with the newspaper.
I certainly get more upset by a lack of engagement with the paper than by anyone’s well-considered frustrations. On balance, the staff cares deeply about what it writes. Sometimes it’s clear we have made a real difference, and sometimes we wish our work affected more real change. I am mostly—but not entirely—joking when I suggest to the paper’s staff that we change our tagline from “the nation’s oldest continuously published college weekly” to “shouting into the void.”
So, I have spent plenty of time reflecting on the value and consequence of the newspaper. At every turn, though, the people with whom I’ve worked have buoyed me. It has been far and away the greatest honor of my young life to have had the opportunity to lead a group of smart, funny, generous individuals who have taught me so much.
If examined from the right angle, the Orient’s little house on 12 Cleaveland Street (complete with seven tiny rooms over two floors) looks like it might simply fall over at any moment. I first walked through the front door in the hopes that it might make Bowdoin—so overwhelming my first-year fall—feel somewhat smaller. I leave knowing how much bigger it has made my world. Inside the Orient House, I’ve both reported on and read about more experiences at Bowdoin and beyond than I can count. Now, my senior friends and I are starting to think a lot more about the beyond and whether we’re ready to leave the old brick buildings, the books or the utterly interwoven connections we’ve made here. I answer these questions mostly by thinking about the Orient articles I’ve read and the relationships I have made with alumni in our newsroom.
Graduation is frightening, not in the least because in leaving the Orient, I am leaving behind a neatly ordered part of my identity. It will be a challenge to find something so immediately meaningful. But, if Thursday evenings at the Orient House have taught me anything, it’s that after a long night, the sun always rises in the morning.
Calder McHugh is a member of the Class of 2019.