Our editor-in-chief Anying takes one final reflection and bow before she graduates
By Anying Guo
I don’t think I ever saw the end to my time at The Rival at American University. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that my tenure here would naturally finish alongside the four year degree I’ve funneled thousands of dollars into, but I did not anticipate that I would feel quite this sad or that my chest cavity might actually like collapse into itself.
In the spring of 2016, I joined The Rival when it was the rawest version of a newborn baby. The first semester of my freshman year was a time devoted to the fresh-faced excitement that comes with moving from small-town-that-can-only-claim-Arnold-Palmer-perhaps-banana-splits-Latrobe, Pennsylvania into the booming, never-ending excitement of residing in the nation’s capital. My time in classes was devoted to counting down the minutes until I could see my new friends again, my nights were devoted to finding 18+ clubs, frat invites, and making drunken peas + mac & cheese.
But when I entered second semester, I felt tired, unsure of the people around me and what I was doing at AU. I was barely a class and half in and I was already failing accounting and I began to lose a grip on what I liked doing and whether what brought me joy would bring me a career. The naivety and excitement that came with moving away from rural Pennsylvania had worn off — I needed to adapt, I needed to feel some sense of belonging at a university that lost its shiny new toy feeling to me.
It was maybe mid-January 2016 when I was walking home from TDR, a stomachache already starting to form. As I made the turn onto my floor, I saw business cards strewn down the middle of each hallway of Anderson 3N, one side emblazoned with “THE RIVAL” and a vague, edgy statement about alternative student media on the other. Because I was and am a Facebook fiend, I typed “THE RIVAL” into Zuckerberg’s goldmine of a search bar as soon as I got back to my dorm, one sweaty hand clutching the edge of the card while I buzzed with a new kind of excitement I hadn’t felt since Welcome Week.
I applied a week later and received an email from Hannah Mouyal and Joe Palekas, asking me to sign up for an interview slot on a Google spreadsheet. I nearly shit myself when I saw the amount of names already listed — there was no way they would let me, a freshman business major, into something that advertised itself in my mind as Buzzfeed But Better (and on YOUR college campus!).
I only knew that I wanted (actually, needed) to write about all the things I kept daydreaming about in my business classes (1989 winning Album of the Year over To Pimp A Butterfly? One Direction fracturing and dissuading notions of eternal boy bands? And much, much more). I tried to fit in all my passion and vision into that 15 minute interview and I think I might’ve freaked them out. But they took a chance on me and I bumbled into the first meeting with excitement and left with a tiny bloom of hope in my chest. I found friend crushes and family in a staff that was changing as much as me. I felt challenged and appreciated and most of all, I felt a sense of purpose at The Rival.
My first article was about recreating iconic celebrity looks with TDR finds, an endeavor (that did not age well) where I forced my freshman year roommate (turned life partner) to take pictures of me slapping ham onto my collarbones to mimic Lady Gaga’s meat dress. That was when I realized, this is it. I emailed my mother probably 1,500 words worth of reasons why I needed to be doing something communications related and included links to my published pieces, because this, this arguably inconsequential cultural analysis and critique that I found I had a knack for at this new thing called The Rival, was what I wanted to be doing.
That semester and the next, my editor Waz (who bequeathed the position of managing editor to me in a drunken haze in somebody’s basement home in a subtle but emotional, “It always had to be you”) refined the messes I sent her into something semi-palatable. With every new experience at The Rival, I found something new that I wanted to talk about. I wanted to write about the absurd, the shock, the mundane, the simple in a nuanced, engaging way. I wanted to tell people why awards shows shouldn’t be taken at face value and how they are actually an accurate depiction of the systemic cultural failures of Hollywood and the celebrity machine. I wanted people to cringe as they read my collection of sexy-time playlists. I wanted people to understand that you can critique the very institutions we are situated in, that you shouldn’t be afraid of doing that especially when there is clear harm being done.
The thrill and genuine ease I felt when I was a writer, then editor, and finally the Big Guy in Charge was a feeling I wanted to continually chase after and eventually settle down with. To have found that in college was more than I could have asked for, sating a deep-seated longing for a purpose I didn’t know I needed.
Four years later, I can still say the same thing. Since taking the role of managing editor (and more, if we’re being honest) in the spring of 2018 (two years after I first joined The Rival) I cannot be more proud or more sad to leave. I am so proud of this staff for consistently producing unbelievably creative and important content, for their devotion and love and laughter, and for holding me accountable too. These are the people that made me smile the most, have loved me the hardest, and are willing to accept me for all that I am.
What we do here is important. Independent, unaffiliated commentary and reporting, free from administrative BS and always through a unique and nuanced lens. We’ve done themed weeks, podcasts, investigative reporting — and there’s still so much to do. Above any kind of content creation though, The Rival is the connection you have with one another and the community you’re helping to cultivate. It’s shooting the shit with your friends and then listening, really listening, to them and understanding perspectives beyond your own. Without the people, where would we be? (Oh God, where would I be??)
I have changed and grown a lot since the baby freshman who first stepped foot on AU’s campus in August 2015. She was excited and scared but didn’t know how to be both at once. She wanted nothing more than to figure out a major that wasn’t business related and honestly, she also just really wanted her first kiss.
I wish I could tell her that to be scared of what’s to come is normal. What she loved to do would become quite clear (I mean, she always knew) and would be the centerpiece for the greatest experience of her college career. That four years later, she would be helping to publish and write pieces about this campus and the world beyond it with the funniest, most loyal, compassionate, and loving staff. I am so excited to see what this publication does next.