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Thanks for the rainbows

| Friday, May 13, 2022

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder last month. I start with that not for the shock factor or for the sympathy, but because I can’t imagine another way to begin. Whether I like it or not, my experience with mental illness has colored my college experience in innumerable ways. 

This was especially true my senior year. Before I sought out support and treatment, my untreated depression was almost debilitating. I was failing classes. I stopped participating in clubs and extracurriculars. I failed to communicate with friends and family for months, choosing to spend most of my days alone in bed. At some point this past semester, I can confidently say I was at the lowest point in my life.

I know my experience isn’t unique — in fact, there are probably hundreds of students walking across the Commencement stage this weekend that can relate to my experience. And I’m proud of every single one of us. 

My personal hero and confirmation saint Dolly Parton said it best: “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” Everything you’ve read thus far has just been describing the rain — now let me tell you about the rainbow.

Although I didn’t join The Observer until my sophomore year and didn’t become truly involved until my junior year, I can say with full confidence that this newspaper was the single best part of my college experience. When I felt alone, The Observer’s sizable and ever-talented staff reminded me of all the people that will always have my back. When I felt disillusioned with the college experience and the Notre Dame community, my friends’ stellar and inspiring reporting reminded me of all the good on our campus. When I felt useless, my own stories in the paper helped me to remember that my words have an impact.

It’s embarrassing to say, but at the worst of my depression, I had a number of “nothing weeks.” All week, for multiple weeks, I would skip all my classes. I wouldn’t get any schoolwork done. My interactions with friends were close to nonexistent. 

But it was never quite nothing. Every week, I had at least one shift as the head editor in The Observer’s office, facilitating the production of our tri-weekly print edition. Once a week, I was in charge of putting the paper together and sending it down to our printing company. Once a week, my absence would mean empty newsstands all across campus.

So even in my nothing weeks, I went. And some weeks, those shifts were the only thing that got me out of bed. When I became The Observer’s Managing Editor in March of last year, I committed to something much larger than myself — and despite the intensity of the job, that commitment kept me going. I might have lost faith in myself this year, but The Observer never lost faith in me. 

It seems like hyperbole to say that spending one night a week in the dark basement of South Dining Hall saved my life this semester, but it might just be the truth. After a long night of production, seeing the paper in our newsstands was enough to help me keep pushing forward.

But the heart of my Observer experience has always been the humans behind the paper. I could write a novel detailing my love for the dozens of writers and staffers I’ve had the honor of knowing during my time here, but I want to dedicate this column to four of my best friends and fellow graduates: our former Editor-in-Chief Adriana “Adri” Perez and our former Assistant Managing Editors Colin Capece, Nelisha Silva and Isabella “Issy” Volmert. 

It’s difficult to describe the scope of what these four have done for me over the last year, so I’ll just tell you all the reasons why I love each of them. 

Adri is probably the bravest person I know. She’s insanely smart and is never afraid to speak up when she needs to. She feels very deeply, and she uses this to her advantage. She is empathetic to her core. She remained a successful and dedicated leader throughout a turbulent news cycle, and she has a knack for making every single person in a room feel valued. She cares immensely about her friends. I can’t count the number of times she’s checked in on me during hard times and brightened some of my worst days. She taught me how to be a better journalist, a better friend and a better human being.

Colin has one of the kindest hearts I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t talk much at first, but that’s only because he cares deeply about saying the right things. He’s a spectacular listener. He’s incredibly patient, too — I can remember at least two very late nights in the office when he needed to wait on me to finish my work before he could leave, and not once did he complain or make me feel guilty. For all the stupid sports questions we’ve asked him, he’s never talked down to us. He’s always willing to share his encyclopedic knowledge with a smile. 

Nelisha is one of the most interesting people I know. She knows so much about so many things, and I could listen to her talk for hours. She has the most contagious laugh. She’s often the first person I go to when I find myself in a sticky situation, and in our faux-therapy sessions she always provides the perfect amounts of advice, affirmation and tough love. She’s really fun to dance with. Some people say she’s intimidating, but I think she’s one of the easiest people to talk to. As a result, I bare my soul to her on the regular — and never does she judge me (even when she probably should). 

Issy’s drive has inspired me from the very beginning. On top of The Observer, she worked a campus job and participated in band, all while excelling at academics and still managing to be a dedicated and dependable friend. She’s got an ever-caring heart and a strong will. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to seek it out by any means necessary. She’s effortlessly funny. Her journalism is brave and bold. She’s incredibly emotionally intelligent, and she always knows the right thing to say. She knows how to have fun. She inspires me to be a better person.

At the risk of running this metaphor to the ground, these four people have been a huge, beautiful rainbow in the midst of a year of rain. It would be disingenuous to dedicate this column to anyone else but them, because they are wholly responsible for making my senior year special. I truly can’t express the scope of my gratitude. 

Thanks for the rainbows, friends. I’m gonna miss you.

Evan is graduating with degrees in English and psychology and plans to pursue a career in journalism.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Evan McKenna

Evan is a senior at Notre Dame from Morristown, Tennessee majoring in psychology and English with a concentration in creative writing. He served as The Observer’s Managing Editor for the 2021-2022 term, and is currently rekindling his relationship with the Oxford comma. Reach him at [email protected] or @evanjmckenna on Twitter.

Contact Evan