December 16, 2022 | NEWS | By Emma McDermott

I loved my childhood. I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois. So I was close to the city. But it was nice not being right in the city. I have three younger siblings, and two of them are adopted from Ethiopia. And that was an important part of my childhood and who I am today. I played a lot of soccer and basketball growing up. And a huge, huge sports fan, especially hockey. And now baseball. That was something my dad and I always bonded over, going to hockey games, him driving me to soccer. And just that time we had in the car, I think was really special.

I was huge into soccer. I was outside back. And the Chicago Blackhawks. I was obsessed. I mean, it was almost concerning. I was a huge fan. I would wear shirts to school every day, we would celebrate Patrick Kane’s birthday in my house because I insisted that we did.

I love my dad and my mom. They’re amazing. My dad is one of my best friends. And I think sports, even though it’s so stupid sometimes, has just always been something that we’ve bonded over. That’s been awesome. But it’s more than just sports. He’s always supportive and loving. And he does the crossword every week. I send it to him.

I feel like I became a lot closer with him as I got older, especially in middle school in high school. I think a lot of that was because I was doing travel sports, and he would take me to a lot of those games. So we just had all this time in the car. And this was before I had a phone. So there was nothing to do but talk. And now I talk to him every week. We text a lot.

My mom is amazing too. She’s one of the best people I know. And I think she’s just taught me a lot about what it looks like to be a strong, smart woman and some of the things that entails today. She’s always been a great writer, and I think that got me into the newspaper, just how good she is with words.

Also, she’s super interested in politics, and that totally rubbed off on me. I would come home from sports or school and we would watch the news together and talk about it. And that was how my mom and dad and I all became really close. I would sit there with them and do homework. And it became this running joke that when Kaitlan Collins, the CNN Senior White House correspondent, came on, we would get all excited.

My brother, Carter, oh my gosh, he’s amazing. I don’t tell him that enough, which I need to do more. He’s two years younger, and we weren’t super close growing up. But I’m excited because I can tell we’re getting closer now. And I think we’re going to be really good friends as adults. But we didn’t have a ton in common. He was in into theater, and the arts, an amazing writer. He’s really good at drawing and painting, and I suck at that. I think growing up that was kind of hard not having a ton of crossover. But now it’s like he’s the only other person that knows what I went through. There’s a lot we share in those experiences as kids that I never have to translate for him. He just gets it, you know. So yeah, he’s an awesome guy.

I grew up in a really white neighborhood, but that was what I was used to, and having people in my family who are from Ethiopia, who are African American, I think made me aware of how hard that must have been. I would sometimes get looked at weird when I was with my whole family, like in airports or at restaurants. And I think growing up where I did and with the people I did made me realize who had my back and who’s important to me and the kind of person I want to be.

Emma with her siblings

There were parts of family life that were hard. And friends were nice in that it could be kind of an escape from that. But also, I couldn’t ever really talk about it with anyone, because it was just hard to explain. I didn’t know how to kind of dump some of that on people. So that’s where having my dad and mom to talk to was huge.

College is hard at first. I think one of the deceptive myths is that college is the best time of your life. I agree with parts of that, like, I’ve had amazing experiences and met wonderful people. But I came in thinking this is just gonna rock, my life is gonna be so perfect. And it’s not. First of all, you have to do school, people forget that. And you have responsibilities. And if you’re sick, you have to go to the doctor and make that appointment. Your mom’s not going to do that.

I didn’t really find my friends until second semester of freshman year, and I think another thing that kind of sucked was feeling like everyone’s life was perfect, like on social media. But I’m glad that coming to college was hard, because it means that I left something really good, that I really loved.

I started writing for The Catalyst because one of the EICs was in my fifth block class freshman year. I was so intimidated. I saw some ad saying they were hiring writers, and I was like, I’m so not qualified. And she sent me such a nice email back and I was like, okay, I guess I could do this. The first article I wrote was about drunk driving. I was in a pretty bad accident with my dad, we were hit by a drunk driver, and I think it felt really good to get some of that out. I hadn’t ever written about that. And then also to have my work published. That felt really cool.

When COVID hit, my editor was just like, you’re a good writer, you should keep writing. So it kind of became a habit. It kind of became a challenge for myself, where every week I would have to think of something to write about outside of class. And I think it was good for me to practice writing that much.

I really have appreciated having a workspace of people where we’re serious about the paper, but we also have a lot of fun. And people that I wouldn’t have met without this. I think that’s been wonderful. But it also is a really stressful job. I have a lot of respect for everyone that does it.

The Catalyst is so important, and I feel like people think they know what’s going on, and I thought that too, and then I started reading it. And now that I read every article, I’m like, wow, I had no idea that we had this club, or this person coming to speak. I think it’s an important way we can build community and, I think, hold the administration accountable and hold people in our community accountable in a way that’s responsible and academic.

This job has made me think hard about being clear and intentional with my words. It’s a life skill, thinking and writing critically, and meaning what you say, and sometimes I think we can be cavalier about language. But this job doesn’t let you do that. I think also just a respect and appreciation for journalists. This has been a really emotionally and time-consuming job. And stressful. Journalists don’t get as much appreciation as they deserve.

The crossword. That’s my favorite thing that I’ve done here. And it’s so rewarding when I see people doing that and texting me about it. That’s a really wonderful feeling. And I think another thing is helping other people’s writing improve. That is one thing I kind of miss as EIC because I don’t do as much editing as I did when I was a section editor.

Right now, I’m just focused on doing what I want. I don’t have any responsibilities really, other than myself. And I’m grateful for that. So, I think right now it’s just finding something that I enjoy that is meaningful to me, but also having fun. I think that’s a priority. I want to set up my life in a way where I can make the most of everything, just have a wide-open future. I have no idea what I want to do work wise. And it’s kind of scary, but I’m also okay with it, because it means that I’m not limited at all. And that’s exciting to me.

My parents set a really good example for me of the kind of person I want to be and the ways that I can use my education or my skills in a way that’s benefiting others, too. They were both public defenders in Brooklyn, looking out for people who are vulnerable and sometimes seen as undesirable, or the last people most people would help and protect. That’s something I really admire.

When I was in high school, I was really involved in Amnesty International. There was a club at my high school, and I think that’s something I would want to do. I think it is a real force of good in the world. There are so many things I want to do, but that’s something that, you know, I was passionate about. And I still am, but I just haven’t been as active and involved as I was. So I think getting back into that maybe.

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