Abigail Monti will be graduating with UC Santa Barbara’s class of 2024. Courtesy of Abigail Monti

Like any 2020 high school graduate will tell you, trying to find my niche in college was far from easy. As a student athlete, I was lucky enough to live on campus freshman year despite remote instruction, but I still felt disconnected from the university community. So when sophomore year came around, I was determined to throw myself at every campus opportunity I had the slightest interest in. After one weird English Club meeting (I didn’t realize clubs still enforce the raise-your-hand rule) and a brief stint with Her Campus magazine (is it weird to say I missed working in a co-ed environment?), I was scrambling for something new. 

Enter the Daily Nexus. I wrote a long-winded email to the On the Menu (OTM) editors at the time, Chace Duma and Michelle Lee, inflating my writing abilities even though I had no practical experience in journalism. Honestly, I might have even attached my resume. I was prepared to endure any application and hiring process necessary. Of course, Michelle quickly wrote back, explaining that you actually didn’t need any experience to join the Daily Nexus. That was the beauty of the student-run publication: it was there to help students gain confidence in their writing, not to produce perfect content. 

After I became an editor myself, I sent similar replies to dozens of “applications” to OTM, each time with a smile. I remember the relief and support I felt when I read Michelle’s email. To this day, the “come one, come all” philosophy of the Nexus is one of the things I appreciate the most about it. For students without experience and no time for full-time work, the Nexus is a godsend. 

The only prerequisites were passion and a desire to learn. Though there are 12 sections of the paper and even more teams behind the scenes, I quickly knew which two passions I would follow: sports and food. I juggled both sections for the better part of sophomore year until I found out it was a conflict of interest to write about the track team (I mean, can you blame me? No one else does). But making the full-time switch to OTM turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had more time to explore writing styles that pushed my comfort zone. I learned how to conduct proper interviews, write cookbook and restaurant reviews and report on local food events. 

Perhaps more importantly, I learned to find my voice. For most newspaper sections, keeping a formal, objective tone is paramount; but there were no such limitations with OTM. In fact, I was encouraged to write in the way that felt most authentic to me. As an English major with a predisposition toward creative writing styles, this was a freeing revelation. I started steeping my articles with humor, casual interjections, unconventional syntax and more colons and em dashes than any self-respecting reporter would ever use. OTM became a place for me to experiment with the strategies I was learning in the classroom in a non-academic setting. I could write about any topic I chose (as long as it was food-related, which wasn’t hard for me; food is always close to mind) and in any way I chose. I also got paid for it — incredible. 

My promotion to assistant OTM editor and eventually lead OTM editor gave me even more opportunities to challenge myself. If I thought running was hard, it was nothing compared to the chaos of learning how to use InDesign (shoutout to my co-editor Stephanie Gerson and the entire production team for having endless patience with me). I spent long Tuesday nights in the office, wrote last-minute articles when our staff writers flaked and even appeared in a few TikToks despite a general fear of being perceived online. But the Nexus team made all these challenges worth it. A college newsroom with zero adult supervision looks a lot like you would expect it to — chaotic, raunchy and reliably stocked with alcohol —  and yet, it was also one of the most driven, disciplined and supportive environments I’ve ever had the honor of working in. It was the campus community I’d always dreamed of.

I don’t think leaving the Nexus will truly feel real until I’ve chalked my name on the wall alongside the dozens of editors who once called that dilapidated office their home. But even though I know that day will be a bittersweet one, I’m so grateful for the time I got to spend there, and I’m even more excited to see what the rising OTM editors, Pihu Jain and Nina Timofeyeva, will do next. If anyone embodies the creative ambition of the Nexus, it’s them.

A version of this article appeared on p. 14 of the May 30, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.