Gator Blogs

We Don’t Have Badges

In the HBO series The Newsroom, a T.V. news anchor is interviewing a company executive who as the journalist questions him about the unsafe practices of his company begins to get defensive. He finally says “I came on this program voluntarily and I do not appreciate being treated this way. The journalist calmly answers “I do not have subpoena power, everyone comes on this show voluntarily.

It may seem like an obvious fact, but I think it brings up an important point. I think it’s something that people forget we do not have any special power. No one is required to talk to us, we don’t have badges that we can flash around and get places.

Even at Allegheny I feel a lot of people do not understand this simple fact. In my journalism and democracy class this semester we read a story in which the journalist interviewed an illegal immigrant. One of my classmates mentioned how they must have had to call immigration to ensure they were not deported because they were a source. I wish we had that power.

People have been very critical of the media. We get blamed for a lot of things, and admittedly, in a lot of cases it is deserved, but at times I think people overestimate the power journalists have. A politician is not required to call us back and quite often they do not.

Journalists have a responsibility, and we should be held to a high standard, but it is important for people to recognize that we do not have badges. We cannot demand information or make people talk to us. We have the same power as any member of the public.

A Deserted Campus

After completing my three week experiential learning aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara, I spent a night on campus with a friend of mine who is staying the summer to do research.

He had to get up early to head out to do work, but he let me sleep since I had been getting up early in the morning for three weeks. I packed up my bag, and headed over to the Campus Center to get a sandwich from McKinley’s Food Court before hitting the road.

Walking across campus was a strange feeling because at 11 a.m. it was so quiet. I did not see a single person. After getting my sandwich, I sat down in a booth to eat. I had the entire court to myself. I felt almost like a ghost, visiting a place where I did not entirely belong.

I love Allegheny, it is my home, but at that moment, I felt I was in a strange place. I’m used to McKinley’s being a place full of voiced and laughter. I’m used to seeing people camped out in these booths, books piled up around them.

I am excited to spend the summer at home, but I am also excited to get back to my other home where some of the best friends I have ever had are. I am looking forward to coming back when the Campus Center is not empty, but a hive of activity. Where the lights of the newsroom are on, and editors are sitting at computers writing stories and editing pages. I want the Campus Center where GFC is full of people and the chess set is in the middle of a game instead of sitting on a table.

As I left campus, I smiled to myself. When I am back in a few months, campus will once again be the hive of activity I am used to.

A Final Watch

Standing watches while underway was one of the best parts of being on the Niagara. It made doing the final one a little bitter sweet. For our final watch, my division drew the 5-8 a.m. watch. We were actually really happy about it.

It might seem like a bad thing to draw this watch, but its actually one of the best ones to get. You get to sleep for the whole night, then do your watch, eat breakfast first and go back to sleep until noon when you go back on watch.


Our watch was pretty uneventful. We made some adjustments to the sails when we came on and that was about it. I did a “Brig” check, which is an hourly check of the entire ship. We check bilge water levels, safety equipment, navigation lights and record the ships position and the weather conditions in the log book.

As the sky began to lighten with the coming dawn, I found myself on lookout. As I watched the sun come up, I was happy that I would be ending my final watch doing my favorite watch. It was therefore with some disappointment that I rotated off and was told to report to the officer of the watch.

As I walked aft toward the Con, an elevated platform at the stern where the officers stand, I saw the other trainee in the watch being rotated off helm. We were both being sent to the third mate.

When we reported to the third mate, he explained that it was our last watch underway and he wanted to give us a chance to come up onto the con. I had been dying to get up there since day one. From the Con you have an entirely unimpeded view of the deck and what lies in front of the ship.

As we stood on the con, watching as the sun slowly inched higher into the sky, I realized what I was seeing was the same view an officer on the Niagara would have had in 1813. The ship was the same, and from so far away the land looked the same. I felt as if I had really stepped back in time. Cliche, but true.

I am thankful to the third mate for giving us that chance. It is unique experience I am not likely to forget. And this ended ended my final sea watch aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara.

Becoming Useful

“Running off to sea is probably something you haven’t done before, so I’m the guy to come to with questions.”

That was what the director of marine operations told the assembled Allegheny students at a meeting shortly before our three week long Experiential Learning aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of the ship that fought at the battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Here I am, three weeks later, and I can say he was right. It was nothing like anything we had done before.

Standing lookout. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Standing lookout. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

My first day on the Niagara I woke up early. Around 6 a.m. Sleeping in a hammock takes some getting used to, so sleep was not easy to get for the first few days. I got dressed quietly, not easy on the berth deck where you must walk hunched over to avoid the low overhead.

When breakfast time came around, I followed the rest of the crew into the museum basement where the kitchen was. We spent our first week in Erie, so we ate all our meals at the Erie Maritime Museum where the ship has its home port.

Harbor furling the main topmast stay sail with members of starboard watch, 3rd division. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Harbor furling the main topmast stay sail with members of starboard watch, 3rd division. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

After breakfast we “mustered” on deck. I had my first role call. The chief mate of the boat stopped when he got to my name and introduced me to the ships company. I could feel everybody sizing me up. Could they tell I didn’t know a jib from a hole in the ground?

The first order of business was cleaning the ship. Every morning we scrubbed and disinfected every inch of the ship. I was assigned to starboard watch, third division with one other trainee, one able seaman, two Ordinary Seaman and three apprentices. We were given the job of scrubbing the deck.

Gasket coiling the line of a fender shortly after casting off for my final sail aboard the Niagara. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Gasket coiling the line of a fender shortly after casting off for my final sail aboard the Niagara. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

The day was a blur of hard work. We moved the two cutters from the basement of the museum and got them in the water and the crew began teaching us all the lines on the ship and the sails they interacted with. Later that day, I remember being turned over to the boatswain who took me to the rig shop where the ships rigging and sails are repaired and readied before being put on the ship. He handed me off to an ordinary seaman and told him “this is Joe, make him less useless.”

That was a bit of a gut check for me. At Allegheny I am the news editor, I’m the one teaching people how to do things. Suddenly, I had to accept that I was the one who didn’t know anything. It was not easy, but in the end, it made me to want to learn more so I would not be the useless one.

By the end of the three weeks, I had learned. I woke up only when the on duty crew woke me for my watch, I knew what lines were which and even when to pull on them. As I was leaving, I realized that I was not useless anymore. It felt good.

As I was leaving the ship the boatswain shook my hand and gave me the best compliment I could have ever hoped for.

“You worked your butt off.”

Getting Underway

My first week on board the U.S. Brig Niagara was a rough one. There is no way to sugar coat it.

As I have said before, running off to sail on an 1812 era warship is not something I had ever done before. I had never even been sailing before, so suddenly I was the idiot who didn’t know anything. I was a trainee.

Harbor furling the main topmast stay sail with Division 3's able seaman Andrew. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Harbor furling the main topmast stay sail with Division 3’s able seaman Andrew. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

The first week was a lot of shore work. We readied the ship for the season, we helped to mount the T’Gallant yards, launch the cutters, and load the ship. We worked from right after breakfast to lunch and then to dinner. My back hurt from bending over to coil lines and from crouching on the berth deck where no one can stand up perfectly straight.

There were other things too. Feeling stupid all the time is not fun. Sleep was almost non-existent and getting a hammock to hang straight so you don’t fall out is not always easy. I didn’t know anyone on board either which made me feel like I was alone. I thought I had made a big mistake, and all I could think about was that there was 3 weeks of this.

At the start of the second week, we got ready to get underway on our ten day voyage, stopping in Cleveland, Put in Bay and Toledo. From the second we left Erie, the trip got so much better.

Members of division three work to bring the spanker into the wind. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Members of division three work to bring the spanker into the wind. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

The crew and other trainees were more comfortable with each other and I started to make some friends on board. I had people to talk to again. We settled into the routine of the ship and I finally figured out why my hammock would not hang straight.

I also knew more of what I was doing now. I knew where lines were, I knew, in some situations, when to pull on what. My back had adjusted to crouching all the time and I was learning how cool it was to be on a sailing vessel underway. No engines, just the sound of the wind and slosh of the water.

Eating on the berth deck while underway.
Eating on the berth deck while underway.

I began the trip counting the days until I would be going home, but when the day actually came, I felt I was leaving something I should be hanging on to. I packed up my car, emptied my sea bag and folded my hammock for the last time and started to say my goodbyes.

What do you say to someone who you have literally slept and lived inches from for three weeks? Someone who you relied on to wake you up for your watch, and make sure the ship didn’t hit something in the middle of the night? I didn’t know, and I still don’t know so I compromised with “it was good sailing with you.” Talk about an understatement.

Evening jam session while underway. We also had a flute, violin, accordion, and a banjo on board.
Evening jam session while underway. We also had a flute, violin, accordion, and a banjo on board.

I finished my goodbyes and stood at the gangway or “brow” of the ship for a moment, watching as the crew continued to work, getting the ship in order after our final sail. The boatswain called for free hands to coil and hang lines and I ran my eyes over the pin rails looking for any coils that had not been hung yet.

Slowly, I made my way up the brow. When I reached the gate, I stopped and looked back. I could see my shipmates moving around, I could hear their voices, an occasional laugh and with sadness I realized I wasn’t a part of that any more.

I got in the car and drove away slowly. I only sped up when the masts of the brig were totally hidden by the buildings. Needless to say, I am going to miss it.

Standing Lookout

Standing a watch on board Niagara is probably one of my most treasured memories from my three week Experiential Learning.

Watches are three hours long at night and four hours during the day. Night were my favorite. It starts when a member of the watch you will be relieving wakes you up, about 20 minutes before the exchange. This is actually really important. The person gives you the time, time until your watch and the current weather on deck. They then as “are you awake?” If they do not ensure you are awake before they leave you, and you fall asleep again, it is on them, not you.

Standing lookout. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016
Standing lookout. Photo by Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

When you have confirmed that you are in fact awake, you have 20 minutes to get dressed, get some food, use the head or get coffee if that’s your thing, before you have to be on deck.

Your division meets on deck with your watch officer who passes along any orders or information he received from the previous watch officer. Where we are, what sails are set, maneuvers or adjustments we might need to make etc. Once that is done, we relieve the current watch.

My favorite job, especially at night was lookout. You stand on the anchor line so you can see over the bow and what is in front of the ship. If anything is sighted, you walk back to the officer of the watch and report what you saw.

There are two lookouts at night, but talking is not allowed, so it is very peaceful, scanning the water, making note of distant land based lights.

When not on lookout or helm, the watch walks the deck or huddles in a group, talking in a whisper. It is so dark, and no lights are allowed on deck, that it is sometimes hard to tell who is who. As the trip continued, you learned peoples walk, or how they hold their hands when they stand. I always knew my Able Seaman because of the glowing hands of the watch he wore around his neck, small things like that.

On helm, two people would be responsible for manipulating the tiller so the ships compass remained on the course ordered. From helm you cannot see where the ship is going. The officer gives you a course, and you steer it. Sometimes, you would not even look up from the compass.

When the watch was complete, the new watch would have their meeting, and then rotate us out. We would then meet with our officer a final time to discuss the events of the watch and let us know when we would be back on. When that was complete the officer would dismiss us with “watch below.”

We would descend the ladder to the berth deck as quietly as possible so as not to wake the other two divisions and climb back into our hammocks. We were always asleep within ten minutes after that.

Running Off to Sea

I have written before about how I will be participating in an Experiential Learning aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of a War 1812 square rigged brig which fought at the battle of Lake Erie. This week I had my pre-departure meeting.

At the meeting I met the students I will be sailing with for the first time, I met a representative from the Niagara League and we received our instructions. At one point the representative from the Niagara opened it up for questions saying “running off to sea is something I doubt you have a lot of experience with.”

U.S. Brig Niagara under sail on Lake Erie.
U.S. Brig Niagara under sail on Lake Erie.

Well he was right, I have never spent three weeks aboard a ship, let alone one completely powered by wind. Looking over the packing list, I realized I did not have the first clue of what I was doing. A lot of it made sense to me, for instance, they say wool is better than cotton on a ship as it will keep you warm even when it is wet. Other things however, I don’t necessarily understand. The recommended packing list included a knife, “no longer than 5″ long.” Is that something I will need? I haven’t the first clue.

To be perfectly honest I walked away from the meeting a little stressed out. Was I an idiot to think this was a good idea? Professor Binnington who is in charge of the EL however said something that made me feel better. He said that none of us will know what we are doing for the first few weeks. We will be told to do things and we will do it without knowing why. If we are told to pull on a rope, we will do it, but we won’t understand why we have to do it and how it helps the ship to operate.

According to Binnington, by the last week we will begin to understand what is going on and it will begin to make sense to us. I really hope he is right.

Looking over the schedule though I am excited. We will be traveling the lake, I will get to give tours of the ship and learn more about the Great Lakes and the War of 1812, as well as the Battle of Lake Erie. I am trying to look at it as something that, for good or for bad, I will never forget. It’s an adventure, and as my Dad pointed out when I was wavering in whether or not to do it “when will you ever get another chance to do something like this?”

Leaving Home

I found myself looking at my exam schedule about a week ago, trying to figure out when I would be home so I could set up an interview for a summer internship before I leave for my EL aboard the Flagship Niagara. The job is one that I want more than anything, and its big that I even have an interview, but when I realized I would be leaving before the first week of finals was even over I felt crestfallen.

The sophomore class of the Allegheny Swimming and Diving team.
The sophomore class of the Allegheny Swimming and Diving team.

While I have always loved Allegheny, I feel this year it became more like home than ever before. I was actually not looking forward to leaving, especially since everyone else would be staying longer. I was actually upset that I would have to leave my friends behind for almost three months.

Last summer I felt the same way, but once I was away from campus, I felt happy to be coming home, and perhaps this will be the case again.

In the end, though it may make me a little sad to leave campus, I think its a good problem to have. I have had friends who went to larger university’s who come home every weekend, and genuinely hate when they have to be on campus. I feel like I am leaving a part of me behind now when I leave the campus.

It’s interesting because at the start of the academic year I was annoyed that I had to come back early to participate in Gator Guide Training. After I was about an hour from home though, I began to realize I would be seeing all my friends again. I think I am starting to realize that Allegheny has become a place where I love to be, more than ever before.

I will always look forward to seeing my family, especially my parents, but a part of me will always be wondering what my Allegheny family is up to and when I will get to see them again.

My Last Performance

I always wanted to play the violin.

It has never been clear to me why I had such a fascination with the instrument. My parents claim there was a baby sitter who played the violin and that was the first time I had seen one, but I honestly cannot remember. All I know is when I was able to chose an instrument to take up the summer before 5th grade, I knew it was violin or nothing.

The Allegheny College Civic Symphony Performing on Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Schaffer Auditorium.
The Allegheny College Civic Symphony Performing on Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Schaffer Auditorium.

After a meeting with the orchestra teacher, which was essentially just an opportunity for him to see if you could physically hold the instrument, I began learning to play. I was decent, I would say. We had a good program in my school, so I was lucky in that regard. Of the six violinists in my year, three of them are now at musical conservatories.

In middle school, there was a group of us who would use our study halls to go to the orchestra room and play music. Those afternoons are still one of my fondest memories of the Queensbury School District. We called ourselves the “Orch Dorks.” We wore the mantel with pride.

I played all the way up through my senior year of high school. When it came time to look for colleges, I would always check to see if there was an orchestra I would be able to play in. Any school that had one got an automatic check in the pros column.

The graduating members of the Queensbury High School Orchestra before our final performance together.
The graduating members of the Queensbury High School Orchestra before our final performance together.

For the last two years now, I have played in Allegheny’s Civic Symphony, which is comprised of both Allegheny student and community members. It has been an incredible experience playing in a full symphony. We had our spring concert on Saturday, and I was sad to think that it might be my last.

Scheduling with rehearsals is changing next semester and it looks as if I will be unable to make the rehearsal times because of my responsibilities at the newspaper. I love the newspaper, but I cannot lie, I am sad that my career as a musician, if a novice one, is coming to an end.

I have loved every moment of my time in music. It has given me some of the best friends I have ever had, as well as hours of profound enjoyment. I have played everything from movie scores, Vivaldi and Bach, to Green Day.

At the concert on Saturday as I played our final piece, which came from a french opera, I could not believe how far I have come. The first piece I ever performed was a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

My family came up to see me play. They have been at nearly every single one of my concerts for the last nine years.
My family came up to see me play. They have been at nearly every single one of my concerts for the last nine years.

It has been an incredible ride and I am sorry that it will most likely be coming to an end, two years earlier than planned. But playing that last piece, on a college stage, wearing a tuxedo, and playing a piece of an opera, I realized that it was not a bad way to go out. I will never forget it, just as I will never forget opening the case of my first violin when I was in fifth grade.

When The Going Gets Tough…

In vague terms, the reason I haven’t been posting this month is because extreme personal circumstances have kept me more than just a little under the weather. I’ve been struggling a lot with classes and extracurriculars because something else has been on my mind, and it’s finally coming to a resolution, but the past three weeks have been some of the toughest of my life.

That being said, I also spent the past three weeks feeling nothing but absolutely loved by the people who care about me. I’ve come to meet them in different ways, and some of them aren’t on good terms with one another, but they all separately have made it clear to me that they have the capability to love deeply and really show kindness to someone in need. I am all too lucky to have these people around me.

A year ago, I thought I was transferring schools. I felt that the social climate wasn’t right for me–I had made some friends, but overall I felt like I thought too differently from everyone else. I felt like I was too disconnected from those around me and I would never be able to call Allegheny my home. It is almost exactly a year from the day I decided to stay, and this place has become so much more than a home for me. It has become a safe haven. There are people here who kept me from being alone for two days straight in my darker points of this past month. There are people here who sat in my room and listened to me cry and helped me figure out how to pick up the pieces of the terrible situation in which I found myself. There are people here who bring me care packages with blankets and tea and coloring books to get my mind off of things. There are people here who love me more than they probably should and I will never not be thankful for those people.

College is about learning and pushing yourself to be better than you ever thought you could be. It’s about finding interests and exploring them and deciding to give yourself entirely over to them. But it’s also about finding new people who enter your life and your heart and change you for the better. I’m coming to see the importance of that more and more, and I would be remiss if I did not post something in admiration of each of those who showed me the pure love I’ve felt this past month.

Through the intense conversations I’ve had with these friends, I’ve found out so much I didn’t know about them. A friend of mine (a theatre major) told me she was going to go into engineering. Another friend told me that he had never wanted to come to this school–his parents pushed him to make the decision and he’s so grateful they did, even if his choice was kind of taken away. Even talking to professors I found encouragement and understanding that I didn’t feel I deserved. One of my professors reached out and expressed a situation in which she found herself during her freshman year of undergrad that had an effect on her like the one this situation is having on me. Whether or not she meant for it to happen, she made me feel so much less alone.

The people at this school really care, if you give them the chance to. I’m so grateful for them. I’m so happy I stayed.