Fare you well, 2013

Marked by an unimaginable tragedy, 2013 was a trying year for Santa Monica College. On June 7, after murdering his father and brother and setting fire to their home near campus, former SMC student John Zawarhi allegedly carjacked a woman, and as he fired shots at those on city buses and streets along the way, he directed her specifically to SMC.

Three of our college community members were fatally shot on our campus soil — Marcela Franco, 26, an SMC student who had just purchased textbooks for her summer classes, her father Carlos Franco, 68, a longtime groundskeeper at the college who was driving his daughter, and campus figure Margarita Gomez, 68, who was collecting recyclables outside the library.

The gunman fired at least 70 rounds inside our library before police took him down, Santa Monica Police Department Sgt. Richard Lewis said in a press conference the day after the shooting.

The shooter’s body was dragged to the sidewalk of the Pearl Street entrance to campus, where thousands of students park their cars and enter campus each day, and where students who had just been released from lockdown that day were escorted past.

Six months later, our school community is still shaken from this horrific shooting spree that left six dead and heartbroken for those lost and their loved ones. Makeshift memorials, where victims were gunned down near the library and on Pearl Street, still stand as a constant, painful reminder.

A still from the library’s surveillance camera, released by the SMPD, of the armored gunman and his rifle entering our library like a soldier ready for battle will forever haunt the hearts of SMC students. Among images of palm trees and blue skies, that chilling photo is one of the first results of a Google image search of SMC, as well as shots of SWAT teams and police activity swarming the campus that fateful Friday.

The incident, which authorities emphasized was not classified as a “school shooting,” certainly felt like a school shooting to us.

While sending a harrowing message for the college to increase safety measures, the tragedy served as the quintessential learning experience for Corsair staff members.

As student-journalists covering such a major crisis on our campus, we saw firsthand how breaking news unfolds, breaking much of it ourselves as major news outlets such as CNN contacted us for our coverage. We tried to cover every angle of the heart-wrenching tragedy with accuracy in the weeks and months to follow, while at the same time coming to terms with it ourselves as students.

As another opportunity I have had as editor-in-chief of this award-winning publication, I attended a national college media convention in October in New Orleans, La., where Dateline NBC correspondent and Today show cohost Hoda Kotb gave a relatable keynote address.

For journalists, it is paramount to be fully present in each experience, and to foster relationships within your locale, Kotb said.

“You have to go to a town and kind of own it,” she told a packed hotel ballroom of aspiring reporters. “Love every place you are.”

As a Corsair writer and editor, I have seen for myself how developing significant connections is essential for news coverage.

I wish to thank the SMC professors, police officers, board members, administrators, directors, Associated Students, and all community members who have served as indispensable sources for us in reporting accurate information to our community.

Kotb also mentioned in her speech that there is constant “bonding and severing” in the field of journalism. You start off in a small market, you report intensely, you build relationships, you bond with your colleagues, and then you have to move on.

I know that the relationships built at The Corsair over the past two-and-a-half years will stay with me forever.

At the end of my second term as editor-in-chief, I leave this paper with infinite gratitude for my advisers Saul Rubin and Gerard Burkhart, who have offered endless wisdom, guidance and trust in production of this student-run publication.

My heart is full of pride in my staff, and love for the all-encompassing experience and the art of journalism.