Senior photographer finds community with "weirdos"

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Mengwen Cao, a second-year graduate student in Learning Technologies, has served as a staff photographer and senior photographer at the Daily Texan for three semesters.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: A 30 column is a chance for departing permanent staff to say farewell and reflect on their time spent in The Daily Texan’s basement office. The term comes from the old typesetting mark (-30-) to denote the end of a line.

I was lying on my sofa sweating from a photo assignment when I got Charlie’s message: “Do you want to write a -30-?” 

WHAT?! YES and NO. 

YES because I have words to spill. NO because I am not ready to say goodbye. 

As an education student from China, I did not know the meaning of photojournalism or understand newspaper terms like “wild art” and “30 column” until I found the obscure basement. Last summer, I picked up an issue of the Texan while waiting for the shuttle, saw the tryouts application and decided to give it a shot. Too timid to open the door of the basement, I was probably stepping back and forth for 10 minutes before I got up the nerve. Thanks to this nerve, I ended up getting to know a bunch of awesome weirdos and finding a community where I belong. 

Soon, I found myself obsessed with this job. It is almost like a first love. Wanting to get closer but wrapped with anxiety at the same time. Looking forward to being appreciated but surrounded by insecurity. I found within me a desire to improve myself and become a better person. 

My obsession does worry my academic advisor and my parents because of the “serious business” I should be thinking about, such as my long-overdue graduation paper and the unfathomable future. But I have no regrets
whatsoever. I would not trade anything for the memories of figuring out what angles to frame a speaker, feeling burnt under the sun while shooting demonstrations, biking at night on the Austin streets after photographing South By Southwest and X Games, falling fast asleep on the office sofas, getting to know stories of amazing students and professors, shamefully noticing my stupid face set as the desktop wallpaper, blissfully seeing my photos on the cover of the Texan and just hanging out with wonderful people in the office laughing at whatever. The list could go on forever. 

To the first person I talked to at the Texan, Pu: It was interesting to see your name on paper and for you to be an actual person (or not?). To my photo editors, Marisa, Charlie, Sam and Sarah: It is your critiques, trust and support that shaped who I am. To all the photographers and videographers in the multimedia corner: It is your creativity, talent, sometimes-too-loud laughs and too-random thoughts that propel me to strive for more. 

I am never a person of words. This is the longest caption I have ever written, but I hope this will not be the last. Thank you.

-30-