Learning Leadership in Uneasy Times

Autri Basu ’23 (Editor-in-Chief, 142nd Board) in Editorials | April 1, 2022

As I left the office on February 24—the last day of the 141st Board’s tenure—I couldn’t help but feel that my world was coming to an end. Here were the people with whom I had spent countless hours eating Chipotle, staying up until ungodly hours, and laughing about poorly written editorials—and yet, they would soon all be gone. The next time I would enter that little room, it would be a different place. There would be no more Josh threatening to fire us for some petty reason; there would be no more Helen bickering with me about my poor handwriting; and there would be no more Richard singlehandedly filling up our quote board. In other words, it felt as though the office would no longer be the office—and The Lawrence would no longer be The Lawrence

It wasn’t like I didn’t have faith in the 142nd Board; in fact, while going through the section editor selection process, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow. These people are amazing.” Yet, deep down, I was scared. Soon, I would be among some of the people on this campus to whom I looked up the most, whether for their talent, their work ethic, or their personability—and I, the guy who had spent the past year making snarky comments about their grammar mistakes, was the one tasked with leading them. It felt too soon. Too quick. Too rushed. Why couldn’t we have until mid-Spring Term for the transition, like 141 had last year? Heck, why couldn’t we wait until the beginning of the new school year for 141 to hand the paper over to us?

Throughout my time at Lawrenceville, I’ve always felt as though I was “growing up” too quickly. Since both of my first two years at the School were abbreviated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I never felt as if I was given the same opportunities for upperclassmen to mentor me as those who had come before me. As a result, it almost seemed that I, without any warning, went straight from being a II Former to a IV Former at the beginning of this school year. That February night, it seemed like the same thing was happening once again: I would go from IV Former to V Former, from Copy Editor to Editor-in-Chief, one entire term before the rest of my peers would do the same. Many of my predecessors seem to have noticed the same thing; I remember reading in the 126th Board’s goodbye that “The transfer of power on this paper marks the beginning of the end of the seniors’ reign at Lawrenceville”—only now, this shift in power was becoming all too real for me—and I had no idea how to handle it.

The beginning of our first meeting, which took place the following day, didn’t help assuage my fears. The office TV, which I was relying on for my presentation, abruptly stopped working. Grant had an interview run overtime; Cindy’s fencing bus came back late; Luke had to go to an L10 filming. As 7:00 PM approached, the conference room that I haphazardly booked at the last minute was completely empty, save for me—and once people finally started piling in, I realized that the room didn’t have enough chairs for everyone. As we went through the agenda, I remember thinking that I was awkwardly stumbling over every word, not knowing where to look or how loudly to speak. To put it lightly, it was an inauspicious start to 142’s tenure.

Yet hope arrived with the last activity of the meeting: the Style Guide Kahoot! As I opened up kahoot.it, my laptop inevitably took an extra 30 seconds to load the game, but I didn’t even flinch—at this point, I felt that nothing could stop me. And then, all of a sudden, a miracle happened. The room that had been completely silent mere moments before (when I had asked if anyone had questions) now abruptly lit up with excitement. To my right, Kyle, with a newfound spark in his eye, was excitedly begging me for answers; to my left, Andrew looked tempted to do the same. The buzz of enthusiasm only grew with every question. Every time Grant got an answer wrong, the entire room joked that we should fire him; I, per tradition, told Luke and Claire the same after they, in their naïve boldness, tried to dispute my knowledge of the Style Guide. When the results sprung onto our screens, it was clear that no one had any idea what was going on—our highest score was a dismal nine out of 15—and yet everyone was laughing along with each other, desperately trying to figure out how I tricked them into choosing the wrong em-dash. After all the struggles of the past few hours, everything was finally coming together. It was at that moment that I realized that this was going to be a great year.

And don’t get me wrong, 142: we, too, will face our own fair share of struggles this year. But every time you have a hard time recruiting a writer, every time you feel that you need to fully rewrite an article, remember this: We, as a Board, are creating something magical in that office—and I don’t just mean a newspaper. Get ready to call that tiny room in the basement of Pop your second home, your 16 peers on the Board your second family. And to 141, thank you—all of you—for teaching me everything I know. We suffered midnight deadlines together. We, despite our apprehensions, published way more special issues than we should have. We learned how to serve our community. And, above all else, we loved every single moment of it. I’m going to miss you, but I know that you’ve prepared me well for this upcoming year. Stop by the office every once in a while—we’ll save some feeds for you :)