It all leads back to Lile

By Kaelin Clay, Online Editor-in-Chief

The Places The Studio The Lab The Newsroom

“It all leads back to Lile” is my final feature story for The Signal. It’s been an honor to tell the stories of Ouachita, and it’s only appropriate to credit much of my college career to the place that shaped me: Lile Hall.

July of 2020. The peak of COVID. The world was locked down, but I found open doors, with social distancing, at Ouachita…and within those open doors in my respective department, I found two other very important doors open: the newsroom and the studio. 

“Does this feel like home?” Dr. Jeff Root, Dean of Humanities, asked. We just stepped foot in the studio, and after my admissions counselor handed me off to the dean, I grew to find comfortability in Lile. “Yes,” my heart said. 

At the time, there was a tall table on a beige carpet for the anchors to stand at. The looks of the studio changed over the course of my time at Ouachita, and a desk was later added, but I stood at that table and knew I was meant to be there.

“Let me go ahead and take you across to the newsroom just to show you,” Root said. At the time, I wasn’t as interested in working with The Signal as I was with broadcasting, but I still remember being in the newsroom and flipping through yearbooks and newspapers amazed at the professionalism packaged with creativity that Ouachita produced in all journalistic entities. Of course, my mindset about working with the newspaper changed when I learned I had a love for both speaking about and writing about the news, but that same awestruck feeling rings true today, even though I’m the one stuck in the middle of that very work.

Little did I know at that moment that those two rooms would become my second homes, second to my home in Oklahoma versus my dorm room. I spend more time editing news stories, packages, and shows and interviewing more people than I can count than I do in my dorm room or even at my own home on the weekends. In the interest of letting you in on a little secret, sometimes I just go to Lile to cheer myself up with what I love or because I know I’ll find a friend there to talk to. “Don’t work too hard,” people tell me. But, I don’t work too hard; I work just enough because I still love every second. It’s where my favorite connections are; it’s where my favorite memories are; it’s where I know I’ll always have a place and a space to create; it’s where I tell the stories that matter. It’s all about to end, but I’ll always remember the path back home. Through every step, every experience at Ouachita, it all leads back to Lile.

The places:

I call two segments of Lile Hall my home: the communications department and the English department. When I started at Ouachita my freshman year, I was originally both a music and communications major, but I realized that music wasn’t the career God intended for me, and I had to change after the first year. I decided to pick up a minor: English/writing, and it has quite possibly been one of my best decisions. Between both departments, there are several rooms in Lile that have my heart. They’re the places I find myself in when I’m the most creative. Those places might be my hardest goodbyes at graduation.

The studio:

During my first semester, I wasn’t enrolled in practicum, but I dipped my toes in the sand. I heard about the Ouachita News Show, but I didn’t know how to be at the anchor desk. I knew where the studio was, though.

I sat in that room and watched the show in amazement. For one semester, I shadowed. I wanted to be next. The following semester, I was at the anchor desk, wide-eyed as ever. My dreams were coming true. The bright lights hit me, my eyes locked in on the teleprompter, not daring to look away. 

Two years later, I sat at the anchor desk for the last time. It was different. I felt the most free I had ever been. I could move my eyes away from the teleprompter and remember what to say in the meantime. My eyes weren’t so buggish and nervous. I was comfortable. The room stood still for a moment before I left. It was still the same, but the speaking, reading and newsgathering that took place in that room made me different. The studio made me comfortable in my future. I was reminded that my voice is meant to tell stories.

The lab: 

I may or may not have cried tears in this room. Some were happy…many were happy. 

In April of my freshman year, I edited my first package. It was the room where I learned what soundbites and B-roll are. I had a moment that Monday night. I was at peace with my degree, even the techy side of it that made my wrist tense up when trying to cut the perfect clip.

I did a lot of homework in the lab. It wasn’t only my space to edit and create; it was also my space to meet deadlines and listen to lectures. It was an all-purpose room, and I liked it that way. 

During my senior year, I edited the Ouachita News Show in this room. I no longer cut my own voice or my own interviews; I had the privilege of critically listening to others’ voices to put together a show that was inspirational and worthwhile. Those voices shaped me into a better journalist. In that room where I was inspired by Dr. Carter’s Online Media lectures about WordPress and Professor Babb’s Media Writing lectures about AP Style (where I parted with the Oxford comma), I was also inspired by deeper journalism. It served more purposes than one, and I saw that this year.

The biggest purpose it served in my personal life was what I call the “final upload.” Cue the happy tears. It wasn’t exactly the last upload in that room, because the [news] show must go on, but it was the wrap-up of everything I had done in college broadcasting to that point: my news reel. My news reel was proof in the pudding that the work at Ouachita, specifically in communications is shaping. That reel that Professor Pierce and I worked countless hours on led me to my next career as a news reporter, and because of the lab and Professor Pierce, I had the space and push to apply the skills Ouachita provided me with.

The newsroom:

The newsroom and I had unexpected encounters. My decision to join The Signal staff was a last minute one just to “try something new.” Before joining the staff the second semester of my second year, I had never even stepped foot in the newsroom. It’s funny how you can pass a room every day while the inside remains a mystery. Even the large window facing the hallway didn’t foreshadow the memories I would make in that room.

I stepped inside the room for my first Signal meeting. Until that point, I had written several news articles for other projects and staffs, so I felt a little more comfortable than I did the first time I watched the news show be filmed, but it was still new.

It was especially new when I sat in the editor’s chair. That desk. Oh, that desk. It was my home. My housing fee was supposed to go toward Gosser, but I’d argue that the rent was really due to the newsroom because there were countless late nights and early mornings at that desk. I didn’t expect to call that desk my own. I was fairly new to The Signal when I interviewed for the position of Online Editor-in-Chief, but God had a hand over that path. 

Sitting at that desk was one of the biggest blessings Ouachita brought me. At that desk, I redesigned a website for The Signal, I read the purposeful words of many journalists who had one goal in mind: to tell the stories of Ouachita and I aligned with that very goal. More important than anything, I connected with people. I led a staff with their enjoyment and personal development in mind, and they became my friends. I tried to cheer them on through every email sent and at every word count hit. They inspired me to tell the greater story because their words were so meaningful. 

The newsroom was a place of new friendships. Sitting  at that desk, I co-edited with the print editor, I connected with the photo lab and yearbook staffs and I worked alongside Dr. Carter to envision a Signal website that housed the stories we told. Because of those people and the space that brought us all together, I had a safe space for trial-and-error and collaborative journalism triumphs. When my student ID card no longer works and there’s no longer a swipe to the newsroom, I can look back on all the times I felt discouraged, inspired and curious at that desk that made me a better person.  

My memories are not limited to these three spaces, but most of my service and energy in college was poured into those rooms. There are many other spaces in Lile that filled my days with joy and knowledge. I’ve explored it all. Lile was home. It was transformative, and it was comforting. Someone else will sit in this desk in the newsroom and have the same emotions and feelings toward Lile as I do, but for me, the phrase “it all leads back to Lile” will only be symbolic of the memories and lessons I learned starting next week. When I think about my career, my liking toward journalism, my in-depth writing, I’ll always know that it leads back to Lile. 

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