Zhang | Rituals

Opinion by Cybele Zhang
June 7, 2022, 2:14 p.m.

I took an extra long winter break this year.

With classes moved online for the first few weeks of the quarter, I decided to stay home in Los Angeles. The extra time led me to looking through stacks and stacks of family photo albums, and one childhood photo of myself, in particular. I’m two years old or so, wearing socks and sandals, standing in the yard at home and clutching the day’s newspaper. Unfolded, the paper itself was probably as big as I was. 

I don’t remember this precise photo being taken, but returning to the image nevertheless brought to mind a rush of other memories. Growing up, my Sunday mornings began with the LA Times. For as long as I can remember, my dad and I would head down Franklin Avenue to the neighborhood grocery store and pick up a copy of the weekend edition. (The rare occasion that I was able to pay for the newspaper myself with the spare quarters in my pocket made me feel very adult.)

That was our ritual. Coming home, newspaper in hand, and sitting around the dining table to read the sports section. 

That was home. 

Ritual, however, is probably not a word I would have used to describe this routine until I got to Stanford and realized just how impactful these Sunday mornings were. Last fall, I took ENGLISH 180A: “Periodicity” — an early modern literature class that, among other topics, explores the inception of the English periodical in the eighteenth century. In one text that struck a particular cord with me, Kevis Goodman describes the ritualization of news consumption that envisions a routine mass ceremony, where readers look to the news each morning and night simultaneously. He writes, “The significance of this mass ceremony — [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel observed that newspapers serve modern man as a substitute for morning prayers — is paradoxical. It is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others.”

It was the same sort of communion that I had experienced growing up — not just the action of reading itself, but the corresponding community and collective consciousness that it brought. Although, of course, the means of our news consumption continues to change into the 21st century, that very sentiment — the mutual forging of reasoning and understanding among the public — is what prompted me to join The Daily and what has kept me around for four years. 

This ritual of news production and consumption, especially sports reporting, has spanned my entire Stanford experience and perhaps facilitated some of the most meaningful connections I’ve made. 

Before even enrolling as a student, The Stanford Daily brought me community. In a makeshift high school reunion over Admit Weekend, Sarah Wishingrad (then a graduating Stanford senior) encouraged me to join The Daily, recounting on Meyer Green her own fond memories over the past four years. 

Fast forward five months, and Bobby Pragada was enthusiastically convincing me to choose the sports section over a table at the activities fair. 

And soon enough I had found a new, just as meaningful, ritual. 

Instead of reading about USC football with my parents, it was editing Jack Golub’s column with him in Soto at 2 a.m., attending midweek football press conferences and walking to Treehouse to pick up pizza for production. Most nights, the routine, however, was just arguing that we print a sports article on the front page.

Without Claire Wang’s willingness to take a chance on me as a freshman managing editor, I probably would not have bonded with my roommate in the same depth. My roommate played varsity lacrosse (a sport totally foreign to this Angeleno), so when tasked with editing coverage of the Stanford team, I asked her to explain the ins and outs of the sports she loved. Those conversations, with me sitting on my bed and her across the narrow dorm room on hers, or similar ones with my student-athlete friends Mason Gonzalez and Allie Jones, among others, brought us all closer over the course of the school year. Through these friendships, I forged another layer of my Stanford routine. 

Writing and editing, especially as I assimilated to Stanford during my freshman year, gave me a sense of purpose, focus and community — both within and beyond 456 Panama Mall. As a leader in a traditionally male section and traditionally male field at-large, perhaps the most important personal takeaway of working as a sports journalist and editor was harnessing my voice. Often the only woman in the room (and probably the youngest, too), I had to advocate for myself and what I believed in. Perhaps that was construed as being insubordinate at times, but I would like to think that my presence and efforts helped other women carve out their own places in the sports journalism world.

The necessity of speaking out and writing’s potential to prompt change became especially apparent during my coverage of 36 Sports Strong and, in particular, the men’s volleyball team’s efforts to save their program. Speaking to players and alumni showed me in practice the way that journalism could bring people together.

But hearing about the intended cuts, simultaneous to sports around the country being put on hold due to the pandemic, also made me realize how devastated I would be if a team/club/organization that I cared about was suddenly defunct or out of reach. More than anything, it made me appreciate the people, routines and laughs that The Daily has brought me. I’ll take those memories with me, like the childhood photo albums, long after I leave this university — freshman year autograph sessions after my full-page graphic on the baseball team and muddy Ink Bowl Games and headline games and Zoom Kahoots and breaking down Pac-12 football in EVGR with Daniel Martinez-Krams and interviews outside Jimmy V’s with Zach Zafran and weekends at the beach with Tammer Bagdasarian and Cooper Veit and Drew Silva’s NFL jerseys as we wait for TAP on Draft Day and FloVolleyball games with Madeline Grabb and trivia nights with Benjamin Zaidel.

I decided at the start of my senior year that I would save a printed copy of each week’s Stanford Daily so that, by graduation in June, I would have a journalistic record of my final year on campus. So, in packing up my undergraduate dorm room for the final time, I find myself in an oddly familiar position. Like the photograph from 20 years ago, I stand with an armful of newspapers, ready for whatever’s next.

Cybele Zhang '22 J.D. '26 is a Senior Staff Writer from Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, she double majored in English Literature with Honors and German Studies and served as Sports Editor — Vol. 255, 257 and 258.

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