Four years ago, I was embarking on my journey at the University of Kentucky as an 18-year-old freshman. Moving out of the house for the first time and living in a dorm with a roommate I’d never met was quite scary, to say the least, for such a homebody as I was — and maybe still am. Luckily I was in the Living Learning Program (LLP) for the communication college, so everyone on my dorm floor had something in common. Therefore, it was fairly easy to make friends. My roommate, McKenna Horsley, was a journalism major and had a lot of confidence in what she wanted to do throughout and even after college, so I’ll admit that I was little intimidated. I didn’t even know what my major meant at the time!
As we were settling into campus and dorm life, K Week approached, so my roommate and I buddied up for the events. One of them was a cookout right outside of what used to be Bowman’s Den. A couple of students from the student newspaper came by to give us their spiel on why we should join them. McKenna had mentioned the newspaper before to me, but I didn’t ever think twice about it. She told me she was going to stop by their office, and I decided to tag along because I had nothing else to do.
We walked into what seemed to be a musky, dungeon-like basement of the Enoch Grehan Journalism building — I still hear a different pronunciation of that building to this day — then took an immediate left into a large room, set up as a newsroom. Students at each computer worked and typed away, as a group of us piled in who were eager to get involved. I never considered myself a great writer — more of a visually creative person — so I was trailing along in the back of the crowd to let everyone get their chance to talk to the editor-in-chief at the time, Will Wright, about how they could start writing for the paper. Once Will was done talking to everyone, I heard a voice pop out from behind a computer screen, in a tone that sounded hopeful, but not too confident, asking, “Anyone want to design?” and my eyes and ears lit up. I jumped out from behind my crowd and said: “Oh, me!”
I believe I was just as shocked as the design editor was for volunteering myself so quickly. Little did I know what I was signing up for.
The friendships, memories and professional opportunities it has led to not only for myself but for many others, too, are unforgettable and will last a lifetime.
For instance, Nancy Green was the Kentucky Kernel adviser from 1972 to 1983, including when the Kernel received independence from the university. She said she remembers the very day it was granted.
In her words, the “best day was January 20, 1972, when we became independent, and the best year at the Kernel.” To gain independence meant that the Kentucky Kernel was allowed to make decisions without the university’s editorial interference.
During the ‘70s, the Vietnam War was in action, as well as the Kent State killings. College campuses nationwide were filled with protests, including UK. As the Kernel staff members were trying to report on these incidents, their freedom to report was limited. Those at the Kernel realized it was time to break away from the university’s control.
Green vividly remembers her first year under these new and restriction-less freedoms. The Kernel was allowed to keep its home space in the basement of Grehan, but she said it was still a year of surviving: “Pushing through 20-hour work days while not having printing operations on hand, functioning without university subsidy, having to drive the paper 35 miles away in the middle of the night, learning how to operate and repair the typesetting equipment, pasting up the pages of the paper column by column, but most importantly had the ability to make decisions without University editorial interference.”
These challenges only made the newspaper and its staffers stronger.
If the Kernel never gained independence, Green said that it would be “zapped off campus by some disgruntled president or trustees [and that] the Kernel would not be the strong, vigorous news source it is [today].”
Green said that the Kernel did great things during this time, such as installing cutting-edge equipment and processes even before the local professional paper did.
Kernel staffers also attended journalism conferences and shared their processes with the journalism school’s editing classes.
“During the early years and beyond, the Kernel enjoyed a collegial relationship with the administration,” she said. “Dr. Singletary was supportive of the Kernel staff and their rights as journalists and he was a strong supporter of the First Amendment. Many UK presidents have been throughout the University’s history of the newspaper.”
Across Kentucky Kernel history, so many memories have been made that are considered a favorite, either personally or from a journalism standpoint. Becca Clemons, who was editor-in-chief in 2012-13, said she remembers when there was a weekend of deadly tornadoes that swept across Kentucky and Indiana, and they sent their teams to central and eastern Kentucky to cover it.
Jen Smith, editor-in-chief in 1997-98 and current UK journalism school professor, met her future husband during her time at the Kernel. He was a staff photographer.
Elizabeth Glass, 2013 design editor, said she remembers a humorous late night in the office when two staffers — Madison Gunter and Jonathan Krueger — were throwing a ball around and accidentally broke a ceiling tile. Damir Kocer, 2015-16 design editor, felt lucky to have a team of clever, kind and capable designers to help guide and work through the nights.
Producing “some really kickass journalism” is a favorite memory of Will Wright’s, who was editor-in-chief in 2015-16.
Current editor-in-chief Bailey Vandiver’s favorite memories consist of sharing hot pepper cheese at Charlie Brown’s and a Disney World Kernel vacation after UK’s football bowl game in 2019.
Lastly, my favorite memory was when we had another late night in the office in 2015-16 and someone had the great idea to recreate “The Walking Dead” timeline with our staff in place of the characters on one of the whiteboards. They got down to the details with what their best apocalyptic skill set was, how they got killed off in the show, and who survived based on their personalities.
I have only witnessed four of the hundreds of editors-in-chief and two out of the many advisers of the Kernel, but each year we have continued to keep getting better, stronger, braver and more creative. Being a “Kernelite” has brought infinite amounts of opportunities to each person who has crossed its path, whether it be moving out of Lexington, Kentucky, to venture into the big city of New York, landing a creative director position in Chicago right out of graduation or landing a programming coordinator position at ESPN.
Unanimously, the Kernel alumni I talked to said the decision that most shaped their lives were the friendships and quality work that was formulated from working here. Friendships, memories and skills are created and made that will last each Kernelite a lifetime.
Written by Jillian Jones
Photo Provided by Nancy Green