No Laughing Matter: The real-life impacts of student media

Student media is no joke.

That’s (at least) one of the take-aways you should get from the recent coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh on Saturday, 50-48, which was the narrowest approval margin of a Supreme Court justice in modern U.S. history. In the middle of the discussions on sexual assault, mental acuity and the degree to which beer is to be enjoyed, sits this image of Kavanaugh from his high school yearbook:


Never in my life, let alone in my high school days, would I imagine whatever I wrote in my senior yearbook being dissected like conspiracy theorists going over the Zapruder film. I’m sure Kavanaugh feels the same way right about now, as students in most of America’s senior classes are now rethinking whatever they told “that geek from the yearbook staff” to run next to their picture.

(SIDE NOTE: Prior to writing this post, I dug out the dusty volumes from Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, wondering what the heck I  might have done or said at that point. Fortunately for me, my school pictures appeared to have caught me between mullets and the senior quote was something I ripped off of the inside of a Rolling Stones album I was way too into that year. At worst, my club choices could be questioned (computer gaming, debate, Young Republicans, forensics, chess), but no “boof” or “ralph club” entries, thankfully.)

Kavanaugh wasn’t the only judge to have people questioning some “back in the day” student media content. During her 2016 run for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, Judge Rebecca Bradley’s college writing came to the forefront, specifically a 1992 piece in which she referred to gay people as “queers” and AIDS patients “degenerates.” Bradley apologized for the pieces and later went on to win reelection.

It’s not just judges who recently had some student media content called on the carpet. Other people in political and public life have found their writings from early adulthood

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had a column he wrote in 1992 for his student newspaper at Stanford come to light, in which he discusses an ill-conceived attempt at “stealing second” with a less-than-willing date. The column had come up multiple times throughout the years, but a recent Washington Post article brought it back into the public consciousness during the Kavanaugh hearings. Booker stated in the column it was his interaction on that date that helped him realize the toxicity of masculinity that drove men to aggressively pursue sexual conquests. Others have argued it’s still a case of sexual assault, regardless of his revelations.

Public statements as a student can come back to haunt you, so it’s vital to think before you publish anything, even if it’s not formally part of student media. A few quick angry tweets from her college days cost Taylor Palmisano, then 23, a job with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s reelection campaign. Palmisano cursed about wanting to “choke that illegal mex cleaning in the library” in one tweet and then disparaged “#illegalaliens” who wouldn’t control their children on a bus she was riding to Las Vegas.

There have to be dozens of other examples of people writing things, tweeting things, posting things or sharing content during their early adult years that came back to be less-than-pleasing to the eyes currently. In some cases, these things are like bad fashion, as I’m sure the guy who got the Tim Tebow as a centaur tattoo is clearly regretting earlier life choices. (I, on the other hand, would gladly take back my “mega-mullet” in a heartbeat if it meant I could have a full head of hair again.)

In other cases, these things are like the stench of a dead fish that got wedged under the front seat of your car for a month in the middle of August: It’s godawful and it’s never going away.

With that in mind, the lesson here is a simple one: Before you publish content, think really hard about how important it is for this to stick with you for a lifetime.




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