Finding what I’m worth


I remember in the 7th grade a teacher told me that she, ‘knew what kind of person I was’ and that I, ‘wouldn’t amount to anything.’ In high school, our guidance counselor told me that I probably shouldn’t even try for college. To be fair, I was a shit kid. I was intelligent, but never did my homework because I was too busy not caring. I constantly caused trouble and had absolutely zero trust in authority figures.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much confidence when first coming to school at IU Southeast. It showed. I performed poorly in all of my classes, switched my major at least three times, took a full year off from classes and had a general feeling of aimlessness towards my future.

I was just going through the motions. I was getting a degree because, well, my parents and siblings said I should and I guess English was what I wanted to do.

One semester, I decided to take a journalism class because I needed electives and, as an English major at the time, I figured, ‘Hey, just some more writing. Should be easy.’


This new journalism professor, Adam Maksl, kept talking about how we weren’t student journalists, just journalists that happened to be students. He expected me to go outside of the class and actually, like, talk to other people on campus. There was an older guy in the class that was going to New York for one of his stories, a girl in our class wrote a beautiful feature story about a student with a rare medical condition, almost everyone in the class had some experience in journalism and there was I, taking the class because, ‘writing is cool and journalism is neat.’

I felt like a fish out of water or, more accurately, I felt like a fish on the International Space Station, surrounded by astronauts with years of training and, for some reason, ground control was telling me I was in the right place.

I had panic attacks over going to interview people, AP Style seemed like a foreign language and deadlines felt like one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

Despite my constant feelings of exasperation and a bad case of imposter syndrome, I stuck with it. I’d like to say that taking a journalism class opened my eyes and finally gave me a sense of purpose at IU Southeast. But that’s not true in the slightest.

I flailed through many semesters, constantly going back and forth between calling it quits or staying with my degree. But that journalism professor Maksl wouldn’t let up. He kept telling me that he knew I was talented, kept pushing me to take on new responsibilities, told me that I could win awards and told me that he trusted my judgement.


This was really weird for me. Most of my experience with teachers up to this point felt something like, ‘Zak, we don’t know what to do with you. Just do your work so we can pass you.’ Now this professor was telling me that he had faith in me?

It all felt surreal, like some fantasy world where they hadn’t gotten the memo that I was a piece of shit. I didn’t believe it. I thought it would all fall away after one of my classic fuck ups.

But it wasn’t stopping. I joined the newspaper, took on assignments, became an editor, went to conventions, published articles, became friends with some of the best people on the planet, won awards and was finally starting to develop my own sense of purpose.

I went through some of the hardest times in my life while I was on the Horizon. I lost two family members and two friends, my anxiety and depression were about as stable as a wave pool during the hottest day of summer, and there was a laundry list of other personal problems that seemed to be in direct contention with the progress I was making.

By all accounts I should have given up at some point during my time at the Horizon. That’s what old Zak would have done. When life gets rough, it’s time to pack your bags and go hide. But I couldn’t just go hide anymore. I cared too much about the weirdos on the paper and the professor that helped me find my sense of purpose.

Plus, life wasn’t so rough anymore. I was absolutely devastated when my friend Grahm passed away in the middle of the Fall 2014 semester, but who were the first people to reach out to me? Everyone on the Horizon. People who had graduated were messaging me to make sure I was OK, new reporters I had barely even talked to reached out to me and Adam Maksl basically wouldn’t leave me alone until he knew I was OK.

How could I feel alone with all of these people surrounding me, caring about me?

During my three years on the Horizon, Adam and the staff have helped me achieve more than just a sense of purpose during my time in college. They finally helped me realize that I’m actually worth something. That I’m more than just a clever, punk kid that would inevitably drive himself into the ground. That I’m not just a ‘lost cause’ as I had been told by past teachers.

That I, Zak Kerr, can actually amount to something in my life.