Words are so simple.They are just letters and syllables threaded together, their message shaped entirely by the person behind them. They can convey our deepest sympathies in the face of tragedy, our biting scorn in response to perceived injustice, our laughter when we are most in need of comic relief. Deployed carelessly, they can cut lasting wounds. When molded with precision, they allow people to connect to a certain situation or another individual in a way unmatched by any other form of communication. It is that exceptional ability for words to provoke feeling and thought that has always drawn me to writing. Never the gifted orator, from an early age words became my outlet, my corner for expression. This is not to say what I wrote was always profound – in fact, quite the opposite – but a blank space was where I felt I could most vividly and honestly illustrate my thoughts.What is equally challenging and addicting about writing is that it forces me to organize my thoughts in a way palatable for any reader. Words thrown onto the paper are nothing more than stray body parts if there is no central skeleton holding them together. I have spent countless hours staring into my computer screen, arms crossed and lips pursed, my mind set on a singular goal: shaping words into sentences, then into paragraphs and eventually into the exact story I hope to create.During the nearly four years I have spent writing for The Badger Herald, the words I used to fill these inches on the back page have become a source of intense pride. It was where I got to be my own wordsmith, tossing every bit of intellectual energy into telling the stories of the people and events that define the Wisconsin athletic program. There were moments of crisis, struck with sudden concern that I simply couldn’t cut it as a writer. More memorable were those bringing a rebirth of confidence, sudden assurance that fellow students actually cared about what I wrote.Sure, I told the story of the freshman poised for a career of historic success, the unlikely star who had overcome a life full of obstacles, the senior whose eyes welled red with tears in the locker room after a crushing loss. All the standard storylines that sit in the Rolodex of every sports writer — I’ve told them. Beyond any lead or angle, however, shaping these stories served as a personal journey that forced me to look inward. I say this not in an effort to bathe myself in self-importance; it is more a personal realization that the sports page of this student newspaper taught me much more about myself than whatever knowledge it bestowed upon my audience.Writing is a deeply individualistic activity – a keyboard, a computer screen and a recorder the only sustained companions. Such temporary isolation forces the author to think long and hard about what they want to write and, more importantly, how they should transport that message to the reader. Buried in the stress of every deadline, of every uninterested interviewee, is the lasting sense of achievement any writer feels when the message is complete and the words printed.So yes, I have had the immense privilege of covering a Rose Bowl and an NCAA basketball tournament game, of traveling to football stadiums and basketball arenas across the Big Ten all thanks to this wonderful organization. I have expressed joy and rage and (OK, mostly) disappointment. Learning how to articulate those emotions seated in a press box above a dark field, the silence broken only by the furious pecking of keyboards, was when that self-assurance for this career choice – usually brought on by deadline-fueled adrenaline – came.I like to think every one of my fellow graduating seniors has had similar moments of self-assurance in the time they spent in this lovely city, one so diverse and bustling with energy that its pulse never slows.For the confidence and moments of clarity that I have gained from these pages, I owe a massive thank you to everyone involved with this student newspaper – they provided me with this platform. Writing about the teams that unite this student body on Saturday afternoons at Camp Randall and on Tuesday evenings at the Kohl Center helped this Wisconsin transplant carve out a special niche in the Badger community.To spare you a few syllables, words define me. To every one of you – friend or stranger – who has ever expressed your appreciation for anything I wrote, now you have a better sense of just how much your praise meant to me. Words, you see, can really be quite powerful.Ian is a senior majoring in journalism. He’s heading to Denver to explore the great West after graduation, so if you want to share some final thoughts or stay in touch, shoot him an email at [email protected] or give him a shout on Twitter @imccue.