Unboxing The Billboard

By Moriah Story, Editor-in-Chief

This isn’t your blog, this isn’t your blog, this isn’t your blog.

There’s that niggling little thought in the back of my head every time I sit down (well, slouch, really) to write for The Billboard. If people wanted to hear one person’s opinions, they’d turn to Twitter or Instagram. Student newspapers have always been dedicated to covering campus life and the like, perhaps the occasional national event. Well, that’s what I thought.

This semester, I’m interning at the Hankey Center for Women’s History, located conveniently on the same campus where most of you spend your days. A stone’s throw past the Science Center, the history of Wilson is housed in a gloriously creaky and charming building. In addition to the preserved furniture, pennants, paintings, and books, there are seemingly endless rows of boxes containing records of life here at Wilson for well over 100 years. It is through these boxes of old papers that my eyes have been opened.

For the digital exhibit I’m designing (this is a shameless plug; look for it in about a month or so), I’ve been dutifully leafing through old editions of The Billboard. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the women who ran this paper before me weren’t just good writers, they were… cool.

There’s a sort of palpable camaraderie that fills the yellowed pages I’ve looked at. The paper wasn’t just student news for those Wilson girls. There were cartoons, love letters, snarky comments, and gossip columns. Reading what they published feels like I’m looking through a window, peering in on a secret club. They wrote their paper with integrity and tact, but you’d be a fool not to see how lovingly each volume was crafted. 

Perhaps I’m only experiencing nostalgia for a time when I wasn’t even a twinkle in my mother’s eyes. But I was wrong about my original assessment of student news. The Billboard, and likely other papers during those decades, was never just dry coverage of campus events. It was a collective journal, a gallery wall, and a running string of inside jokes and moments in time. It was unabashed freedom. One gets the feeling that each issue must have been sent out with a flourish.

So maybe those girls didn’t have any idea what a blog was. Maybe all they knew was they had a platform, some writing skills, and opinions about a thing or two. Don’t think for a moment that Wilson women in the 60s and 70s were passively covering campus activities or keeping a lid on their creative ideas. I can imagine them laughing as they strung together sassy snippets about their peers and as they ran goofy pictures of one another. I can see the grim looks of determination as they painstakingly edited letters directed to the heads of the college, or to the Chambersburg community at large. 

I understand why it was called The Billboard now. It was a display of the grandest kind: We are Wilson students, and here are the things on our minds. So perhaps it isn’t the worst tragedy in the world if our posts have a distinctly bloggish feel. Why put ourselves in such a rigid box? We’re just following in the steps of those before us.

Almost all past editions of The Billboard are available for perusal in The Hankey Center upon request. Consider this a gentle nudge to go see what you can find in those boxes.

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