A small group of students, all of them masked and buzzing ever so slightly with excitement, gathered in The Glomerata’s basement office on Monday night. Lining the back wall, a row of heavy boxes sat one upon another and waited to be opened. It was kind of like Christmas, except there wasn’t any wrapping paper, it was 75 degrees outside and all of the boxes had multiple copies of the same presents inside.
This was unboxing night. The entire 2020 Glomerata staff was about to see the final, published version of the yearbook they had spent the last year putting together. And, because of the ongoing pandemic, this was also the first time the entire group had met in person.
Mary Alex Frishman, junior in communication, and her team had the strange and elusive job of trying to somehow capture and preserve the Auburn experience of 2020 — a year that was defined by its despair, passion and uncertainty — within the books packed along the wall behind her.
In her role as the editor-in-chief of The Glomerata, Frishman had several months to design and then delegate this past year’s edition. She and her managing editor, Meagan Davis, senior in exercise science, took over in March of 2020 and had to figure out how to describe a campus without any students on it.
“We took pictures of the completely empty campus,” Frishman said. “It was very eerie being on campus with nobody there, but throughout the COVID section, we have all of these black-and-white images of the emptiness on campus and how bizarre it is to see the concourse with nobody on it.”
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The result was that each book has a dark ring around the edge where you can clearly see the mark that the pandemic made on the lives of Auburn students.
“I think that showing the campus empty, while it was so beautiful, is really hard to look at,” Frishman said. “I think it was just a good way to memorialize that little sadness of the spring semester and coming into the fall.”
On top of putting a book together in 2020, Frishman and Davis also had to build a cohesive team of editors, writers and photographers through the office-space void of Zoom. The hours that both women had prepared to spend in their office working directly with the staff now had to be spent miles away from each other in laptop-sized rectangles.
Davis said this gave them a chance to see who was really committed to the process and that even with these challenges they found ways to stay connected.
“It’s hard to be dedicated to something that you do all on your own time,” Davis said. “Mary Alex and I became friends in the office, so we got to know each other because our computers were side by side. Our staff was stripped of that, [but] through the meetings we still provided those outlets.”
One of those outlets became a meeting tradition of staff members sharing their “highs, lows and buffalos.” In other words, what went well, what didn’t and what was just weird.
Though they usually did this on a two-week basis, the publication of the book warranted a look back at the year in its entirety.
Frishman said her high for the year was getting to design the overall look of The Glomerata. She hand-drew the picture of Samford Hall on the cover and got to set a design style for every page thereafter. Her low, she said, was trying to make sure everyone hit deadlines while working virtually — an experience a number of faculty and students can likely relate to. And her buffalo was the hours she spent dialing the first six digits of the University’s phone number in order to plan book distribution with various colleges within Auburn.
“I got really good at dialing 334-844, and then something,” she said.
Similarly, Davis said her high was figuring out how dedicated the staff was; her low was losing that community bonding in the office; her buffalo may have been that time she broke a local business’s countertop with the sheer weight of a box of Gloms. Further investigation into this story has warranted no conclusive evidence.
But now, after a year of highs, lows and buffalos, the staff has started to distribute the 124th edition of The Glomerata. You can pick up a copy around campus.
Maybe it’s irony, or maybe it’s something a bit more meaningful, but one of the places to pick up your copy is on the same concourse that Frishman photographed a year ago. Then, it was empty. Now, life is returning.
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