Why I Came to Kent State from New York City

Words by Jason Cohen

A lot of people hate small talk, and as of late, I am one of them. As a senior in my fourth year of college, it has lost its novelty. My least favorite question recently is: “Where are you from?” 

Here is how the conversation usually goes:

Them: “Where are you from?” 

Me: “New York City.”

Them: “Wait, actually in the city? Where?”

Me: “Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

Them: “I don’t know where that is, but that’s awesome! Why the hell did you come to Kent State?” 

Me: “My grandma and dad went here, so I got scholarships for that. I got academic scholarships and I got invited to the Honors College. Also, I didn’t like living in a big city, so Kent was perfect.” 

Them: “Oh, that makes sense.” 

The truth is, there are deeper reasons I am here, but I have not had the desire to disclose them lately. However, since it is my last semester, I feel it’s important for me to reflect on them now. 

I went to Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School from 7th grade through 12th grade. It’s a private school in Manhattan and is known for being one of the most expensive schools in the city. In fact, President Trump’s youngest son, Barron, attended the school before moving to Washington, D.C. Going to such a pompous school was not something I enjoyed even remotely. It was highly competitive and I felt overwhelmed by it. The popular students all wore the same designer brands that my family would never consider buying for me, and they all seemed like they lived perfect lives. They probably didn’t, but that’s how I felt. 

When college application time came around, students were stressed. They freaked out, saying things like, “Oh my god, I’m not gonna get into college.” Meanwhile, they were applying to (and eventually getting into) Ivy League schools. It made me want to take it easy to avoid the panic and stress they felt.

In addition, I had recently become spiritually inclined and began following my intuition along with what I referred to as “signs.” There were numerous signs pointing me toward Kent State. As I previously stated in my first blog post, my dad passed away when I was nine years old, so I did not hear anything about his college experience from him. That made me want to go to Kent State like he had to experience something similar to what he experienced. 

My dad always seemed cool to me as I am sure most fathers seem cool to their sons at a young age. I remember hanging out with a friend at my apartment and my mom informing me there was a phone call for me. I took the phone call and then came back to my friend. I said, “That was my dad. He’s cool.” (My dad lived in Pittsburgh, so my friend never met him.)

Me with my dad when I was a baby: 

These were the factors that initially got me interested in attending Kent State. I then visited and fell in love with the beautiful campus. It was an attractive contrast to the concrete jungle I had lived in for the past 13 years. While visiting, I learned information that made me want to go even more. Due to my dad graduating from Kent State, I was entitled to a huge scholarship. I also was just within reach of the Honors College if I got all As for the rest of high school, and my SAT score just barely qualified (more “signs” for me). Being accepted to the Honors College meant better dorms along with many other perks, including more scholarships. 

While I visited, my grandparents told me to go to Hillel, the Jewish center on campus. While I was there, I met people who were in the fraternity my dad was in, Alpha Epsilon Pi. They were cool and excited to learn my dad was in the fraternity. Joining would be another way to connect with my dad, so I considered it to be an important opportunity. 

My second choice was University of Pittsburgh, to which I was accepted. It is a great school and many people in my family have gone there, but it was in the city, and it did not have the connection to my late father that Kent State had. 

Lately, I have not felt forthcoming enough to discuss this with people when the question comes up, but I am grateful I reflected on it now. It was quite a decision to come to Kent State from New York City and not be a fashion major. It has been a journey I will never forget, and I am sad that it is ending soon. I only hope I will be courageous enough to make meaningful decisions like this for the rest of my life. 


[et_pb_section bb_built=”1″][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_post_title _builder_version=”3.9″ author=”off” categories=”off” comments=”off” featured_image=”off” text_orientation=”center” /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″]

A son, brother, best friend and fisherman. Nick’s family tells his life story and who he dreamt to be one day.

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Words by Shelbie Goulding | Photos by Sophia Adornetto

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] [dropcap]P[/dropcap]ale blue waves dance in a glass box stretching along a bare wall. Flashes of vibrant blue, orange, purple and yellow flitter back and forth in the water while seagrass and other aquatic plants sway. The setup is a homemade fixture made to perfection by someone who loved to be out on the water. It was his dream to have a piece of the ocean he could call home. The fish tank sits in the living room where it could be shown off with pride by its creator. “I had a saltwater tank as a kid, and it was a lot of work,” Joe Massa says, “but Nick talked me into doing it.” His son, Nick Massa, was 17 years old at the time. “I helped, but Nick did most of the job by himself,” Joe says. “Look, just let me do it, leave me alone, let me get it done,” Nick had told his father when building the tank. Behind the tank there are pipes that slip through drilled holes in the wall. Following its path, the pipes lead to a large, homemade filter system based in its own area of a finished basement. On the ground, tubs filled with water are interspersed with tubes twisting every direction, leading to more tubs filled with more water. It is a complicated, high-maintenance system with a lot of responsibility, but Nick knew what he was doing. “When he went off to college, he had to show me how to do everything,” Joe says. “This is a daily thing I got to do every morning.” Nick’s handwriting is stretched across the homemade device explaining what each tub is. He even wrote a to-do list on how to take care of the tank for when the family went on vacation. “This was Nick in a nutshell,” Joe says as he points to his son’s creation. “This was his fish tank.” [/et_pb_text][et_pb_image _builder_version=”3.9″ src=”https://theburr.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/MG_7870.jpg” /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] February 7, 2016. Most remember this day as Super Bowl 50, where the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers 24 – 10. However, it wasn’t the same for the Massa family. Instead, they received a phone call that changed everything. Nick Massa – a freshman in college studying business and entrepreneurship, starting his life as an independent, and following a lifelong dream – was shot and killed during an attempted robbery. Although Nick wasn’t a student long at Kent State, he still made an impact on the lives of many, especially his family and friends. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] “We called him the fish whisperer,” Nick’s mother, Jackie Massa, says. “He always said he had a way with fish.” A large fish is mounted on the wall in Nick’s bedroom. It was his first big fish: a pike. He caught it in Ravenna when he was 13 or 14 years old. “I watched him [reel it in],” Joe says, “but he said, ‘No, dad, I got this.’ I never thought he was gonna be able to bring it in. It took about 20 minutes but he got it.” Nick’s fishing hat hung draped over the side of its fin. Joe says his son loved being out on the water, and he thought if Nick was out on the water every day he’d grow to hate it, but that wasn’t the case. Nick fell in love with fishing at a very young age. Joe says the family went to Florida every summer, and it was a vacation dedicated to fishing for him and Nick. The girls would go to the beach while the boys rented a boat and spent the day off coast. “He was all about family,” Jackie says. “We were super close and did everything together, and the vacations were always awesome.” Both say the best memories with the family were in Florida, and Nick had always planned to move down there someday. “He wanted to go down to Florida and open his own fishing charter business,” Jackie says. “He’d say ‘just let me get down there, let me get things started, I’m gonna make a lot of money and then I’m gonna buy a big house and move you guys down there with me.’” Her face became distressed, and she wipes a tear from her eye. “I’m sorry. It’s still so hard. Every day.” The Massa family hasn’t been to Florida together since Nick’s death. The vacation there was always about fishing and getting out on the deep blue water, but it’s not the same. Nowadays the family vacations are more low key, and the destination is anywhere but Florida. “We’ve wanted to go to Disney, but it would be really hard,” Jackie says. Joe begins joking about how his wife is a Disney addict, and Jackie laughs in denial of her love for Disney. They say the family went to Disney in Orlando at least five times. It was one of Jackie’s favorite memories to look back on with the family, but she doesn’t know if she could do it without Nick. Most vacations are now spent around Christmas. “We decided we didn’t want to spend Christmas [at home] anymore,” Jackie says. The family now travels to a destination far from their home every holiday. The Massa family used to spend the holiday taking the same family picture in front of the fireplace each year. But after Nick died, the tradition died with him. Now a photo of the last family Christmas, in 2015, hangs above the fireplace with Nick smiling ear-to-ear. Jackie says his smile and presence could always light up a room. Nick was the comedian of the family. He was always cracking jokes and breaking the tension. Both Jackie and Joe agreed Nick was the reason the family had fun, lively vacations and road trips. “He’s the funniest person I’ve ever met,” Joe says, “and it’s weird saying that about your son.” Jackie breaks in, “Yeah cause we’re not that funny,” as she chuckles looking at Joe. Although his way of sharing laughter is greatly missed, no one misses his humor more than Nick’s sister Kelly, 27. “The one thing I miss the most is how funny he was,” Kelly Massa says. “He could do the best impressions of almost anybody. Like, I’ve seen a lot of the things he could do impressions of that make me laugh.” Jackie describes the two siblings as inseparable; they even shared the same birthday, Aug. 17. “He was my best friend,” Kelly says as she looks over to her mother. “I don’t even know where to start.” Kelly continues saying how Nick had the best taste in music – classic rock, Green Day, Blink-182 and rap. “Lately I’ve had all these free concert tickets, and the first person I would have asked to go would have been him.” “I’ve never heard Nick rap,” Joe breaks in with a look of confusion on his face. Both Kelly and Jackie begin saying how he would listen to rap during a workout, at a party or in a car. “He never sings it though,” they both say. Joe’s face fills with shock as though he learned something new about his son. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] February 7, 2016. While Nick was visiting a friend’s apartment, Damantae Graham – who was 17 years old at the time – broke into the apartment with a group demanding money. According to another friend of Nick’s – Alex Mangels – the apartment’s resident (and friend of Nick) Justin Lewandowski said Graham threatened them, and Nick responded saying Graham wasn’t going to shoot him. Aimed at Nick’s chest, the gun was then fired by Graham. Nick was gone in a matter of minutes. Not only was a caring, honest and compassionate friend lost that day, but also a loving son, brother, comedian and fisherman. [/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider _builder_version=”3.9″ /][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.9″] “The girls aren’t the same as they used to be,” Joes says about Nick’s three sisters. “It’s hard to describe.” Nick was the third born of his four siblings. Both Jackie and Joe say how Nick’s sisters don’t talk about it a whole lot and that the family as a whole has changed. “We talk all the time and are still close, but we’ll never be as happy as we once were,” Jackie says. Nick would have been 21 years old this past August, and it was hard for his sisters, especially his youngest sister Sarah, 19. “It’s hard on her because she realizes she’s getting older than Nick was,” Jackie says. Sarah’s in her sophomore year of college at Baldwin Wallace University. Jackie says every time she and Joe take their daughter to college it’s difficult. “She originally wanted to go to Kent, but everything changed after,” Jackie says as she processes her thoughts with a blank stare facing down at the wooden floor. “The choice was up to her on whether she wanted to go or not, and I hoped she wouldn’t.” She says her daughter, Jess, 24, had a wonderful four years there, but going back isn’t the same anymore. “We went out to the campus again and everywhere Sarah looked she said she could see Nick,” Jackie says. “It would have been too much of a struggle for her.” “They’re still going to be themselves,” Joe says about his three daughters, “but if Jess was out and Jackie texted her at 11 p.m. and she doesn’t answer, Jackie’s going to think ‘what’s wrong?’” “Until you lose a child you don’t know what that feels like,” Jackie says. “You don’t know if it’ll happen again.” Jackie says how the girls know and understand how she feels when it comes to staying in touch. She says they do their best to not put her through that kind worry and panic. Kelly says she used to fish with Nick and still tries to go, but it’s not the same for her father. “We had a boat here up in Cleveland,” Joe says. “We loved it, but it wasn’t the same as being out on the ocean.” He sold the boat six months after Nick died. “I just couldn’t do it.” He says he doesn’t fish anymore unless it’s with Kelly. “It’s hard for me to just be by the water.” The day before Nick died, he surprised his parents at home. He and a group of friends – including Alex Mangels and Justin Lewandowski – were roaming around Cleveland taking pictures and adventuring to different places. “They would always go to obscure places in Cleveland and take pictures,” Jackie says. “In fact, I was looking at Nick’s Facebook the other day and the last message I sent him was this article on these underground tunnels in Cleveland, and I said ‘Next adventure?’” She looks down in her lap. “I don’t think he got to read that.” While visiting, Nick showed off his fish tank to his friends and shot airsoft guns in the backyard. They had to head back to Kent soon after. “At least I got to hug him and he told me he loved me,” Jackie says. “It was like he knew.” “There are some nights where I can’t sleep because I think of Nick,” Joe says. He says how his siblings and members of his band have sons, and it’s hard to cope with it sometimes. “The guys [band members] would complain about their sons,” he says. “And I never had anything to complain about Nick. But when I hear them complain, they don’t realize how lucky they are.” Jackie mentions how people forget the things they say makes it harder for them sometimes, but they don’t know or realize it half the time. “You don’t want people to understand because that means they go through it,” she says. “You just have no clue how bad it hurts or how lost you feel. There’s a piece of me missing and I’ll never be the same person again.” Jackie says she would run into people at the high school she works at, and they would ask the basic “how are you?” question. The other day she asked that question to a mother she knew that had a daughter the same age as Nick. The mother said, “Oh I’m good. My daughter is graduating from college this year.” Jackie is polite in these situations, but she’s like “yeah that’s great, but I know she is because Nick would have graduated this year.” People don’t necessarily forget what happened, but they forget out of context. Both Joe and Jackie agree this makes it hard to talk to people sometimes. And even though Nick never got to finish his college experience, his parents saw him change significantly in his first semester of college. “He had grown a lot lately,” Jackie says. “He started going to the gym to start losing weight, and he dated a girl for a short time – they had just broken up a month before it happened.” Jackie says she saw Nick blossom in just a short amount of time. “He was in love and really happy, and I’m glad he got to experience that.” Nick was starting to finally feel comfortable with himself by being himself. Jackie saw him start to embrace his personality and flourish. “He struggled to find his niche,” Jackie says, “and when he went to Kent, I saw him start to blossom. I knew he was going to do a lot of great things there. It would have been nice to see him and where he was at his senior year. God only knows what he would have went on to do after that.” Joe begins to mention how they have a family song: “More Than a Feeling,” by Boston. “The weirdest things would happen with our family and for some reason that song would come on,” Joe says as he tears up. “It became our family song.” He says now when they hear the song they think of Nick and how he would be there listening to it with the family. “The pet store where Nick worked at, I still go there, and I came walking in six months ago out of the blue and at 11 in the morning I walk in and the song came on. I looked at Greg [Nick’s boss] and I said ‘Come on!’ And Greg said ‘It’s one of those days, Joe. He’s here.’” Since Nick died, his picture hangs on the wall behind the counter of the pet store. “If I could have five more minutes with Nick, I’d ask, ‘Is there any way I could turn back time to keep you here?’” Joe says. “He was my best friend, and it hurts to know he’s gone.” He knows nothing is going to bring his son back, but he says he’s as proud of him today as the last day he saw him. “I’d ask if he realized how many lives he touched,” Jackie says. “I don’t think he realized that.” She said she wears his finger print around her neck every day. The family made necklaces of his finger print to always keep him close to their hearts. When it comes to the water, Nick’s parents both have different perspectives on how to look at it since they’ve lost their son. Where Joe finds it hard, Jackie finds peace. “I feel close to Nick when I’m by the water,” she says. “Just sitting by the ocean I can feel Nick’s with me. I know that’s where he’d be.” [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row][et_pb_column type=”4_4″][et_pb_code _builder_version=”3.9″]<iframe src=”https://e.issuu.com/anonymous-embed.html?u=theburr&d=burr2018fall&p=34″ width=”944″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”true”></iframe>[/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]

Journalist at Heart

Words by Kathryn Monsewicz

Courtesy of Google Photos

You may have noticed I didn’t write an introductory for my first blog post. Why? Because I like to hit the ground running. When I’m given an assignment, I bolt. You’ve never seen a writer make a deadline a month early? Here, hold my beer.

It is that instinct — to run and not walk — that drove the nail into my hard-headed persona, put the jackhammer to my always-overthinking mind, shouting, “Hey, you’re a writer. Go write.”

I started out at Kent State pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art history. Do you know how many students in the graduating class of Spring 2019 signed up to be major in art history? Two. This includes the girl who typed the words on the screen here. I still have an overwhelming love affair with art history. Da Vinci is my muse, and Monet my golden calf to worship. Unfortunately, a successful career is hard to find in the world of art studies. Jobs at museums are slim to none unless you’re doing maintenance, and becoming a teacher meant another two or more years of student debt.

So I changed my major to journalism. Why? Because my mother told me to. Why else would you do anything at age 18?

Yes, mother, I know you’re reading this and in about three minutes I’m going to get a text that reads, “I did NOT tell you to do that!”

But mom, you did. You didn’t know it, but you did.

My mother is a journalist and has been for a little over 40 years. She started young, writing her own newspaper and working for the local Hartville News. Ever since I was little, I’ve heard her wake up in the middle of the night to answer phone calls about homicides. I’ve watched her scribble notes in ancient shorthand on any piece of paper available at the time — usually an envelope or a Jimmy John’s receipt.

When I was even younger and she couldn’t find a babysitter, Saturdays were play days at the newspaper building. Don’t worry, I never missed my Saturday morning cartoons. I always watched Jimmy Newtron in the dimly lit meeting room on the big box television while coloring images of sailboats for dad and palm trees for mom.

My mom taught me how to be a writer. She’s a machine, that woman. Go ahead, count how many times her byline shows up in the latest edition. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re in the double digits in a thick Sunday paper. Her most common saying? “I’ve worked at 15 papers in eight states.”

Scratch that.

Her most common saying? “Bless your heart!” (to the person she’s trying to get a good quote from).

Upon switching my major to journalism, which I joke is in my blood, my mother told me one little thing that all hardworking, diligent, Protestant parents tell their prodigies: Put yourself out there. Make a name for yourself. Build that resume.

Okay, so that was three ways to say one little thing, but you get my point.

It was on a Thursday. A gray Thursday. No rain, just gray. My classes were over by 4 p.m. and I had gone to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to hop on the treadmill and shave off some calories from my lunch — a 200-and-something calorie Lunchables I devoured in anthropology while the skateboard dude next to me was leaning on my designated armrest.

My earbuds were blaring over the sound of the treadmill belt and some wise guy dropping weights on the ground because the whole fitness center had to know how heavy he could lift. My phone lit up in the middle of Fifth Harmony and I had an email alert from SOCIETY 19 magazine.

About a week ago, I noticed a flyer in Franklin Hall that read, “Great resume builder.” I snapped a picture of it on my phone thinking, “I’ll take a picture of this now as if I’ll actually apply for the job.” Mom said, “Put yourself out there.” She’s been “out there.” She knows what it’s like. So I figured I’d put myself out there and I’d write.

Back to that miserable treadmill on a gray Thursday.

SOCIETY19 magazine. I slowed my pace, glided my finger tip across my phone screen and checked into my Kent State email — where all of my “professional” business goes. I glanced at the new message and my heart skipped a beat (I probably shouldn’t have been on the treadmill in that case). I was in. A writer — no, an author — at SOCIETY19, the Kent State branch of an online fashion and lifestyle magazine.

What’s my next thought? Finish this last mile? Celebrate with a strawberry-banana smoothie from the REC concession?


Start the story.

But what about that smoothie? Concession stands and fast food smoothies are usually loaded with sugar and not just the healthy sugars found in fruit … so how beneficial is it to have a smoothie after busting your butt on the treadmill for three miles? There, I had my story. What, and why, to eat post-workout.

I sent the story pitch to my editor before finishing up my three miles. On my way out of the REC to Tri Towers dorms, I thought, “where am I going? The story is right behind me!” So I stopped at the REC entrance, stole a paper map and golf pencil from the golf course display out front and ran back inside.

At the smoothie bar, I introduced myself as a writer for SOCIETY19 magazine doing a story on post workout nutrition. I asked the employee (who wished to remain anonymous) about what most students purchase, how healthy she thought the menu items were and what types of snacks the concession offers. Then, I whirled around and jumped on the first customer I saw eating at a table (poor guy, I didn’t mean to jump on him like that). I interviewed him mid-chew of his protein bar.

Within five minutes, I had two sources. What’s so special about that? I got the email saying I was hired only 15 minutes ago, and this was my first time interviewing anybody ever. Of course, I needed an expert source, so I reached out to my on-campus nutritionist who was happy to give me all the information I needed. Within a couple days, I had the story complete and ready for editing before post — a month ahead of deadline.

By blood and in spirit, I’m a writer. As you can see, I also lack patience which is why I make my deadlines ahead of time. And I’m surely not patient enough to wait until I’m 45 years old to write a Twilight remake and get famous, or be discovered only years after my death like a great, ancient poet.

Listen to your parents. Give them credit for living through what you are struggling through now with generational differences aside. Your parents have been with you from the very beginning, have watched you grow and develop into this adult human being and they love you. Unconditionally. Love them back with an open heart and open ears.

From a job flyer and a little piece of motherly advice, I found out that I am a journalist at heart.

I told myself to write, but my mother told me to become a writer.