Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Thoughts from a college graduate

I first read this article by Julie Ma about famous women on their college years when I was in the middle of my last semester at Iowa State, and it made me think: I wonder what I'll say when I look back at my college years?

Well, I've had that fancy little diploma for a little more than two months now, and what I think of most when I look back at my three-and-a-half short years in college is how much I really did learn there.

When I enrolled in the journalism program as a nervous 18-year-old, all I really knew about it was what I saw in movies and TV and what I'd assumed by reading books and magazines. I chose journalism because I loved writing, and it seemed like a safe option in terms of getting paid to write. That, and I really, really loved magazines.

And then I took my first classes and realized I had no idea what I had gotten myself into — but I loved it. My first year of college could probably be summed up as a realization of how little I actually knew, both about careers in journalism and life in general. I didn't know AP style, or systems operations, or how important it is to pay attention to the news every day. One of the most beneficial lessons I had in that first year was the weekly news tests we had to take in my first required journalism course. We had to read, watch and listen to multiple news sources and take a test to see how well we paid attention to current events from week to week. Up until that point, my version of getting the "news" was asking my mom what the weather was supposed to do that day.

In college, I learned there are infinite job opportunities for a journalism degree. I learned how to copyedit the work of my peers and, more importantly, my own. I learned how to write catchy headlines and attention-grabbing leads, informational news blurbs and feature-length stories. I learned that in order to become a copy editor at any national news source, you have to know current events from five years ago and a little bit of basic geography — I didn't.

I learned that when people find out you study journalism, there's an 80 percent chance they'll ask you when they're going to start seeing you on TV, anchoring the news — because does writing even exist anymore? And there's a 100 percent chance they will have something to say about the death of print journalism, and how do you expect to make a living? And I also learned that print journalism isn't going anywhere just yet. And if it does? I'll still be able to find a job. Because college taught me that opportunities come to those who seek them.

I think Madeleine L'Engle's quote from the article sums it up best:
"I left college and went to New York to earn my living with the assurance that all doors were of course open to me, and that's a good attitude to have. If you expect doors to be open, they're likely to be open. If you expect them to be closed, they're likely to slam in your face." 
In 10, 20, even 50 years from now, I hope I remember every one of these lessons, and dozens more that I'll learn between now and then. I hope I never forget how it feels to look at the world and see nothing but opportunities and open doors, because that is what I learned in college.

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