“My Voice” Essay: Must I Be Uncommon?
I am a junior now. And when I look out at the real world on the horizon, it’s decorated with ominous clouds.
You see, this is the first time on this trip through life that I haven’t had a map to follow. So far, I’ve just had to pass my classes. First grade led to second, and high school graduation led to college convocation. But where will college graduation lead? My dad often asks, “How’s that internship hunt going?” My friends innocently ask, “What are your summer plans?”
These questions, inserted into conversations as friendly filler, are starting to give me a constant case of clammy hands and panicky gut. I dream of becoming a respected journalist, but I’m in serious need of directions. I have no idea what my next step is, but I have a hunch it’s supposed to be remarkable.
The source of this feeling must be something in the water at Mount Holyoke, the result of a steady drizzle of pioneer propaganda. The mantra of greatness reverberates through my professors, peers, admission pamphlets, and even President Pasquerella. My writing professors believe that words can change the world. My adviser calls journalists “professors to the people,” making knowledge accessible to the masses. These truths are her religion, and I am a convert. Scanning the state of today’s media, how could I not go into journalism?
So, as I contemplate deadlines for internships with NPR, the New York Times, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the New Yorker, and Ms. magazine, I panic. “Maybe I’ll just go to bartending school after college,” I muse, half-kidding. “Hanging out at the bar worked for Hemingway, right?” The idea makes my dad nervous and confuses my friends.
My dad is comforted by my econ major: “You could always go into business, sweetie. My company values good writers,” he tells me. This idea bores me to death. A career in the corporate world seems so unremarkable, so common. Doesn’t he know Mount Holyoke women must be uncommon? An english major is supposed to be an award-winning novelist, the voice of her generation. A film major will be a fearless documentarian. A biology major will work for Doctors without Borders…or cure cancer. But what if a student wants to go into PR, international business, or private-practice medicine? What if she wants to be a parent or a volunteer?
I get the impression that my dear, soon-to-be alma mater is nurturing me to bloom in the direction of nonprofit work and starving artistry. On the one hand, this is fine, because I want to be a starving artist…well, a starving writer, really. The job market for writers is bleak, though if by some miracle I do become a pulitzer prize–winning journalist, I will be published and applauded. But what if I fail? At times, this feels so frightening that I can’t even write a cover letter, fill out an application, or work on my résumé.
Yet, I am slowly learning to accept this expectation to accomplish great things. Although it stresses me out, the pressure also inspires me. In a year and a half, I will be catapulted out of this ornate academic bubble. The bill-paying, food-on-the-table demands of the real world may initially knock me flat on my back, but I’m going to get up and do everything I can to save the world.
—By Olivia Lammel ’14
This article appeared in the spring 2013 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
April 10, 2013