I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of this consists of standing in front of the chalkboard hung in my childhood playroom teaching my then toddler brother how to capitalize sentences and the difference between common + proper nouns.
My next memory is the first time I learned how to write in cursive — I was in the second grade and can remember thinking “wow, who knew words could LOOK so PRETTY!!!??” Around that same time was when I wrote my first “book” — a short story about a young girl (presumably myself) and her adventure to the North Pole — and my first “magazine article” discussing “red carpet do’s and don’ts” (I look back and laugh because I wrote “keep the arm candy to a minimum…we want to hear you, not your bangles.” Yup. Bangles. It was, like, 2005.). By sixth grade I had written an entire “magazine” which I entitled “The Forest Park Gazette” that consisted of Philadelphia sports’ most recent game stats.
By eighth grade, I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to be an english teacher. My teacher at the time, Mrs. Frydaly, was one of the best I had ever had. Empathetic, understanding, enthusiastic — it was these qualities that pushed me off the edge and allowed me to plummet in love with english. I longed for my peers to understand + appreciate how unbelievable works like The Outsiders and To Kill a Mockingbird are, and growing up to be an english teacher seemed the only rational way to make that happen.
I was set on this until my sophomore year of high school when kids started talking about college and majors and career plans…”pre-med, I want to be an oncologist,” “finance for sure, it’s a goldmine,” “political science and foreign affairs.” No one else loved english like I did. Was there something wrong with me? Why didn’t I like science? Why did math come so easily to everyone else yet I struggled in Algebra 2? So I started telling people I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and began believing it. I thought I was undecided.
I took AP Composition in my junior year and AP Literature in my senior and complained about both courses, despite loving them, because everyone else was. Everyone said they took AP english classes for the sole reason that they’d “look good” on college applications; I took AP english classes for fun. Senior year AP Lit was the best and most challenging class I’d ever taken. My teacher, Mrs. Cartee, was a tough grader yet did nothing but add fuel to my little english fire. Her two most commonly used comments on my papers were “give me more” and “be more confident.” She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and when I didn’t believe that english + writing was something I could do.
Still hesitant of choosing english as a major, I applied to college undecided.
My last english course of high school was an elective also taught by Mrs. Cartee. The class was called “Becoming a Better Writer” and each day she gave us a prompt + a half hour to write before sharing. We received credit for participation + “all or nothing” points for handing in a final portfolio; none of our individual writing pieces received a letter grade. It was in this class that I fell back in love with words and writing, and I owe a large part of that to Mrs. Cartee. So Cartee, if you ever read this, thank you a million times over. I am more grateful for the impact you’ve had on my life than you could ever, ever imagine.
So yadda yadda yadda I graduated high school, moved into my dorm at Pitt, completed my first semester of gen ed’s (which, luckily for me, included one literature course), and remained undecided. At the end of the semester I had a meeting with my academic advisor during which we talked briefly of the english major and heavily of the communications major. I agreed upon taking one communications course my second semester to see if it would be something I was interested it.
Well, second semester came and went, and the communications course just didn’t feel like a match. Nothing clicked. I wasn’t excited about it. What got me excited, though, was my composition class. I was in my instructor’s office every week and we formed a great relationship; he’d edit my papers for his class and various other writing pieces I’d done just for fun. Ironically enough, he ended up editing something I had written in Mrs. Cartee’s class and I’ve since sent it to various literary journals for publishing.
After doing loads of research and discussing it thoroughly with my composition instructor, I felt confident in my decision: english was it, I want to write. So I scheduled another appointment with my advisor to make it official and I was so excited on the day of my appointment that I practically skipped to her office. When I told her “I want to major in english and write for magazines” she didn’t say much. She handed me a communications major information sheet. When I turned it down, she handed me a communications minor information sheet. Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. She was making it impossible for me to declare english, telling me that she majored in French and doesn’t even use her degree as if that would happen to me.
Because of her roadblocks, I’m still listed as undecided even though I’m most certainly decided and have been since I was 13. English is not the easy way out, it’s not the most marketable major but the professional world couldn’t function without it. I’m so driven in making this dream come true that I don’t care about my advisor’s opinion. It’s a useless degree if you don’t work hard, and if I know one thing about myself it’s that I always give everything I have to everything I do.
The little girl that’s obsessed with the difference between common + proper nouns and the way words look in cursive is still inside of me and she doesn’t care what people think of her love for english anymore. She’s happy. She’s going to freak out when she gets her first internship. She’s going to cry when she receives her degree in what she’s passionate about, and when she lands her dream job she’s going to flick off everyone who said she couldn’t do it.
This one’s for her.