Amidst all the warnings, I became an English major.
English majors aren’t real majors, they scoffed. Why are you majoring in the language you’ve spoken for 18 years? they questioned. Print media’s dead, they shouted! There’s no money in a career in writing, they whispered. Don’t go swimming for 15 minutes after eating, they purported. Look both ways before crossing the road, they cautioned.
OK, maybe the last two cautions weren’t just aimed at me, but I did find myself under a constant barrage of naysaying when I made the ever-crucial decision of what I wanted to “be” when I grew up and told people I was headed off to college to major in English. I always had a penchant for stories and storytelling, so it made sense to me – and it helped that I was involved in my high school newspaper, so I had some decent writing and editing experience. To some of my more career-oriented peers and my advice givers, a professional courtship with the written word seemed, well, silly and vacuous.
But a decade ago, I eschewed their concerns, packed my bags, looked twice and headed off to college to go study the humanities. Before it was a place where you could “Believe in the Possibilities,” Gannon University was “The Right Place for You,” and I found truth in that statement. My graduating class was 88 strong, so Gannon’s small class sizes appealed to me. My hometown had fewer stoplights than presidential terms served by FDR, so the urban campus and city life enticed me. But most of all, because I had gotten to know my teachers in the past so well, I decided to come to Gannon because I would get to know my professors by name and work closely with them throughout my studies. And of course it helped that not a single one of them seemed to be trying to talk me out of being an English major. In fact, they all seemed to be happy that they were once upon a time English majors themselves – and now they had jobs!
Once on campus and settled in, I found my way to a smallish office, tucked in a pale brick building at the corner of Seventh and Peach streets. I sheepishly hid in the back, observing the editorial board of The Gannon Knight develop story ideas, assign them to writers and plan their next issue.
Before I knew it, an editor approached me.
Hey, are you looking for an assignment?
Next thing I knew, I was holding an assignment sheet to go review “Biloxi Blues” in the Schuster Theatre. I was soon taking on weekly assignments and then editing copy on production nights, which led to the decision to apply to become the next arts and leisure editor – an opportunity I counted myself fortunate to have.
From there, the story moves quickly – or at least it seems that way now looking back. From a&l to news and managing editor, from news and managing editor to editor-in-chief, and from editor-in-chief to, well, the real world.
Not only were the naysayers wrong – English is a real major! I learned more about my native language than I ever imagined possible! And we sustained a student-produced newspaper with relatively few headaches and it seems like I could get a job doing this! – I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to come to Gannon and major in English because all signs pointed to me venturing off into the world to find.
But while moving through the ranks at the newspaper, I found a love for academia and teaching and found the gears of opportunity shifting. With great encouragement from the faculty, I applied to the master’s program – you guessed it: in English – at Gannon. I counted my blessings the day I received my acceptance letter – and I counted them again when I was welcomed in as one of three new graduate teaching assistants.
The story continues to move quickly. Two years seemed like two months, and suddenly I found myself again confronting the real world.
But as it turns out, while I thought I was done with Gannon, Gannon wasn’t done with me. I was offered the opportunity to continue teaching there, picking up literature and writing classes. Shortly after, I found myself also teaching at Mercyhurst University.
Not long after that, though, another opportunity came a-knockin’.
I got a call from my adviser from The Knight. As it turns out, two guys were planning to start a newspaper and were in need of an editor. An interview, a writing assignment and two weeks later, I was offered to come aboard as the Erie Reader’s managing editor. My experience at Gannon gave me the confidence to join the startup and the skills necessary to help usher it into existence.
Two years later, the business is growing and thriving. Currently the Reader serves as Erie’s only independent source for news, culture and entertainment – an outlet that’s afforded me the chance to give a lecture at the Jefferson Educational Society, present seminars at eMarketing Learning Center, serve on a media panel at the Faces2012 Conference for the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, appear on WSEE weekly, as a source for weekend entertainment and more.
So amidst all the warnings, I became an English major. And amidst skepticism many English majors likely still face today, I graduated, obtained an advanced degree and found employment – in my career field.
After receiving a piece of mail last week, I found out I’ll be heading back to visit my hometown this summer. When I return there to celebrate my 10-year high school class reunion, I plan to keep an eye out for the naysayers. If I see them, I’ll tell them I don’t regret majoring in English – twice – and doing so at Gannon has made all the difference.