College Stories

College Stories

Weapon of (Journalism and) Mass Communication
by Mary Cole Allen ’10

With summer break just one day away in 2007, people milled around outside Craige dormitory playing basketball, laughing and enjoying the warm weather. I sat cross-legged on the floor of my cramped dorm room with hundreds of index cards spread out around me. In the two days prior, I’d eaten nothing but peanut butter and cereal and drank nearly a gallon of coffee. As I sat there staring aimlessly at what looked like the aftermath of a paper factory explosion, I started laughing.

Three years later, as a graduating senior, the courses listed on my transcript never fail to raise eyebrows in the advising office at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where I am a student. After all, it’s not every day that a journalism student takes microbiology just for fun.

But like many other bright-eyed and bushy-tailed first-years, I came in to Carolina thinking the sciences were my calling. They had everything I needed: reactions, microscopes, lab coats and goggles, not to mention the potential for a solid paycheck within a few years after graduation.

It wouldn’t be long, I thought, before my parents would have to ask me for advice on their ailments. It wouldn’t be long before I could buy myself that fancy car I saw zipping down Franklin Street. And it wouldn’t be long before I realized how completely misguided I was about my choice of major.

When registering for my second semester of classes, I thought I’d get some of my prerequisites for pharmacy school out of the way. Microbiology sounded like fun – I’d get to learn about my powerhouse immune system and the bacteria that wage war on it every day. I wish I’d known at the time I’d be feeling sick to my stomach every time I attended that class.

On the first day, the professor was pretty clear about what to expect. It required lots of reading and memorization. Getting behind was not an option. Yeah sure, I thought. Every professor gives that speech on the first day. The difference, which I realized after the first couple of lectures, was that my professor wasn’t messing around when she gave her word of warning.

In an effort to keep up, I lugged around the three-pound textbook with me everywhere. I walked like a hunched-over turtle with an over-sized shell because of all I carried on my back. I made flash cards for every chapter, which led to the carnage of paper on my floor at the end of the semester. But despite my aching back and cramped, paper-cut hands, I still went to class each day completely baffled by the material.

To make matters worse, the class had a lab requirement. As if feeling completely lost in lecture wasn’t enough torture, I had to grow bacteria once a week. Gross. My current housemates live for that kind of stuff, but for me, the thought of growing staphylococcus in a Petri dish causes me to dry heave still today. My most sincere apologies and gratitude go out to my extremely patient lab partner.

The months of agony culminated to that day in my dorm room where I was surrounded by flash cards. Each one had a bacteria, disease or body function scribbled on it with a brief explanation on the back. They all stared at me, ready to attack. I was outnumbered, and without a weapon. I could have gone for the scissors to defend myself, but I didn’t. Instead, without sudden movements for fear of inciting a revolution, I slowly reached under my mattress for my journal.

I wrote feverishly about how I’d gotten myself in too deep. I wrote about how I hated sitting through that class trying to enjoy something that made me feel like a complete idiot. I wrote about how I was going to set all of my flash cards on fire in my suite bathroom. I wrote about how that was a bad idea because I’d probably be kicked out of campus housing. But the last bit I wrote in my journal that day changed my outlook entirely.

It reads: I should have chosen something that made me happy from the start. I think I’ll be a writer after tomorrow.

I read what I wrote, and it hit me. Creativity is what I enjoyed best. Telling someone a good story and seeing a reaction is what I loved most. Writing is something that gave me peace throughout my battle with the sciences. I would have jumped for joy, but there were still bacteria and diseases to be memorized.

The next day, I took my exam and passed. Afterward, I walked straight to Student Stores and sold my textbook so that some other poor, unfortunate soul could torture himself with the class. Then, I got a pedicure with the money.

Now, when I walk on campus, I see hundreds of stories I could tell instead of microorganisms that could give me a cold. While getting up for 8 a.m. journalism classes is never preferable, I’m content to know that I’ve got my coffee keeping me awake for a lecture that I enjoy. Through the process of trial and error, I’ve discovered who I want to be. And that’s what the Carolina experience is all about.

Mary Cole Allen ’10, of Ramseur, majored in Journalism and Mass Communication. She  plans to pursue her career in the Triangle area.