A few months ago, I found my childhood journals. According to one of the entries, when I was a freshman in high school, it appears my dream was to be a journalist and go to UNC Chapel Hill to learn to become one.
Well, maybe there was one more dream – that the older boy up the street with the most beautiful smile full of braces who recently broke his writing arm while skateboarding would pay attention to me just the slightest bit.
But I digress.
I have no idea how or when the desire to become a journalist originated nor an explanation how, as a mere thirteen-year-old, I knew that UNC Chapel Hill was the place to go. Throughout childhood, writing and drawing were comforting things. Helped me to remember and to forget. Helped me to deal with the traumas of being a young girl with little to no confidence, whatsoever.
(Millis Road Elementary – 6th grade graduation, 1978. That’s me, third in line, waiting to read my essay… and about to throw up.)
Throughout high school, the journal entries were peppered with adolescent angst. Weekends spent on major school projects, the hopeless crush on “unattainable popular boy ‘X’” who passed in the hall with his head cheerleader girlfriend, and the ever-present pressure of feeling that I was always in competition with the other kids in the senior class for that spot at Carolina.
I was an “A” student in English classes and loved any opportunity for creative expression. While teachers saw potential, and my report cards reflected the same, the thing that weighed against me the most was my lack of ability to recognize – and believe in – that potential as well. As classmates filed in the guidance office to meet with the counselor to discuss admission applications and essays, something in me resisted the effort. For weeks, the UNC application sat in my desk drawer at home, and while I would take it out from time to time, answer a few more questions, and mull over what I would write for the personal essay, it never made it to the guidance office for review. My SAT scores sucked (at least I thought they did), and I didn’t feel I measured up to all the other classmates who had submitted the same application and whose scores were obviously much better. So it went in the trash.
And thus ended my dream… or so I thought.
Thirty-two years later, that love of writing hasn’t faded. Not one bit. In fact, it has deepened. In those three decades, college happened – although not quite the same way or in the same location as I had dreamed it would back then. And a tremendous amount of trial and error, rejection and acceptance, tears and joy. “Life education,” as it’s referred to in the stories I write these days.
As I approach fifty and the possibility of retiring soon, I find myself back in that senior class, pondering the future – life after graduating from career. What is it that I want to do now that I’ve “paid my dues” and am ready to explore all the world has to offer?
Thanks to the influence of a few good teachers and fellow writers/mentors, some who are now among my closest of friends, again I find myself sitting in front of that UNC Chapel Hill admission application. This time, though, it’s online – the application to the graduate program in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. As I prepare to write the personal essay, life rewinds back to 1983, where I stare blankly at the space and wonder what I could possibly write there that would make me so special that the people making the decisions would grant my admission without any question.
And so I write from the heart. From life. Sharing that, not only do I feel the program would benefit me in the work I presently do to earn a paycheck, it would offer the opportunity to grow personally and artistically in the work I actually enjoy doing outside the 8 to 5 day and in retirement. It would also push me even closer to the goal of writing my first book. And yes, maybe it might even help me to feel a little more confident in general.
I stared at the essay for what seemed like days and eventually mustered the courage to hit “send.” Even if I received a rejection letter, at least I had made the attempt, right? Leaning back in the chair, I took a deep breath and patted myself on the shoulder. Thirty-two years – better late than never.
The other day, I received a letter from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
My acceptance letter.
Tears crept into the corners of my eyes as I read the first sentence over and over, aloud. The seventeen-year-old who never took a chance to pursue her dream finally had it.
So did I.
Learning never ends. Better late than never.
Apply yourself, regardless of the outcome. You’ll be glad you did. — Me