Through high school, my biggest activity was theatre. Looking back, I don’t remember football games or homecoming weeks. I just remember long nights of rehearsing, reading and cutting my performance pieces.
Theatre was everything to me. All my friends were performers, and most of them wanted to act professionally. But I was always hesitant to pursue it.
When the time came to apply to colleges, I set aside my performance background and aimed for the University of Tulsa. I didn’t know what I wanted to do there, but I knew it was a good private school. However, I had two friends at OU Drama, and they encouraged me to audition for the program.
So, I did. And I got in, along with 23 other students from across the nation.
I began my first year at OU as a drama major.
Looking back, I knew deep down drama wasn’t going to work out. I dreaded performing until I was actually doing it. I worried constantly about where I was going to move after graduation. And I knew I didn’t have the right personality type to excel in a rigorous arts program. I needed more structure and less pressure.
On top of that, I had a lot going on in my personal life. I wasn’t mentally healthy, and I felt stifled and unfocused. I lived my life in constant fear and emotional instability. The transition into college had been a nightmare. And studying a subject I didn’t feel passionate about was the cherry on top of a terrible first semester.
So, I decided to leave.
I emailed my acting professor with my news. She emailed me back asking me to come into her office the next day.
The next afternoon, she and I talked over my decision to leave the School of Drama. She asked me what I was going to do next. I told her I had no idea.
She asked me, “What pulled you to drama?”
My first instinct was to say “the rush of adrenaline from being onstage.” But the more I thought, the less true that became. And I realized drama had hooked me because I loved to make people understand. I loved to be in charge of telling a story. I wanted to help open minds. And I was satisfying that with the characters I played.
When I told this to my professor, she listed off possible careers: psychology, creative writing… I can’t remember if she brought up journalism at the time.
But I left the meeting feeling hopeful.
Christmas break, I had just gone through a terrible breakup. I was turbulent and restless. I didn’t want to spend a semester with my major undeclared. But I still had no idea what I wanted to study.
I’ve kept journals since I was in first grade. I’ve never gone more than a couple months without writing in them. And during break, I wrote about how lost and alone I felt. It was the only thing that made me feel like I had any power or direction.
But my final decision to switch my major to journalism was completely random and based solely on instinct — which, if you know me, is very rare.
I was scrolling through a site about the top programs at OU, and I saw something about the Gaylord College of Journalism. I clicked the link, and I felt happy and excited for the first time in months. I yelled to my mom in the kitchen, “I’m going to try journalism!” She expressed her support immediately — but to be fair, she’d been so worried about my mental health that she would have enrolled me in clown college if that would’ve made me happy.
So it was decided.
The next semester, I started my first journalism class.
I tried to leave theatre behind completely. I thought I was going to be doing something entirely different.
And then I took Gaylord College’s infamous “weed out” class: Media Writing and Storytelling.
When I started the class, I was surprised when I already knew how to tell a story effectively, even in print form. I knew how to use words clearly. My acting professor had stressed the importance of strong verbs, which are key to both acting and journalistic writing. I had also learned not to split the infinitive — in my acting professor’s words, “you can’t ‘to not.'” Most of all, acting had taught me how to tell the truth in an interesting way, which came in handy for reporting.
And it didn’t end there. I found that theatre had helped to develop my networking skills, even in one semester. I knew how to read a room. I knew how to analyze people a little better. I knew how to comprehend others’ motivations. And that was powerful for me, since I’m often pegged as naive.
My point is, I found a way to use effectively what theatre had taught me, even though I wasn’t performing anymore.
I had been ashamed to switch my major. I felt as though I’d lost a semester to theatre. But theatre helped me with journalism more than I thought possible. It helped me in my other classes, too. And later, so did journalism.
My point is, switching majors is scary if you don’t know exactly what you want to study. But it’s a sure-fire way to create a liberal arts curriculum, even though you may tack on a semester to your college time. If you’re unhappy with your major now, just know what you’re learning WILL come in handy at some point in the future.