I can give you only two really good pieces of advice. The first is to never worry about how much pasta you’re eating, especially when in college or Italy. The second is to become a Fordham English major.
There has never been a moment in my life when I wasn’t an English major. Even before college applications and SAT scores were on my mind, I knew when the time came I would major in English. Writing and reading—the act of imagining, creating, analyzing, and enjoying language—have always been a part of my life; being an English major, a part of my identity.
When I came to college in the fall of 2015, my decision to attend Fordham was made mainly by the university’s location in New York City, where I always imagined I’d be a writer of something—plays, poems, it didn’t matter what. The plan was the write, that’s as far as I got, and Fordham got me that far. Otherwise, I knew little about the school (what the heck is a Jesuit? being among my questions). I registered for my core classes, signed up for Urban Plunge, and dove head first into college.
It was not easy.
My first two years, I was hurting. I felt lonely and unhappy. I was struggling with my friendships, classes, mental health, and living in the city. Completing mainly core at the time, the only class I was excelling in was a 17th century poetry class, putting off Philosophical Ethics for another semester to indulge in the 4000 level course. By the middle of sophomore year, I was preparing my transfer applications. I even paid the application fees.
I never quite completed my transfer applications (I never sent off my transcripts). I was interrupted by an email from a professor named Elizabeth Stone, who was offering a two credit course in publishing. Specifically, students would be contributing to the creation and publication of The Comma, Fordham Lincoln Center’s literary magazine. As a writer, I was intrigued. A couple email exchanges later, and I became an official editor and contributor to The Comma.
That next semester, I felt like my life in college really began. I was an active member of an on campus literary publication, and I began really entering my major classes. I applied to, and was accepted into, the Creative Writing program, and attended events sponsored by the English and Creative Writing programs, finding friends within them.
The Fordham English department gave me what I needed: a community.
I have yet to meet a student in the program who isn’t an immediate friend (like Meg Crane, who I sat next to on my first day of Creative Nonfiction Writing by sheer gravitational pull, and have relied on as a supporter, editor, and companion ever since), or a professor who isn’t a willing mentor (like Professor Marwa Helal, who welcomed me to audit her class this semester and enabled me to feel confidence in being a writer again).
The study of English, by its sheer nature, is collaborative. Just like language doesn’t develop in isolation, neither does learning. Each classroom I entered was not a competition field for who could write the best poem or have the most impressive analysis of Othello—it was a space for exploration, where we worked through ideas and art together. In literature classes, I felt comfortable asking questions, being confused, prodding for thoughtful answers I didn’t quite have. In writing classes, I felt safe bringing in an imperfect piece, opening myself up for constructive criticism, being supported by my peers. There was never pressure for any of us to prove ourselves; we were there because we loved language, and we embarked on our linguistic journeys together.
For two years, I regretted moving to New York and coming to Fordham. Now, as I am graduating four years later, my only regret is not embracing this community sooner. I would give anything to have stopped stressing about being the best, or even just good enough, and to have found the affirmation and enjoyment in the Fordham English department those first two years.
Nonetheless, even as I graduate, I know I am not leaving this community. I have made friends and connected with mentors who I know I can rely on for years to come. Thanks to Fordham English, I have the confidence to learn and grow, replacing my once desperation to already know everything and be complete.
I could give you advice about what internships to do, how to stay ahead of your school work, the true meaning of success is a job well done, etc. etc. I could pepper my advice with my accomplishments as evidence, an expansive and specific cover letter. Certainly, there are things I’ve done here that I’m proud of, that look good on paper. But above all, what I’m proudest of, is being a part of something. The things that look good on paper are great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the things that felt good in my heart were even better.
So, put off a core class or two in your first couple years so you can begin being introduced to this community (I promise, Philosophical Ethics isn’t going anywhere). Submit and join publications that interest you until you find your right fit. Ask someone from your Jane Austen class if they’d like to join you for English Country Dancing. Go to a Poets Out Loud reading. Work through your questions in class with your peers. Invite people you hardly know over to your apartment to eat pizza and talk about writing (yes, I did that!) Enter as acquaintances, leave as friends. Write something, anything, leave it all on the page, and then let your classmates workshop the literary manifestation of your most vulnerable self.
Enter your career as a Fordham English major with an open heart and open mind, and let yourself be filled by all this program has to offer.
Congratulations, you are a Fordham English major, you are a part of something. Welcome, friend.
~ Cat Reynolds, FCLC 2018