Two years ago, I moved into one of Canada’s top journalism programs at Carleton University. Maybe I was being unrealistic, but I thought that one day I was going to become an amazing journalist. At my high-school graduation, all of my friends and family placed me among the greats like Peter Mansbridge and Katie Couric, and somehow that assessment just felt right. How could it not be? I was editor of my school paper, and I had gotten into journalism school. In my mind, that sounded like a fantastic start to an inspiring career.
I spent my summer buying things for my new university dorm room, wondering how much fun I would have at frosh week, and colour co-coordinating my binders. I focused on minor things, and I relished the attention I got from family friends when my family boasted about my new successes. I was impressed with myself, and I’m maybe even a little guilty of thinking I was better than other people because I got into such a good program. That all changed on the first day of classes.
Ever since the day I walked into my first university journalism class, I’ve longed for the same certainty in myself. I remember looking around my classroom at 194 other students – all just like me. All of them were outstanding students with big dreams, and I’m pretty sure all of them will remember the moment when our professor told us to look around at each other and remember that by the end of the academic year, less than half of us would remain. I don’t think I’d ever felt as nauseous.
We beat his estimate. As I prepare to move on to the third year in the program, there are 109 of us. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I were one of the 86 students who didn’t make the cut, or dropped out for other reasons. All of those students had to change their plans. They started university seeing themselves as the future Wendy Mesley, and now they’re pursuing all kinds of different and equally as amazing things. There’s nothing wrong with deciding you thought you knew what you wanted to be and realizing it’s not what you thought it was. It’s good to keep an open mind. A lot of them changed their plans because journalism wasn’t what they wanted.
It is in the moments when we think things are certain that we take them for granted. Those who remain in my program are hard-working students who have more than just a dream. They’re hungry. They’re hungry for success, and they’ll pull all-nighters and spend hours, days, or weeks chasing a source. They really want it.
That doesn’t just apply for future journalists, though. It applies to any university or college student. If you want something for yourself, do everything within your power to make your dream a reality. Nobody is going to hand you a job as an engineer or a doctor or a teacher.
I still want to be the one who says goodnight to the thousands of viewers who watch Toronto’s news, but my perspective has changed a lot in the last few years. I used to think that making it into journalism school meant I was going to be successful. Now, I know how wrong I was.
I credit my reporting professor Dave Tait with the best outlook on not just university, but life. He told our class: “always remember that life is a lot like a plane mid-take off. Nothing is less important than the runway behind you, and more important than the climb above you.”
Baden Russell-Petigrow is a third-year Journalism Major at Carleton University.