Fresh Perspective | Picking a Major

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

It’s December of my senior year of high school. The wall across from me, lined with pictures of me and my friends over the years, stares back at me as I remain horizontal, thinking about my future.

No one told me how many decisions I would have to make and which ones would be the right ones. Up until this moment, I had everything figured out — I would go to Pitt as a double major in psychology and education, and after graduation, I’d become a special education teacher. I had planned my entire future in my head and mapped everything out, but suddenly I was lost.

For most of my life, I wanted to be a teacher. From playing school in my bedroom and making my younger brother complete made-up worksheets, to teaching kids English in the Dominican Republic during a service trip, I thought I found something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Not only did I want to be a teacher, but I wanted to teach students with special needs. I grew up having a close family friend who has Down Syndrome and worked at a summer camp for Autistic children, so this passion only grew stronger as I got older. But then I found something else I loved a little more.

I was never really good at sharing my emotions out loud. Many times I got into heated arguments or disputes with friends or family because all of a sudden, all the emotions I suppressed came erupting out of me like furious lava. As a young child, and even now, I have a lot of anxiety, especially in social situations. Ordering my own food, asking for help, going somewhere by myself were all things I had trouble with. So just imagine a shy, awkward and anxious preteen who had all these emotions inside of her waiting to erupt — that was me.

It was then in my 10th grade English class where I found my love for writing. I always loved to read as a kid because the pages transported me somewhere else, but when I started to write, I ended up transporting myself elsewhere as well. I figured out that I could write down everything I felt instead of trying to say it, and I quickly learned that I am much better at writing than speaking. 

Then, senior year rolled around and I found myself on the staff of my school newspaper, publishing weekly articles, and somehow managed to become the editor-in-chief of the yearbook where I found a love for creative design. Writing and creating things soon took over my rooted passion to be an educator, and it felt wrong.

For months, I questioned everything. Nervous breakdown after nervous breakdown about what the heck I wanted to do in life consumed me my senior year of high school. It got so bad that I was even considering going to Penn State. As a type-A person, it was scary having my plans be disrupted by my own doing. That something so stable, like my dream to be a teacher, was slowly getting uprooted and replaced by my love of writing scared me. It felt like I had to make the decision of whether to play it safe or take a chance.

Then, it finally clicked and everything started to come together. I held the yearbook that I made in my hands and saw all the hard work I had put in reflect on those pages. I saw my name printed in the bylines and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I want to do this for as long as I can. That’s when I made the decision to attend Pitt and major in something communications- and writing-focused. At the end of all of this, if I somehow manage to fail, then I can always fall back on being an educator — but with the time I have now, I need to make the most of it. I know I would regret not seeing my name in bylines.

After I pass my basic Algebra class this semester, I will officially be a media and professional communications major. I’m already taking classes toward this major like Journalism and Radio Production, and I really enjoy it. If you told me — that awkward and anxious preteen who didn’t know how to express herself — that I would be working for The Pitt News and writing for Fresh Perspective where I get to express myself biweekly, I would’ve called you crazy. It is reassuring that I am right where I need to be when people come up to me and tell me how much they love my writing or when younger students at my high school tell me teachers still talk about me.

Sometimes the feeling of doubt creeps in when I think about how easy it would be to have played it safe and to know exactly where my endpoint is after education. Sometimes I think that my field is unstable, that journalism has no future and that my dreams are going to be short-lived. I hear all my friends in STEM talk about exactly what they are going to be doing at the end of all of this, and that freaks me out. Should I know exactly who I’m going to be? Is it wrong that I don’t? 

Then I think about who I would be if I wasn’t a writer or a journalist. I think about who that girl would be if she never fell in love with writing. That keeps me going. At the end of the day, I’m still figuring it out — but I know that I’m glad I didn’t play it safe.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and self-care. Write to her at [email protected].