This is a letter to my daughter as she starts her junior year of college. Feel free to read along.
My junior year of college, I had an early semester meeting with a professor who wanted to introduce himself while getting to know a little about his students. The class was an introduction to Islam, which I needed for my religion degree, but apparently, I looked nothing like the typical student in the survey class.
“You’re not an underclassmen, are you?” he asked.
“No, I’m a junior,” I said. “How could you tell?”
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“You look a little jaded,” he said.
I suppose that makes you jaded too, Baby Girl.
In a way, that’s sad because it means college is no longer novel; it has lost some of its excitement and awe. The junior year of college also takes on a more serious tone because juniors become fully immersed in their majors, and success in those classes is paramount.
Having said that, I don’t remember much about the classes I took my junior year. Instead, I remember the time I spent at The Daily Tar Heel. By then, the DTH had become a part-time job. I’d finish up classes for the day, drop by a store in the Pit for a popcorn and milkshake and then head to the newspaper’s office in the Student Union. (And yes, college student eating habits in the 1980s were no better than they are today.)
The work at the DTH was exciting and, it seems to me, important. I was in my dorm room one afternoon when the phone rang. A female voice on the other end asked, “Will you hold for Bill Friday?”
In case you don’t know, Bill Friday was president of the UNC System. I answered, “Yes ma’am.” I was doing a story on integrating UNC-Chapel Hill, and Mr. Friday was among the many people I wanted to talk to.
I also had the opportunity to cover lectures by Jesse Jackson, “Roots” author Alex Haley, writer Tom Wolfe and Christian Broadcasting Network chairman Pat Robertson. And while it no doubt sounded sexy to no one but me, I covered a pretty heated race for head of the Resident Housing Authority.
I remember too the people I worked with at the DTH over the two years I spent there: John Drescher, now executive editor of the News & Observer; Jim Wrinn, who now makes his living writing about trains; Rachel Perry, my University Desk editor who went on to become spokeswoman for the likes of former Gov. Jim Hunt; Scott Sharpe, now an N&O photo editor; and Ann Peters, who has enjoyed perhaps the most varied career of my fellow DTH alums.
I think too that I became a better person my junior year. I befriended an underclassmen who had cerebral palsy and walked with the aid of a cane. One Saturday we were walking toward Kenan Stadium for a football game when he fell in the wooded area leading to the stadium. I can’t say for sure, but as a self-conscious freshman or sophomore, I might have been embarrassed by his predicament. But as a junior, I knelt down and told him we’d stay there until he was ready to get up and go.
I don’t know what your junior year holds for you, but be assured, you will be more comfortable in your classes, even if you fret about how successful you’ll be in them. Beyond that, I hope you’ll find time for an extracurricular activity that matters and matters to you. As for becoming a better person, you’re already well ahead of me in that regard, so I ain’t worried about that.
As always, know that your mother and I love you very much.