First Impressions

Today was the first day of school.

I packed up my bag the night before, laid out my outfit, conjured up the perfect peanut butter sandwich for my midday snack and slept an unusually restful six hours. It was calm–I should have known.

In case you haven’t discovered this about me yet, I am a hot mess ball of stress. Anything that I could possibly worry about, I worry about. Even things that I couldn’t change, I worry about. Sure there are plenty of terrible things associated with this neurotic tendency–ulcers, poor sleep habits, irritability, etc.. But I CAN say that when an emergency or freak incident occurs, I am freakishly calm because I’ve already played out the scenario in my head a million times and I know what to expect and how to handle it.

Usually the night before a big event, I will toss and turn–playing out every possible thing I could stupidly do to ruin the next two years of my life. I plan my words carefully, anticipating every question to come my way.

Something has changed though, recently, I’ve been cool and collected. That internal pressure somehow balanced below the surface. Initially, I thought it was great. Maybe God, in his infinite wisdom, thought it appropriate to finally remove that stick from my ass.

It served me well enough at my interview on Friday. It actually couldn’t have worked out better.

But today…Today the Type-A, control freak, overacheiver within me let me down.

My morning started early-orientation at 9:30 (I realize this isn’t early for normal “working” people, but give me a break). Orientation went well. I met the 14 or so other people in my tiny department as well as some of the professors. Only once before in my life have I been surrounded by so many highly accomplished people (but that’s another story). There is something unsettling when the leading researching in your area of study laughs at your normally lame industry joke and says “Please, call me Sean.”

No, super-awesome-rockstar-professor…please let me call you Professor. Not even Professor So-and-So because your name is too sacred to be said aloud.

The director of the department kept stressing that now we were adults, and practically considered colleagues. We would be published alongside them and be consulted as experts in the making in our own areas. I almost laughed out loud at that one. Expert, me? No sir, just go ahead and tell me what to think; its much easier that way.

The other people in my department had interesting back stories, but we didn’t get enough of a chance to really break the ice for me to decide whether or not they are people worth getting to know personally.

Orientation went well enough. I was optimistic. I thought maybe I could handle this…I was wrong.

Later that evening there was a department reception. Wine was served to students and faculty alike by a man in a tuxedo, and a dozen cheeses were prominently stacked on a silver platter on stark white table clothes. Industry witticisms that would normally draw blank faces caused the room to erupt in fits of laughter:

“My new media forum is taught at the Newseum, which is a wonderful place in DC, but if we listen to Professor X’s position we might as well rename it the Museum of Archeology”

^This had the room cracking up.

I’m sure at some point I will actually discuss the things it is that I am studying and my areas of interest–and why that statement had the room rolling.

I didn’t do too badly at the reception. Receptions are very popular in DC, and always extremely awkward. People tend to kind of stand around with a drink, maybe talk to people they already know, but networking doesn’t happen nearly as often as one would think. I am determined to not sit around quietly with a drink in my hand–I will not be that person.

My solution? Embrace the awkward. Uncomfortable situations happen, but what makes them uncomfortable is the unwillingness for people to accept that they are uncomfortable. The best ice breaker ever? “Wow, so this is really awkward.” Believe it or not, I’ve found that it works 99% of the time. Also “Hi my name is Liane.” I’m not sure if it works as well if you have a different name, but I guess you could try it for yourself and tell me how it works.

So you’re thinking, it sounds like you had a good day. But its not over yet.

Media Theory, sounds like a blast of a class, right? My professor is a USC alum, she proudly proclaimed as one of the students in the class said they had just graduated from there a few years ago. “This guy is going to be my favorite student,” she laughed as she threw up her little SC gang sign. Enter the mild sinking feeling in my gut. When it came my turn to introduce myself, I quipped “If he is your favorite student, I’ll be your least favorite–I graduated from UCLA” (This is one of the greatest school/sport rivalries of all time–In case you didn’t know-click here for more info)

imagesShe was smiling, but I could see the disgust in her eyes and the plot of terror unfolding in her mind. Her kind gaze had turned calculating and she quickly finished introductions with the remaining of the 15-2o students in the class.

“So,” she began, “Media Effects, what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Silence. Silence. She takes a deep breath. Silence. “Ok, you!” She says, the disgust and fervor for destruction reignited and she stares into my soul. In that moment I could have not recalled my own name. I was both blank and overwhelmed by a million things rushing into my head at once. Media effects is what I am studying, broadly. I could have passed by saying “the effect that media has on something”, but no…nothing. An airy breath escaped my throat that sounded something like “Pass, oh my God, I’m so embarrassed”– and she moved on–content that she had destroyed my spirit.

First question, first class, first day of Graduate school–my only mission was to NOT sound like an idiot…and I failed. I couldn’t even describe the basic idea behind why I was there.

If nothing else, the rest of the semester can only get better.

To……(8 claps) U (clap clap clap) C (clap clap clap) L (clap clap clap) A (clap clap clap), U-C-L-A Fight Fight Fight!

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
~ A strong challenge from UCLA’s finest, John Wooden

(I also want to say that actually the professor is really awesome, and I think she is going to make otherwise difficult/dry/boring material very exciting…but that makes less of a story, doesn’t it?)


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