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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Essay: How my accidental English major transformed my college experience

I had no doubts about applying to GW in high school. My early decision choice was easy – the School of Media and Public Affairs looked like the only place that I belonged. Mere scans of SMPA’s course catalog sparked my ambition more than any high school class ever did. I thought that I was destined to study political communication, a unique major that focuses on my strongest interests in media and government. Excited to have found my calling, I submitted my application and hoped for the best.

When I was admitted to GW in December 2020, the weight of my accomplishment nearly distracted me from the bold print of my acceptance letter. Still thrilled by the news of becoming a GW student, I learned that I was rejected from the political communication program and redirected to the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. My excitement about attending GW lasted for months, but as time progressed, I started to feel dispirited about my denial from SMPA. I thought that my goal of taking Washington’s political scene by storm was dead, and, worse, that I would never get to pursue my passion for the news. As August crept closer, I started to dread course registration. Without access to political communication classes, choosing my schedule seemed like an exercise in futility.

I loved to read growing up, and English was definitely my favorite subject in high school. As a result, and, at the advice of several CCAS academic advisors, I decided to take some English classes while waiting to reapply to SMPA. I wouldn’t be eligible to submit an internal transfer application until the second semester of sophomore year – two whole years away. But, in the meantime, I wanted to continue reading and writing, and I figured that I might even be able to earn an English minor in the process. Alongside a political science class and some general education requirements, I planned to take Introduction to American Literature II in the fall of my freshman year.

That class transformed my college experience. While taking classes from home because of COVID, I found a familiar comfort in our assigned readings and gained confidence in my ability to write about them through the help of my experienced professors. I was hooked on English electives, and, with still a year between my next application to SMPA, I decided to dive into the discipline and take two more English classes in the spring. I rediscovered my love for short stories in American Novel I. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tales of yesteryear swooped me out of my seat, and I was stunned to learn that some of my favorite authors were actually friends. After reading Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and watching the book’s 1975 adaptation in The Beat Generation, I proudly called my dad to tell him all about the foundational text of one of his favorite movies.

After crafting my application all semester, I was finally admitted to SMPA over winter break last school year. I celebrated with my parents and told friends who had tracked my progress toward a goal that often felt insurmountable. Thrilled beyond belief, I knew that credit was due in large part to the enduring breadth of my English curriculum at GW. Through the English minor’s many WIDs, I learned how to write persuasively and concisely — skills which undeniably strengthened my application to SMPA. By engaging with a variety of literary perspectives, I traveled through time and traversed foreign lands in my English classes, deepening my comprehension of the human condition.

By the time I was accepted to SMPA, I realized that my English minor was nearly complete. While I was inclined to feel satisfied, I still wanted more from GW’s English classes. I wanted to discover more poetry and allegorical fiction. I wanted to find out who today’s Hemingways and Dickinsons were, and I wanted to stumble across more sentences that make me stop to think about how I’m feeling. So, in the spring of my sophomore year, I made one of the best decisions of my GW career – declaring English as a second major.

Like SMPA, the English department’s faculty is the major’s greatest strength. Professors sponsor open and endlessly-creative classroom discussions that draw themes from classic novels and apply them to today’s world. As a result, I’ve made more friends in my English classes than I have in any others. English professor Dr. Ormond Seavey breathes a current and comedic life into Shakespeare that captivates students’ attention. I learned how to write fiction from bestselling author and professor Louis Bayard and built a library of classics through my coursework.

My English major has taught me so much, but there lies a greater lesson for other students who feel lost. First, rejection shouldn’t discourage you from trying something new. Chasing an available goal doesn’t mean your old one is out of reach, and a change of pace can open limitless doors to future success. Exploring classes in another major like English will dramatically improve your time at GW. Whether you are an undecided freshman or a sophomore studying civil engineering, English faculty always meet students where they are. My English major strengthened my reading and writing skills to make me a better political communication student. More importantly, though, I discovered so much about the world around me through my English classes by reading how others have “put it best.” My advice is to still follow your dreams – just don’t let them distract you from reaching your potential.

Matthew Donnell, a junior majoring in political communication and English, is an opinions writer.

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