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The dumbest person in the room

Posted by on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 in Academics, College Life.

Most people who go to Vanderbilt killed it in high school.

Among my friends alone there are former yearbook editors, all-state athletes, class presidents, service organizers, and some who did it all while excelling as some of the most intelligent, capable students in their classes. And when it finally came time for them to choose where they would continue their education, the majority of them got their first choice — their dream school — Vanderbilt.

This is me killing it in Vandy gear on my last day of high school. It's a liberal definition of 'killing it' considering that all my friends managed to dig out normal, nonathletic wear for the occasion, but it looks like I was just getting a head start on perfecting the 'college casual' look.

But is living the dream all it’s cracked up to be?

If you had asked me that question last year, that answer would’ve been a resounding yes. I was honing my writing skills at the Hustler and later at an amazing internship at Time Inc., I was doing really well in my classes, and I managed to find a balance between all of that and a packed social calendar. ‘Killing it’ would not have been an altogether inaccurate description.

But, as they say, all good things must come to a swift and sudden end once you hit junior year.

Last year, my courses focused largely on writing as a craft, and between Screenwriting, the Art of Blogging and Investigative Journalism, I was doing a lot of it, but even though I was pushing myself to constantly improve, writing was largely familiar territory. I’m a big believer in taking full advantage of what Vanderbilt has to offer, and in the spirit of expanding my horizons, when it came time to register for classes I filled my cart with subjects I knew less about: an American Studies seminar on privacy in the Internet age, a Communications course on the often complicated, conflicting rhetoric fed to the public through mass media, a course in technical elements and analysis of filmmaking methods, and an advertising course in which I essentially function as an agency creative, receiving a brief each week and coming back with a print, copy, billboard, television or multi-platform ad or advertising campaign the next.

Sounds a bit different than writing features and screenplays, right? Now, I may have been exaggerating a bit when I said the good times were over and this semester was doomed, but being newcomer to many of the discussion topics and assignments at the beginning of the semester was really challenging. I would be lying if I said I didn’t come back from classes some days really overwhelmed and missing my comfort zone, but recalling something I was told this summer really helped me change my perspective.

On my very first day at Time Inc., I sat in a room with 200 other new interns listening to the usual spiels — the company’s storied history, how us young people are the future, some tips for success (the whole thing wasn’t unlike the first address freshmen receive from Chancellor Zeppos during Founder’s Walk) — but one thing in particular stuck with me.

And this is the unfiltered version... courtesy of the incredible Vanderbilt Flickr.

Callie Schweitzer, then a new addition to the company who had also interned there when she was a college student, talked about why she had wanted to come back to Time Inc., and one of the things she mentioned was wanting to be the dumbest person in the room. Now, having shared rooms with her, I can say that she definitely didn’t get what she wanted on that front — she is one of the most accomplished, inspiring people I’ve ever met — but her logic was important. When you’re surrounded by people who know things that you don’t, you can learn from them as soon as you decide to try, and that’s exactly what I’ve found this semester. As soon as I got over worrying about not being the best (or anywhere close to it, for that matter), I started soaking in what everyone else was bringing to the table, and I’d like to think I’m much better off for it. Especially at a school like Vanderbilt, everyone has thought-provoking ideas and perspectives to offer, and sharing classrooms with people like that is one of, if not the best part about being here.

In short, everyone kills it in their comfort zone, but that’s not where the magic happens, and take a look at this campus (especially with the fall foliage) — pretty magical right?

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