Monday, April 9, 2012

Jenni Whalen ’12 on how writing allows her to hear herself. And to be heard.

Jenni Whalen
Psychology Major, Creative Writing & Italian Studies minors
Hometown: Seattle, WA

When talking about her writing, Sharon O’Brien (an author who works at Dickinson) says, “Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.”

I believe that this is why I write. I write because when I am putting words on a page, I suddenly realize what I could not say out loud, what I didn’t even know was in my head to begin with.

I am a senior Psychology major with Creative Writing and Italian Studies minors. When I applied to college at the age of 18, I thought that I might want to do something related to journalism or communications. I applied mostly to universities with journalism programs, but when I visited Bucknell, I fell in love and decided that I could overlook the fact that there was no journalism program. My poor parents were a bit worried by my choice to attend Bucknell (about a 12 hour travel day from Seattle), but to their credit, they remained supportive every step of the way.

As I began to take classes at Bucknell, I gradually let my dreams of journalism fade into the background as I fell in love with other subjects. At the time, I figured I’d get my master’s in Clinical Psychology. During my junior year, however, I rediscovered my love of writing for a couple of reasons. First, I took UNIV 239, the class that is required in order to be hired as a peer writing consultant in Bucknell’s Writing Center. As I spent three hours each week learning about the writing process (and writing multiple papers about the Amish community), I began to remember why I loved writing so much. That same semester, I enrolled in a Creative Writing: Non-Fiction class with Professor Camuto. He took a liking to me and to my writing, and began to coach me about how to shape my prose, and I became hooked on the idea of writing as an art form. Those two courses were my favorite – they didn’t even feel like classes! – so I realized that I might have caught onto something.

During the spring of my junior year, I studied in Florence, Italy. While there, I was a study abroad blogger for Bucknell’s website (yes, that was my face on the home page…) and I also worked for a student travel website and wrote for a student newspaper in Florence. I think this was the point where I suddenly realized that my love 
of writing and journalism wasn’t just a high school dream – it was something that I needed to pursue. When I returned to Bucknell for my senior year, I continued working for a few online publications, continued working in the Writing Center on campus and began to write for the Bucknellian again.

This year, as a senior, I’ve struggled with what to choose as a career path. Taking the steps that will allow you to pursue your dream is terrifying, because if it doesn’t work out for some reason, then you are losing the thing you are most passionate about. Because of this, I vacillated back and forth about career options. I knew that I could get a job in consulting, or teaching English in Italy, or doing some sort of writing work for a big company. I also knew that I could try to dig my elbows in and break into the very difficult and competitive magazine industry. As a third option, I applied to a couple of schools to get my master’s in journalism. And then I sat around feeling extremely confused.

Thankfully, Bucknell is full of very wise people, and I ended up with some wonderful job and graduate school options in front of me by the end of last month. Last week, I decided to accept a position at Boston University to get my master’s in Journalism with a focus on either magazine or investigative journalism. I will be working with Pulitzer Prize winning journalists and spending the next year of my life in Boston. I will actually be doing the thing I’ve always dreamed of doing, and that feels pretty incredible!

So, in answer to the questions that were posed to me when writing this blog, writing is important to my life and studies because I could not live and study without it. Writing helps me sort through my personal life, and it calms me down when I’m stressed out. Writing gives me a way to express my knowledge in class. It allows me to share information with thousands of college women across the nation through the website that I intern and write for ( Writing is something that I get to discuss in the Writing Center and experiment with in my poetry class. Writing is not just important in my life; writing is my life. The words don’t have to be right, or complicated, or pretty, but they allow me to express myself in a way that I can’t vocalize, and they allow me to be heard in a way that I’d never imagine was possible.


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