Why I stopped buying textbooks (and gave higher education the middle finger)


I remember the first time I bought textbooks as I got ready for my first semester of college. After saving a couple hundred dollars from my summer job, I proudly searched the depths of Amazon and purchased “collegiate” textbooks, that ensured my novice mind that I was on the path to bigger and better things.

However, it was sometime between my first and second semester of my freshman year, that I had an inkling that I was being duped.

The mindset went something like this. But probably with more curse words, snarky eye rolls and less than clear language:

  • “Wow. I can’t wait to learn something and better myself. These books will be of great assistance.”
  • “Okay. Well you can sit down and memorize something you’re not going to remember, or you can do something more productive like sit on Facebook.”
  • “This is dumb. This book is dumb. It will be out of context in a few years. My professor doesn’t even reference it and I’m out $500. Not buying a single book next semester.”
  • Next semester: “Hey okay, let’s buy these books.”

It’s a vicious cycle where I overestimate my capabilities, and believe that I’m actually going to do hours of assigned reading everyday, when in actuality, my attention span is too short and I’m too darn lazy.

I used to think that I was really unintelligent, especially when I saw some people around me immersed in their textbooks, and reciting verbatim the content they read. I wallowed as I attempted to read page after page, but my mind was always on something else.

For my sophomore year, I decided to say “screw you” to my professors and to Amazon, and decided to keep that $500 in my wallet.

In each of my classes, my professors told us to go out and purchase the required text. I just smirked and went on with my life.

When they said, “follow the syllabus and do the assigned reading,” for me it meant, “go do something you actually want to do and screw this.”

And I did. I did a lot of things. I worked on a political campaign, met and gave a speech before Michelle Obama, wrote a ton of news articles (and then got promoted to editor), started up an electronic magazine and led an LGBTQIA group on campus.

I was busier than all of my friends and often didn’t have time to eat or sleep. And yet — I didn’t do a single bit of homework I deemed unnecessary and I definitely didn’t read the assigned text. (Instead, I used the money for textbooks and received subscriptions to some newspapers and read those all day.)

I still hold a 3.5 and above GPA. Because well, we can’t get too crazy now, can we?

Now it’s not to say that I think higher education is bad.  It’s just that for the price that I’m paying — I wish there was a way to serve the needs of different personalized learning experiences. By the time you get into college, it’s pretty hard to stray from your learning habits.

And I know many people disagree with my analysis of college (I’m assuming my friends who are education majors are cringing at this moment.) That is completely fine. What works for me, doesn’t work for everyone else. I understand the importance of being a well-rounded person and having the ability to sit down and read, and analyze information, and all of that other stuff.


It’s not for everyone.

And I’ve learned that it’s not for me.


Student Journalism: The Best and the Worst

We’ve all been there. No matter what age or occupation, we’ve had those days that we never want to end, and those miserable days that seem endless.

In the world of journalism, we can distinctly remember those adrenaline moments when we uncover a hot story or get the chance to hear an exciting tip from a source. We can also distinctly remember the rough interviews, the angry people and those horrendous moments where it seems a story is going absolute nowhere.

As a student still learning the ropes, there are definitely distinctive high and low moments in student journalism.

The Best:

You Can Mess Up and People Are Understanding

We all make mistakes. Luckily for students, people are much more forgiving since they understand that you are still in the learning process. Once when I was investigating a story, I did not interview a person who was blatantly important and needed his voice to be heard. When he later emailed me and shared his thoughts, I immediately apologized and did my best to correct the situation.

“Are you a student?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a freshman.”

“Aaaah, that’s alright then. We all make mistakes.”

It is the card that you can pull that makes those big mistakes just a tad bit lighter.

On the otherhand…

The Worst:

Not being trusted with responsibilities because of student/ year status.

Luckily for me, as I come from a small school, my year in school doesn’t matter that much, but at bigger universities all of the practical experience goes to upperclassmen. I don’t agree that it’s a bad thing since upperclassmen certainly deserve the respect and the work, but underclassmen lose the chance to gain some necessary experience.

When interviewing people for a story, they are also less serious when it comes to a student newspaper. There have been times when I haven’t been invited to a press conference while other neighboring newspapers have been invited. It wasn’t because the quality of work wasn’t up to par– it was because we were viewed as less important since we were merely seen as “caterers to students.”

The Best:

Receiving the opportunity to dabble in a mix of mediums

For my sophomore year, I am covering three different beats for our student newspaper, while also serving the role of news director for our radio station. I don’t have any experience with budget cuts even though that is one of my beats, and I definitely don’t have any broadcasting experience.

That doesn’t matter though. Since I’m a student, I have the opportunity to use the university’s different equipment and educate myself on a variety of things. When out in the real world, there’s no way that you can work for a newspaper and for a radio station. Sure, you can have video on a newspaper site, and these days, websites are integrating a variety of mediums, but generally, it is still one major emphasis while something else takes the background.

The Worst:

Gaining an understanding of “the real world.”

I definitely believe my experience in the newspaper and my upcoming experience with the radio station will benefit my career later on. However, there is still a distinct different between an extracurricular and a professional job.

Unfortunately, the things that we learn in classrooms are often outdated by the time we graduate. While we assume that our classroom time and education is so unique, that same theme or lesson is being taught in just about every other journalism class.

And that complacency and laziness that you were allowed to have as a student in an activity will bring you the pink slip in your professional career.

The Best:

Making a name for yourself on campus

I’m sure it’s happened to any student who has worked for some sort of media outlet that’s popular on campus. Sometimes when you walk around or introduce yourself to someone, they’ll recognize you and say, “Hey aren’t you the person who was on —- or hey, aren’t you the person that always writing for —–?”

It’s heart warming and nice when your peers and professors notice your work and compliment you for it. Especially at a large institution, it’s even more flattering to be recognized.

And it doesn’t hurt that in the future, your peer may be a future connection or employer.

The Worst:

That bubble where you think, “I’m the awesomest person everrrr.”

You know what I’m talking about. I’m sure in class or at your paper or station, there’s that one person who thinks they’re the next Diane Sawyer. And sometimes, you can’t blame them for thinking that. We pamper and groom students so much and compliment them for every little thing that they can get egotistical.

But when they’re shoved out into the real world and employers are rejecting their application left and right, they’re dumbfounded. They were great at school and everyone thought their work was fantastic, why can’t they land an entry-level job?


Through thick and thin however, student journalism is a necessity for our up and coming age of young media socialites. It gives us the opportunity to spread our wings, get shot down and then fly back up again, ready to take on whatever may be out there.

And so I ask, what are your best and your worst in journalism?

The Lost Generation

light bulbs, lost, different, bright, dark

After an economic meltdown, record unemployment and skyrocketing college tuition; it is no wonder that our up and coming group of young people have been dubbed, “The Lost Generation.”

Previously used for those who were coming of age during World War I, it has now found it’s place in modern society.

We are in a climate where dreamers are forced to remain asleep. For every goal and ambition we may have, the probability of unemployment looms above us.

College tuition is well above the rate of inflation, and recent graduates are living with their parents to save money.

When a Bachelor’s Degree used to ensure a decent wage job, it now ensures that we will remain in debt for an extended amount of time.

For me, it’s absolutely terrifying to envision what my life will be like after graduation. Will the economy improve? According to polls, yes but it still will not be the same as before 2008. Will I find a job? In an industry like journalism, the pickings are slim and the competition is fierce. Will I be able to support myself and live in my own place? Well, maybe I’ll get lucky. Will I be okay?

Hell yes.

Our generation has guts. While people may assume that we are slackers and will not live up to the reputation of previous generation, I believe that we are an age group of fighters. We’ve been through traumatic historical events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the War in Iraq/Afghanistan.

And while our guts may be made up by iPod’s, Facebook and Starbucks, I believe that we are revolutionizing ourselves to adapt to new situations. For myself, I am aware of the tough times that lay before me and I’ve worked harder than ever before and I’m working harder than my parents had to. When one internship used to suffice, I’m now searching for three or four.

I see the reality that lays before me, and it looks pretty bleak. But through this mess, our generation will shine through. We’ll never be the same as we were before, but do we really want to go back? We’re hopefully smarter, stronger and aware of the impending dangers that occur with irresponsibility and lazy oversight.

So sure. High school students, college students and recent graduates are stuck with the name “The Lost Generation” due to the high rates of unemployment and massive debt that we’ve accumulated due to rising tuition. And sure, previous graduates may have had an easier time finding a job after graduation. But while the future is absolutely terrifying for us, we’ll break through and make them change us from the lost to the found and thriving.

It may be an unrealistic optimistic idea that has no real practical solution, but the only thing that we can do is fight. Especially in the field of journalism, people are clashing keyboards, jousting written words with one another and trying to be quicker and more efficient than the competition. Who you know is key, but putting up a good fight and revolutionizing ourselves for a world that is morphing “news” while also retaining traditional ethical attitudes will remain our priority.

I’m scared but excited. It’s tough to plan for what may come, but hopefully with hard work and dedication, I’ll succeed. And so my question is for you: what do you think of the lost generation and what are you planning to try and be “successful” in the future?

Photo Journalism

This semester, I decided to take a photo journalism class because 1.) I knew nothing about photography and 2.) For someone who wants to be a reporter, knowing nothing about photography seemed dangerous.

While I’m no professional, I can honestly say that it was a joy to capture a story through something other than words.

For our final project in the class, I had the chance to photograph a roller derby team in the local Waterloo, Iowa area. These women were total badasses. Don’t let the neon and sparkles fool you; they could beat any one up in the blink of a mascara eye.

Some other projects we had were profiles, events and lighting. The first one is a profile of a girl in my class, the second is an improv rehearsal of a troupe from UNI and the third is of Chicago during Easter weekend.

I love the way journalism can combine so many different mediums to tell just one story. From simplistic radio shows to interactive multimedia features, while some may view it as a curse, it is amazing how far technology along with experience has progressed journalism into a unique adventure for all involved.

Awkward Situations

For the entire second semester of my Freshman year, there was a man who confused me for another student. And for the entire semester, I was too afraid to correct him.

He would come up to me and strike up conversations about thing that I was completely obtuse about. My response each time was a nod and smile, and reason why I had to leave right at that moment.

The situation culminated to the moment when he asked if he could take photographs of myself and my significant other and our child. To which I responded with a vacant stare and an extremely awkward smile.

All of this could have been avoided if I had been brave enough to tell him right from the start that I was not the person that he thought I was. But instead, I didn’t want to put myself into an uncomfortable social situation and hence, placed myself in an even worse predicament.

And this fear of the uncomfortable made me think of the times I stumbled upon awkward situations while working on stories for my school’s paper. From cold calling strangers to conversing with higher officials, there were many moments where I felt my mind racing with worry and my body shaking with sweat.

For journalists, we have to go out and do what many American’s fear. Converse with complete strangers and not only that, but ask them to help us. Help us write a story, trust us that we won’t misspell your name and please don’t come running back accusing us of slander if it is not called for.

I think of my friends, whom many are too scared to even call people they know. Journalists have to make dozens of calls to people they don’t know, often prying into the intimate crevices of stranger’s lives.

I remember an investigative story I was working on about a restaurant owner who wasn’t paying his employees, who was also previously arrested for human trafficking. Calling the restaurant and realizing that I had to confront him was a cause of extreme stress and anxiety.

What if he found out where I lived? What if he starts yelling profanities? What if he has a family to take care of, and here’s me, getting ready to expose his business?

I mustered up the courage and called. Of course, he wasn’t there but I was able to have a conversation with a manager. Granted, it wasn’t pleasant because of the nature of the topic, but I was still having a conversation none the less.

It’s terrifying reaching out to strangers and putting yourself in strange situations with them. For the man who mistook me for another student, I didn’t want to put myself in the awkward position of correcting him. For many journalists, there are constant uncomfortable situations that occur with complete strangers.

However, these tense and strange moments that we share with random people are often the most memorable and the most real. There is a reason why journalists should never interview someone they know well, not just for objectivity reasons but because comfort may ironically put a wall between people.

There’s just something about the new and unfamiliar situation that comes along with strangers that helps a story move along in an unaltered sense. It’s just you and the other person. There’s no previous history, nothing to judge each other on, just one person to tell a story and the other person with an ear to listen to it.

That’s the simplistic beauty of journalism. Just you and one other person in a massive stinking heap of awkwardness. But in the end, it creates something real and tangible that will last a lifetime.

Journalism: Dead or Alive?

The world where people are interested in reading the Sunday paper and kicking back with a mug of Folgers is dead.

Or at least that’s what some people believe.

Since 2008, the United States has seen an interesting churn in the job market and the economy. But even before that, the job market has been revolutionizing into one that no longer upholds previous standards.

If you work hard, you’ll succeed. If you work at a place for a long time, they’ll reward you. You get what you put in.

After American citizens experienced lay off after lay off, no matter the amount of time and hard work they put, it was a realization of tough times to come.

The world of journalism has seen that first hand.

Television, newspapers and radio stations laid off massive amounts of people, because of the decline of viewership and advertisement.

People can get the news anywhere. Citizen journalism has shown that anybody who has access to a computer with internet can spurn up any story and post it on Twitter, whether it’s factual or not.

The trust in media has dropped exponentially. Where we once believed everything that The New York Times said, we now read with a wary eye.

According to Politico.com, Mike Huckabee once wrote, “I’m sad to report today a death of a good friend to all of us…..Journalism.”

So why would anyone want to pursue a career in journalism when the industry is highly competitive, the starting pay is low and people are judgmental about everything that’s written, no matter how accurate?

For me, it’s because I absolutely love it.

There is a heart racing, mind boggling and adrenaline rushing thrill when uncovering a story.

There is a sense of accomplishment and pride in letting someone’s voice be heard who may otherwise remain a silent figure in a crowd.

And there is just the chance to get to hear a story, and then hope that others will either hear or read that story too and learn something.

I love getting the chance to meet someone new and learn about what they’re passionate about or what they’re opinion may be.

I’ve met the mayor of the town my college is in, I’ve listened in on multiple Republican GOP Candidates, I’ve met a Consul General of Austria.

But perhaps those that are the most prominent in my mind are the “normal” people that one might not take a second look at. Those are the people that have the most interesting stories or might have a passion or skill for something that others overlook.

A director of a school who spoke over an hour and half about how proud she was of her students. A student who was owed over $800 dollars from her workplace. A student who just wanted to use his long board on school property.

While I just write for a student newspaper, these are voices that I’m proud to share and hope that others will hear their message.

There can’t be anything more alive in the world than journalism, because journalism is about life.

Beneath the crumpled pages of newspapers are rhythmic words that beat the pulse of a human being.

Through the flashing images on the television screen is a smiling face of a person who can be your next door neighbor, sharing her survival from cancer.

On the radio is a sole voice, sharing the tragedies from Syria. Objective and direct, but deep down there is a pleading for someone to notice, for someone to actually care and take the time to listen.

So while people may think it’s silly to try and break into journalism in this day and age because they believe it’s dead.

Deep down, journalism can never be dead. Because it’s all about life. We just now have to find a new way to let people see it.