In one week and one day, at roughly 1 p.m., I will be wearing a black bag-like outfit with a black hat unlike any other. This hat signifies something important. Can you guess? To entertain themselves, I’ve been told the journalism professors rate the outlandish nature of people’s shoes. I’ve also been told we’re not allowed to wear heels, but I will most likely break that rule. In one week and one day, at roughly 1 p.m., I am graduating from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
When I first started thinking about college as a high school student, I had no earthly or heavenly idea what I wanted to do with my life. I sat down with my mother and we discussed the things I loved doing. I love to communicate, regardless of the message being verbal or written. I love speaking and writing. We visited UNT during my senior year. I heard about their communications department, but I also heard about something called public relations. I was curious, so I went to talk with a journalism adviser, Nelia Smith, who has since passed away. She piqued my interest when she handed me a paper listing some of the jobs out there for PR.
I decided to major in PR, but started out at Collin College to save money. When I got to UNT, I’d been telling people about my major for two years. When they asked me to explain it, I had no idea what to tell them. I’d picked something I barely understood. After a few road bumps, I’m graduating with that major. Honestly, I still have difficulty explaining the job when people ask. So, I want to share three things I’ve learned about public relations during my time at UNT.
- Definitions are tricky.
Public relations is that it can be a part of any industry, in any company and in any country. I find this a highly attractive quality. Lorra Brown posted a blog on PR Daily called, “10 Things to Love About Public Relations.” She and I love PR for many of the same reasons. Specifically, she pointed out that skills you learn in public relations are applicable to any industry. The same aspect that makes public relations attractive also makes it confusing. You see, the roles and tasks performed by public relations professionals vary depending on what country, industry and company for which you’re working. That’s why definitions are tricky. When people ask me about what I’ll be doing once I graduate, I can give them a general idea, but not a definite list of my roles or responsibilities.
- It is stressful.
When it makes 6th on the list of most stressful jobs in America, you know it’s real. Forbes author Susan Adams wrote, “Though many people may picture PR execs wining and dining and taking lunch with friends and connections around town, in fact they face almost constant rejection from people like me.” However, I think she missed the largest reason why this job is stressful. Yes, I’ll face rejection, and if you decide to be in PR, so will you. No, the real stress stems from the fact that your actions, from sending a press release to tweeting 140 characters, have the potential to make or break an entire company’s reputation. Not only are you accountable for your actions, but if someone else makes a mess, literally or figuratively, it is your job to fix it. This stress grows exponentially the larger the organization. The burden of such an important reputation on your shoulders is quite large. The pressure to remain in the clear and make no mistakes is constant, and I love it. Every day brings forth a challenge.
- Grammar is vital, but not impossible.
This probably didn’t make your jaw drop. It isn’t revelation material, I know. Let me tell you something I don’t tell many people: I was a terrible grammarian in high school. I didn’t care to know the rules. I didn’t care to follow them. My friends didn’t just look at me crazy when I couldn’t explain my future major. They thought I was insane because I didn’t have a good grasp on grammar, punctuation, or spelling for that matter. Just ask people I used to AIM with. I used to say I had my own dictionary and spelling lists when they pointed out my countless errors. It wasn’t until I started college that I really applied myself. I learned that “it’s” is different that “its.” Even though it sounds odd because people don’t usually say it out loud, whom is still a part of our language. I started reading Grammar Girl’s blog religiously. My favorite article is about keeping affect and effect straight. When I say “my favorite,” what I really mean is, I keep going back to it because I constantly get them confused.
Honestly, I used to think grammar wasn’t a big deal. Boy, was I wrong. I also used to think grasping it was impossible, but it isn’t. If you don’t have an iron grasp on it, and punctuation, and spelling, you look stupid. If you look stupid, and your writing looks stupid, it will make the organization you’re representing look even worse. Let me tell you, editing is your friend!
I am thrilled to be graduating. It still scares me to think that I’m almost done and will have to face the world as a “real adult.” In reality, though, I can’t wait to get a full-time job, representing a company or clients with passion and drive. I want to put my knowledge and experience to work, tell someone’s story, and tell it well. I am so thankful to everyone at the Mayborn School of Journalism for encouraging me and helping me work at a level to remember with pride. I’ll always look back on it with fondness. Now, on to find something fancy to wear underneath that black bag-like outfit.