Trenton McNulty reflects on first year

This is such a thoughtful reflection on first year, choices, and how to make the most of it all, that I really can’t think of anything to add. As soon as you read on, you’ll understand how lucky we are that Trenton elected to study English at UWaterloo.–JLH

JLH: What made you chose English at UWaterloo?
TM: Well, choosing a university and choosing English were actually two very different decisions for me. I think back then I knew that I wanted to do English, but finding a school that catered to my needs came first. Of all the schools I applied to, UWaterloo was the only one that really stuck out in my mind: it was recommended by some of my closest friends, and it was far enough away that I could live in residence, but still go home occasionally. When I toured the campus, there was something that set it apart from the other schools I’d seen – it felt familiar, like I could be comfortable there. That was really important to me.

I think more than anything, though, my choice was a result of the flexibility UWaterloo allows its students. The Honours Arts program, which I applied under, allowed me the freedom to pick and choose my courses for first year. I could shop around, test the waters, all without feeling tied down to any one decision. But my experiences throughout that first term really reminded me why, more than any other subject, English was what I was passionate about. The university atmosphere was intimidating, sure, but my professors really made me feel like I fit in. Like I was getting it, so to speak. It didn’t take long for me to be sure of my decision.

JLH: You’ve expressed an interest in co-op. What makes that particularly appealing? Have you started looking at the on-campus resources?
TM: Co-op was definitely an influence in my choice of school. A huge influence, actually. I knew Waterloo was famous for co-op, but I was actually really surprised to find that the program accommodated for English. As far as I can tell, UWaterloo is the only university to offer that type of comprehensive experience for English majors. It alleviated my main concern about university – that after four years I would walk out of school with no practical experience, holding a degree that, while personally significant to me, wouldn’t be as appealing to employers. While I now see just how valuable an English degree can be, co-op did a lot to put those worries to rest. I’ll be able to get real, practical experience, and better understand how my skills in the classroom translate to those in the workplace. If I’m lucky, I’ll graduate with zero student debt. That’s an extremely liberating feeling.

As for the on-campus resources, I have checked out a few online, but as of yet I haven’t gotten in contact with my academic advisor. As I understand it though, I don’t have to worry about registering until the end of this term. I can just focus on my schoolwork for now, and let future-me deal with it. Good luck, future-me.

JLH: Did anything surprise you in your first semester? Reflecting on it, are there things you might have done differently?
TM: I tried not to have any expectations going in, but on reflection it’s really striking just how different university and high school can be – at least in terms of personal responsibility. Sure, we still go to class, we listen, we take notes. But because of the smaller, much more personal environment of high school, there’s a greater obligation to actually do these things. You feel present, like you’re a part of your education. The constant back and forth between students and teachers and peers means that even if you fall behind someone notices.

That’s not the case with university – at least when you’re starting out. I remember walking into Psych 101 on the first day of class and being completely overwhelmed by the size, the noise, the rows upon rows of people. I didn’t feel like a part of that class – I felt like a spectator. Because of this disconnect, it was an uphill battle not to brush off assignments or miss a class here or there. If I did, no one would care. I wouldn’t feel the consequences of my mistake for weeks, maybe even months. If I were to do it all over again, I actually wouldn’t change that experience. It taught me that I can’t ever just scrape by – that with university you get out exactly what you put in.

The same thing applies outside the classroom as well. University lends you more freedom, sure, but it also demands a greater degree of proactivity. Unlike high school, you can’t just fall into friends by virtue of seeing them five times a week – you have to go to clubs, study groups, events on campus. If you don’t, you’re not going to make friends, and you run the danger of going through the day without saying a single word. Unfortunately, I speak from experience. So that’s the one thing I would change.

JLH: Are you mapping out your future courses or specializations?
TM: I don’t know if I’m definitively mapping things out (as a general rule I try not to), but there are quite a few English courses that really cater to what I’m passionate about. Popular Potter, Science Fiction, Creative Writing, and Game Studies are just a few that stand out to me – particularly the last one.

Plain and simple, I love video games. I know a lot of people like to brush them off as either juvenile or lacking in substance, but I honestly believe they have the potential to be even more compelling than books and movies – especially because they combine aspects of both. Through narrative, lore, and player choice, games have the ability to immerse players in a world like no other medium can. It’s why, of all the specializations offered by the English Department, Digital Media Studies, really stands out to me as one worth pursuing. It’s something I think I’ll always be excited about.

JLH: Finally, what words of advice might you have for other first year students?
TM: I’m probably the least qualified person to give advice, but if I had to do so, it would be this:

You’re not going to be your best, and that’s okay.

The thing with university, and I guess life in general, is that at some point you’re going to feel like you’re not good enough. Going from high school to university is a big change – you’re surrounded by people just as competent and passionate as you are. It’s intimidating, and you’re going to feel that. Be it failing an exam, handing in a poor assignment, or simply feeling out of place – it will happen. When it does, you can’t afford to beat yourself up over it. The only thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. Try to do better. Be better.


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