An unexpected path leads to rewarding journey

Matt O'Connor

“When people ask me where I went to school, I’ll confidently say, ‘UIC,’” says Matt O’Connor, who graduates Sunday with a degree in English. Photo: S.K. Vemmer/UIC News

Graduation: the word alone brings hundreds of thoughts to mind. Relationships, late nights, the past, the future.

At my high school graduation, I would never have thought I would be graduating from UIC with a degree in English after working for the campus newspaper for nearly two years.

Sitting in a sea of people at high school commencement, I was dead set on studying marketing at Indiana University Bloomington and owning my own business one day.

I moved to Bloomington, nearly five hours away, and had a less-than-stellar freshman year. I knew if I could get a business degree, I would likely have a good job awaiting me. Still, I always felt I was just going through the motions in class. My heart was never really in it.

So I found myself back at home in Gurnee at the College of Lake County, a community college, missing the freedom I took for granted but taking classes I truly enjoyed.

English would be my new path. I got involved with The Chronicle, the college’s newspaper, and met people with similar interests. I decided writing is what I want to do, regardless of the career prospects.

I didn’t know what to expect, transferring to UIC and living in the city. I moved into Thomas Beckham Hall not knowing my roommates, but I quickly found my place. I called around to see where I could put my writing abilities to use. I started as a student contributor for UIC News, interned in spring 2013 and ultimately got paid to write. I met great friends, ventured throughout Chicago, found new venues and met interesting people wherever I went.

Since I went to three different schools in different settings, I didn’t have the typical college experience. Throughout all the mind-changes and moving, I always kept an open mind, in whatever situation I found myself. Whether it’s trying a new restaurant or interviewing someone for an article — you never know what can come out of a situation.

Graduation brings an entirely new set of challenges. Interviewing and writing for newspapers has provided me with great experience and put me in contact with people in different industries. My ideal job would be traveling to obscure corners of the world to cover the stories of those people who never receive attention, but have something important to say.

I’ve received a lot of advice and learned much along the way. Finding what I was good at wasn’t exactly easy, but I encourage everyone to keep trying. When you find your talent, stick with it.

A professor once told me not to wait until you receive your diploma to start doing important things: do them now.

Living in the city and going to UIC has by far been my favorite college experience. There’s never a dull moment in Chicago — and when people ask me where I went to school, I’ll confidently say, “UIC.”

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