There’s a little spot outside of my grandparent’s house in Chicago, IL, a white little gazebo that rests quietly by the lake in the park. I walk to it every year when I visit, usually in December. As I traverse through my personal winter wonderland, where snow cakes over the fields like frosting and the snowflakes brush against my face, I always stop at that spot and look at the frozen layer of ice staring back at me below.
I always feel a temptation to jump over the ledge and onto the ice, but I never act on this impulse. I imagine, of course, that the ice would collapse under my weight and I would fall into the frozen lake below, the cold water stabbing the nerves in my body, paralyzing me, and sinking me into the deep abyss where I would surely meet my end. But there’s a part of me that wonders, maybe even hopes, that the ice would be strong enough to hold me. That I could skate and slide all over the ice as happily as could be, enjoying and exploring a little more of my own winter wonderland.
That feeling I get when I look over that lake is the same feeling I’ve been having for the past few weeks now, ever since my college graduation. I feel like there’s a large sheet of ice that I’m looming over right now, and I don’t know if it’ll be strong enough to hold me. I have no choice whether or not to jump, of course, but after I jump… what is next? Will I be able to stand on it confidently, or will I collapse, fall in the frozen lake, and drown to death?
I would be lying to you if I said that it hasn’t be a strange five years for me. At this same time in 2011, I went through my high school graduation and faced the worst panic attack of my life so far. I remember my eyes darting from left to right frantically, looking for danger that wasn’t there. Tears kept streaming down my face, even though I didn’t know where they were coming from. And my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking, even hours after the attack had ended. The nerves in my body were so shot that I don’t think they knew how to process the things that were going on with my body.
Whenever I go through a panic attack nowadays, I’m usually able to get control of it either through deep breathing or distracting myself with other priorities. But back then, I had no control over it. As a result, I faced the full onslaught of my emotions, not knowing how to respond, react to, or process any of it. I’ve went through a lot of traumatic memories in the past few years, from heartbreak to getting fired from my job. My high school graduation remains to be my worst memory by far, hands down.
From there, I went through my first few years of my undergraduate, which was a very difficult transition for me to say the least. I started off my college career majoring in film, and the art department quickly proved how useless they were in my academic development. For one thing, the film professors that I had built curriculum mostly around film theory, which wasn’t very helpful when it came to my personal training. I needed technical help, instruction on how to operate a camera, white balance, frame, focus a shot, operate a boom mic, construct a lighting kit, etc. The help they were offering was in explaining the rule of thirds, the 180 rule, linear editing, and many other techniques which would take too long to explain here.
Note that I am not criticizing film theory as a whole. I am criticizing their teaching of film theory. Theory has an important place in film education, and that is in forming a general basis where filmmakers can start from to build and form their own ideas. Film theory is vitally important to the film industry, but at the end of the day, film theory is just theory. Artists have twisted, adjusted, and even straight-up broken numerous rules of film as the industry further developed, and in most cases, those breaking of the rules worked because it was for the narrative of those particular films.
The problem that I, and many other students, were facing in that department was that my professors were focused too much on theory and not enough on application. When I finally left the department, I still didn’t know how to operate a camera, I didn’t know how to use most of the editing software, and I developed no technical skills beyond what I already learned in high school. It was a wasteful education for a wasteful degree, so I left the department looking for help in other areas that I could find.
I soon transferred over to the communication department to major in broadcast journalism, which soon proved to be an immeasurably better education choice for me. I became the film critic for my newspaper, The Shorthorn, and soon moved to manage my own staff as a section editor. I worked as a radio personality for UTA Radio and hosted my own radio show, “The Talkie Tuesdays with David Dunn.” And this past year, I worked as a reporter, producer, and anchor for our broadcast station, UTA News. That last job in particular was special to me because it combined two of my passions: filming and writing.
The most unusual choice I made while I was in college was to join a fraternity. I never thought much of Greek life: I always imagined that it was filled with a bunch of egotistical, facetious hooligans that were more interesting in drinking and hazing than they were in academics and career-building. But the young man that I met in my advertising class back in 2013 demonstrated otherwise. He showed me pictures of his brothers working with the Boys and Girls Club down the street, talking about how Kappa Sigma was the leading philanthropy-based fraternity in the nation, and that they were on their way to coming back onto campus. He encouraged that I speak with the chapter’s rush chair and president, which I begrudgingly agreed to.
That meeting proved to be fruitful in more ways than one. The young men that I spoke to seemed a lot like me: young, ambitious, always looking ahead, eager to make a connection and have an impact on their campus. When I started the meeting, I told the them that regardless of how the meeting went, I would have to go home and discuss it with my parents. Yet by the end of that meeting, I decided to pay the registration fee and sign up right there on the spot.
That spur-of-the-moment decision proved to be the best one I made. Not only did I get the opportunity to work on my chapter’s executive board as secretary: I also got to travel to Virginia, work in headquarters as an intern, and even won a national award for my term in office during 2015. My college years were a very strange mix of good and bad things. Kappa Sigma was easily the best.
I’ve gained a lot, yet lost a lot in the short five years that I’ve had. I’ve had four amazing internships in my last year of college, yet I was fired from a job I really cared about at the end of 2015. I feel deeply in love with someone in 2014, only to have my heart broken by this same woman later in 2015. I’ve built friendships with people I thought I’d never connect with, only to have some of them eventually abandon me altogether. I neither judge nor feel harshly towards these people. I’ve come to learn that friends make life worth living, and yet, they come and go as frequently as the wind. I hope a few of them stick around, but I won’t be surprised if most of them don’t.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this has been a trying time for me, but it has also been a worthwhile one as well. I’ve been asked this important question before: “If you died tonight in your sleep, did you feel like you lived a happy life?” Five years ago, my answer would have been no, because really I didn’t have much of a life to live. But after going through the highs and lows of employment, heartbreak, academics, friendship, and the pursuit of happiness, I can confidently say that my answer has changed. Yes. Yes I have lived a happy life, although I highly doubt that it ends here.
So to the people who have entered and left my life, I want to say thank you. Thank you to my dear friends Connor and Warren, who have impossibly been by my side since my traumatic high school experience. Thank you to Jayme, who has both healed and broken my heart. Thank you to Laurie, Andrew, and Julian, who has given me leadership and guidance in areas where others have ignored. Thank you to Nick, Magnus, Steven, Erick, Izzak, Davis, Dylan, Mitch, Sir, Micky, and many, many others that have given me a second family in Kappa Sigma. Thank you to my loyal readers who have kept up with this website since its creation in 2012. There really are no other words major enough or appropriate enough to say. Thank you.
I don’t know what’s next for me. Who would know? But as I plunge into the ice lake beneath me, I hope that it will be strong enough to support my next step. And if it isn’t, I’ll learn to swim to the next one. I’ve drowned once before. I’m not so afraid to be drowning again.
– David Dunn