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Maggie White

Professional Writer and Editor

whiteDuring the verbal defense portion of my comprehensive exams, Dr. Benigni referred to me, several times, as a “non-traditional risk-taker.” This description was somewhat humorous to me (and downright hilarious to my husband and family). At least, the idea of a “non-traditional risk-taker” had me conjuring up images of someone with facial piercings, blue hair, and who was perhaps in a garage band. Or else I imagined someone who slept under the stars by night and sought out adrenaline-pumping activities like sky-diving by day.

Given my hypothetical musings on who a non-traditional risk-taker might be, I am a fairly unexciting person by comparison. For one thing, I am petrified of heights (Dr. Westerfelhaus can attest to that admission, since he missed the view from the top of Untersburg Mountain in order to calm me down). For another, I am a stringent rule-follower: I always wear my seat belt, I never swim on a full stomach, and I floss daily. I don’t even have any tattoos. When teachers assign reading and add “optional” chapters or handouts, I always read those too. I know—I am a gigantic nerd/snoozer of a person. So you can imagine how delighted I was by Dr. B’s perception that I exist outside the perimeters of “traditional” or “safe” zones of life. Who would have guessed?

Indeed, if such a classification is true, then it is my experience with the Comm program that elicited these, formerly son-ambulatory, aspects of my persona to emerge. I had just moved to Charleston when I decided to apply to graduate school. I was working in a job where, once again, the behavior styles of humanity in general were simultaneously fascinating and frustrating to me. I had a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and had delayed graduate school up to that point because I was uninterested in law school and felt a master’s in English might be personally compelling, but not wholly applicable for the half-formulated professional future I had in mind for myself. At the time, I had a proverbial backpack stuffed to the gills with “interesting-enough-but-not-exactly-practical” life skills and experiences, and I knew I needed a different track. While seriously contemplating going for an MBA, I stumbled upon the Communication degree. Colby, where I had earned my B.A., did not have a Comm department, so the whole enterprise was new territory. The degree seemed to me to combine philosophy with psychology with literature with marketing. In short, I found it highly compelling. Thus, that MBA brochure quickly found its way into the rubbish.

Attending College of Charleston to complete my master’s in communication changed my life in extraordinarily unexpected and awesome ways. Coming from Boston, I admittedly harbored intellectual snobbery about “quality” education. While the northeast might have Harvard, I doubt a smarter or more riveting professor exists than Dr. Westerfelhaus. His class, Ethics in Communication floored me. Dr. McGhee’s rhetoric course also captivated me—my hand hurt from taking so many notes, and I would always do the “optional” reading (told you!). Dr. Ferrara’s Comm Theory class fulfilled my interest in workplace communication and interpersonal relationships, and Dr. Ruth proved a wealth of practical information on PR and marketing. She, incidentally, became not only an exemplary and trusted advisor, but also a valued, and hopefully life-long, friend.

Through the program I went abroad to Florence, Munich, and Salzburg. Dr. LaCroix is an incredibly apt person to lead such a venture, because no stone is left unturned, and humor holds a high place on the itinerary. Being on an abroad trip at the age of 31 was certainly an unexpected life twist, but I guess I am non-traditional that way.

Last year, my good friend Valerie Bell-Wright (a communication star and the 2011 graduate poster winner!) told me of a fellowship opportunity available to graduate students—teachingEnglish at the University of Versailles. Since studying abroad in Paris as an undergrad in 1998, I have been desperate to return here. Yes, I said “here”: I am writing this blog entry from my apartment in Paris, where my husband and I have lived since September, and where I am thoroughly enjoying this one year fellowship.

Maybe Dr. B was on to something after all, regarding his unlikely assessment of my persona. But I am not sure I could have filled the shoes of a “non-traditional risk-taker” without the foundation of the Comm program supporting me. In that ethics class I so loved, Dr. Westerfelhaus lectured about Rabbi Martin Buber. My favorite quote from the venerable rabbi: “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is not aware.” I could not agree more. Two European adventures and a lifetime of knowledge all fit into one master’s program—certainly a journey with myriad unanticipated destinations. Again, who would have guessed?