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Early lessons by Jacqueline Johnson Lambiase ('84, '92 M.A.)


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About the author

Jacqueline Lambiase, twice named a Top Prof by UNT’s Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, has been teaching technology, public relations and writing at UNT since 1996. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in journalism from North Texas, she worked in print media in Texas and as a spokeswoman for an East Coast electric utility before returning for graduate school. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from UNT and her doctorate in humanities at the University of Texas at Arlington.


Just before the start of each fall semester at UNT, when first-year students move into the residence halls, memories of my own first year on campus push hard against my more recent identity as a professor. And I find myself overwhelmed, for a few minutes at least, by the thrill and dread experienced by all new college students.

And because it still makes me feel sick to my stomach, one memory from my own first year still evokes a slight post-traumatic response. The trigger event occurred in fall 1980, on the Sunday night before finals week. It was at that late moment that I realized all studying plus weeks of reading assignments could not be crammed into one night. I’m sure it was a rampant feeling among first-year students.

There are other memories, of course. But that one night in my Maple Hall dorm room provided the most salient lesson from that first year: Study time must be scheduled.

I could have easily fit more study time in between classes and almost daily visits with my boyfriend for sandwiches and video games at the New York Subway Shop on Avenue C or week-night concerts at Crossroads, a rock ’n’ roll dive with carpet that more rightly belonged on the floor of a taxi.

The dance club once stood at the corner of Fry Street and Hickory, an off-campus address that still distracts students from their most scholarly selves. On campus, my dorm friends and I often visited the Union’s Rock Bottom Lounge to drink beer and to hear a fledgling group called Brave Combo or a jazz ensemble.

These pleasures and anxieties were punctuated that first year by lessons of the larger world, too. Iranian students protesting outside the Willis Library brought the hostage crisis into sharper focus for American students at North Texas and heightened interest in that fall’s presidential election.

The year 1980 also was an exciting time for a first-year college student full of self-awareness. It turned out to be a particularly good time for a young woman to leave home for educational and career opportunities. The women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s meant a female student could choose a major in the 1980s and reasonably expect to become a journalist, business executive, educator, politician, volunteer or other professional.

I learned other lessons to help me navigate the university landscape and ensure a soft landing for my dreams, beyond the mundane time-management advice that could have saved me during my first finals week.

Quickly I understood that I had been right to be unconcerned about arriving at North Texas without a built-in network of friends from high school — I had chosen North Texas for its journalism program, not for its social opportunities.

Yet old friends came into play despite my resolve for independence. During that first week of classes, I happened upon an old friend from my Dallas elementary school, and she became a great roommate when I needed one in Maple Hall a few weeks later. My old friend/new roommate, Tamye Nance (’84), and another grade-school friend, Belinda Bratcher (’83), turned out to be solid connections during that first year. And so I confirmed that networking works well both forward and backward, that reaching out for both new associations and old was OK.

Choosing to take Latin and honors English courses during my first semester proved valuable, too, instead of following the usual take-it-easy advice urged on first-year students. These courses engaged me and were some of the most satisfying of my undergraduate work, because in them, I met like-minded people who would be my friends throughout college and beyond.

I met older students in my Latin course who helped me correct my study-deficit problem. In the English course I re-read Oedipus Rex with new understanding that made the play’s “know thyself” imperative especially relevant.

Lastly, I learned that studying, reaching out for new and old associations, and choosing a harder path offered much more long-term satisfaction than the endless diversions of Fry Street, parties and clubbing during an era when the minimum drinking age was 18. College was and is meant to be fun, of course, but in its best sense, it must also be a transformative experience. In that first year, I realized it was up to me to figure how to achieve that more important result.


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