“Mom, they made a mistake. I’m not supposed to be here. They didn't even read my paper…they were just looking to fill up all of the slots!” Flustered, I threw my binder down onto the hotel bed and nervously ran my hands through my hair. I had just attended my first session of presentations at the 2011 Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media hosted by Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, and had discovered that I was the youngest presenter by at least two years.
“Amy, they did not make a mistake. They read your paper and they thought it was good!” Always a supportive mother. But this time, I knew she was wrong. The other panelists were shocked when I told them that I would be presenting the next day and that I was only a sophomore in my undergraduate studies. I thought this was normal, but I quickly learned that it was not. The first presentations I heard were delivered by Ph.D students and current professors, and I had never even heard of the majority of the works that they were analyzing. I was horrified and seriously considered forgoing the entire experience, driving back to Chicago, and spending the remainder of the weekend shopping and getting lost in the city. But I knew I had prepared for too long and paid too much money to simply slip out of the conference.
I had submitted this paper mostly on a whim, taking advantage of a free, online submission to a conference that boasted a theme very similar to a paper I had written for Dr. Davis’s English 200 course. I never thought anything would come of it, considering that I had no experience presenting at an academic conference, but there I was, in Reavis Hall of Northern Illinois University, less than 24 hours away from presenting a paper to a group of “true academics” who enjoyed discussing the pedagogy of teaching writing to undergraduates. I sunk down in my seat in the back of the room, sure that they could sense my youth and inexperience.
The next day, after much coaxing from my mother and a final reminder that I would most likely never see these people again, I stood at the front of the room and read my paper with as much conviction as I could muster. I have little to no recollection of what I said, but I do remember my mom sitting in the back of the classroom and I knew that, if nothing else, she was proud of me and impressed with my work. After the other three panelists had presented, we sat in the front of the room to field questions. I couldn't decide which was more terrifying – to be asked a question that I could not answer, or to not be asked any questions at all. Luckily, neither of these two scenarios happened. People were truly interested in my topic – the exploration of pain, trauma, and violence in the works of Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Voluspa Jarpa – and asked engaging, thoughtful questions that I could answer.
After everyone had left the room and I was walking down the hallway to go to another session of presentations, a man who donned a nametag indicating that he was a professor from the University of Minnesota stopped me and complimented me on a thought-provoking and well-delivered presentation. When I told him that I was only a sophomore at Wittenberg, he said he never would have been able to tell, that my research was just as advanced as the work of the other presenters and more clearly delivered. Needless to say, it was all worth it in that moment.
Thanks to the e-mail notification of Dr. Richards and the support of Dr. Davis and the entire Wittenberg English Department, I have been blessed to experience something that has solidified my decision to study English and has boosted my confidence as a scholar.
Read more student stories here.