I'm Taffy O'Neal, and I'm one of Tennessee's best!
My decision to attend Middle Tennessee State University was exciting! I was offered one of the first 20 Buchanan Fellowships and was thrilled to accept the full four-year scholarship and educational award. To qualify, students must have a 3.5 GPA and a 25 on the ACT. To apply requires completing an application and writing an essay. However, the competition for this coveted award can be tough. Beyond the basic requirements, students chosen to be Buchanan Fellows have usually demonstrated exceptional academic abilities and/or talents. MTSU's Honors College recruits only the best of the best from all over Tennessee and beyond. Those lucky few who are chosen to be Fellows receive a four-year, full-ride scholarship, a $1,000 annual book allowance, an unbelievable education, great support from faculty, uncommon camaraderie from "fellow Fellows,"; and numerous other benefits and privileges. I am incredibly blessed by the Buchanan Fellowship.
To me, one of the biggest blessings of the Fellowship is having the ability to honestly say that the other Buchanans are my friends. We didn't know one another until we met at Fall Convocation. Coming from a small, rural public high school, I was somewhat reluctant to meet the other Fellows. I thought they were all going to be either really nerdy, much more capable, highly competitive, socially guarded and withdrawn, or too focused on their own goals and interests to be available. None of these is the case. They're all just great, normal kids! We went to classes together, studied together, we walk around campus together, eat together, hang out together—from day one, we became a tight group.
We're all different, though, with a wide variety of backgrounds, majors, and aspirations. I'm from Ridgetop, Tennessee, which is about thirty minutes north of Nashville. I'm majoring in English with a double minor in Creative Writing and Theatre. I plan to be a novelist. During high school, I wrote and published my first novel, Stoodie. There's a copy of my book in Walker Library and in the University Honors College library; it's also available through several retailers such as Amazon, Baker and Taylor, Barnes and Noble, and is sold in many different countries. Stoodie is a novel targeted mainly to a middle school audience and is set in the future. The main character, Amai, is a 13-year-old girl who lives in a society where kids don't have to go to school to receive an education; they simply download a day's worth of schooling each night while they sleep. My book explores what happens to the "disabled"; minority of "abnormal"; children in Amai's society who can't download their education, students who actually have to think and study in order to learn, students who are called "stoodies"; by those children who don't have to work for an education.
My Honors thesis, the culminating project required for graduation from the Honors College, will be another novel, The Last, which is actually based on a short story I wrote in the fourth grade. This book is also geared to a similar audience but is set in the future after a nuclear holocaust. Refugees are forced to live in an underwater city and must cope with the physiological, psychological, sociological, and technical issues of reality in this remarkable new habitat. They realize the importance of relationships and customs that are as essential—if not more essential—than the logistic necessities of survival. To complete this work, I have researched marine biology, physics, chemistry, anatomy, psychology, and many other interesting topics. In this effort, I have met and worked with several MTSU professors from across these diverse disciplines in order to enhance my understanding, as well as to use them as sounding boards. I have consistently found these scholarly experts who all maintain highly demanding schedules to be graciously available and eager to help in any way possible. Writing a novel is an enlivening and all-encompassing task that hopefully will result in a satisfyingly well-researched, well-written, and well-received book.
I know my education at MTSU has and will continue to help me be successful. When I applied, the Creative Writing program was brand new. I was assured the English Department would be willing to cater to my unique ambition and I've have found that promise to be true. Through high school, I was scared into believing that college professors were cold, vicious demagogues who wouldn't care about my grades—much less about my well-being. I even had a teacher tell me once about one of her professors (from a different university) who would erase the board as he wrote! That freaked me out, but all my professors are great! They are genuinely concerned with the success and understanding of the class material for each of their students. If any student is worried about a class or a topic, help is as easy as shooting the professor an e-mail and saying something like, "I'm having difficulty with 'X' issue,"; and they will help in any way they can.
I have found that, as my education continues, my love for the craft of writing and storytelling has increased in depth and breadth. Studying great literature from various times and places has allowed me to see writing more clearly from the perspective of a reader. Linguistics (a course I never envisioned myself taking but am so glad I did) has completely opened my eyes and ears to the texture, sound, and taste of words in a way I had never imagined. Thanks to studying poetry, I have learned to put much more thought into each word choice and into the effect it has on the rhythms, symbols, and metaphors throughout the piece.I have also found theatre to be an enlightening path to follow in my quest to learn more about writing. Acting has actually been my favorite class; it has provided me with practical tools and has taught me an interactive method of delving into essential literary elements like atmosphere and character development.Even Scenic Design helped me to more fully appreciate the importance of color, line, and texture in a setting which can immerse the reader and help him or her to visualize the world created on a page.This is one of the great things I've learn to love about writing: it teaches you to learn from everything.
Outside class, it is easy to get involved in worthwhile extra-curricular activities on and off of campus. In addition to my multifaceted duties as a Buchanan Fellow, I'm an active member of Raiders for Christ, one of the Christian campus ministries available at MTSU. School would simply not be the same for me without Monday night devotionals and "Breadbreak,"; the inexpensive but delicious and filling Tuesday lunches together that the RFC makes available weekly. With the RFC, I not only am strengthened and encouraged by leaders and other students that I admire, but I also have found various ways to serve—one of which is teaching English to non-English speaking students (mostly Chinese adults) at a local church. Involvement in theatre productions has also been a great extramural activity, growing experience, and stress reliever for me. I have enjoyed writing for Collage, MTSU's award-winning journal of creative expression, a publication of the Honors College but open to submissions from students campus-wide. In addition, I am also a member of the Honors Student Association, which is yet another way to meet people and to support the university. I really like meeting new people, and there are so many ways to do that at MTSU. Though roughly two-thirds of my high school graduating class chose to enroll at MTSU and, I see old friends fairly regularly; I see new faces every day.
MTSU is a great place to be! I'm getting a great education, growing in my passion, hanging out with people who will be my friends for a lifetime, and enjoying new experiences every day. Now is a great time to be one of Tennessee's best!