MY CHALLENGE TO YOU, COLLEGE STUDENT, IS THIS: VENTURE BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE. EXPLORE AND BUILD YOURSELF A COMPLEX CHARACTER, AND YOUR STORY CAN’T HELP BUT BE A BESTSELLER.
Incredibly, I was honored to speak at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s 2017 Honors Convocation after being invited by Dr. Patrice Berger of the UNL Honors Program as one of 49 Chancellor’s Scholars (graduating with a cumulative 4.0 GPA). I have to admit, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal until I was lining up backstage before the ceremony and a marshal told me I would be speaking right after and sitting next to Chancellor Ronnie Green. That, I think, is when the nerves kicked into high drive. Still, I tried my best to keep a calm head and appear the accomplished senior that my introduction made me out to be.
After delivering it to a few hundred students and parents, I thought I’d throw out my rambles on what made college so memorable for me. So, from someone who wishes they could rewind the clock, here’s my advice on making the most of college to all the students at UNL, across the U.S. and throughout the world. Whether you’re academically focused, gifted with athletic genes, or enjoying a good time, college should be synonymous with the word “explore.”
To the students who still have time left in college, I’d like to give you some perspective from someone for whom the clock has run out and offer you a challenge to build a legacy.
Throughout my college career, I have been asked countless times to describe who I am. Whether it was writing essays for applications, the inevitable “Tell me about yourself” question at job interviews, an introduction in group ice breakers, or the one-minute elevator pitch, this question is inescapable. When I started my freshman year, I didn’t know much about who I was, other than the fact that I was a “good student.” I showed up to class, I did my homework, and I studied for exams. Sure, I played sports in high school and did a few other clubs, but I hadn’t really dived into any of them. So when I met my honors peer mentor group for the first time and was asked to introduce myself, I didn’t know what to say. Everyone had good grades and did sports and joined clubs. Who was I? How was I any different?
THE ANSWER TO MY QUESTION EMERGED SLOWLY OVER MY FIRST SEMESTER UNTIL I FOUND MYSELF A NEW MOTTO: EXPLORE.
I wanted to push myself to explore my interests, explore my community, and explore the world. It is through my university that I have explored opportunities I didn’t even know were possible.
Being a member of the first graduating cohort of the College of Business Honors Academy has inherently challenged me to explore as we worked through the growing pains of a new program. I choose to explore my international business major outside of the classroom and studied abroad three times in France, Belgium, and Guyana. The University Honors Program helped me explore new cultures through the English conversation partners program that eventually encouraged me to start a new organization on campus and apply for the International Welcome Team. I explored my interests by joining other organizations like the Intelligence Community scholars program through which I connected with a Department of State recruiter and received my internship at the U.S. Mission to the EU in Brussels last summer. At UNL, I have explored multiple languages to further enhance my degree through which I’ve gained close faculty mentors who helped me gain a position as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan with the competitive JET program. After four years at UNL, I can honestly say that this university has allowed me to explore to my heart’s desire and opened incredible doors for me, all because I explored beyond the classroom. I wrote my own story as an explorer.
Going through the job search process and preparing to enter adulthood, I’ve realized that grades aren’t everything; a college education isn’t just about the academics. They’re important, yes, but it’s the experiences you have that convince people. In all the interviews I’ve been in, GPA has only come up in one context—when employers first notice it and are impressed. But they’re more impressed with how I’ve taken what I’ve learned in the classroom and explored in the outside world, how I’ve built on my education through experiences. When I tell my story of traveling the world, connecting with diverse people, and using my business degree as a toolset to solve external problems, this is what truly impresses them and makes me memorable.
COLLEGE IS A TIME THAT CHALLENGES YOU TO WRITE YOUR OWN STORY ABOUT WHO YOU ARE.
Here at Nebraska, our promise to you is that your story matters. But first, you need to explore what your story is and what it can be. You have already started your story good story as a diligent student who studies hard and works harder in the classroom with outstanding grades. But the best stories have unexpected plot twists; there are new events and conflicts that build character with incredible depth until we discover who we really are. As I’ve experienced, Nebraska has countless resources, mentors, and opportunities just waiting for you to discover; the world has countless corners to turn. Exploring them has helped me discover who I am.
So, my challenge to you is this: Go. Venture beyond that which you already know and challenge yourself outside of the classroom. Everyone here has limitless potential.
EXPLORE. WRITE YOUR OWN STORY.
Build yourself a complex character who fearlessly pursues plot twists and I promise, your story will be a bestseller.
With love from a too-soon-to-be graduate,