What did I learn in college?

In the middle of February, I was sent an email inviting me to write a speech to be given at commencement as the student speaker. I found out today that my speech was not selected as one of the 10 finalists. At first I was sad, and then I realized that I wouldn’t have to deliver a speech to thousands of people. I’m not as sad. But I still really think my speech was the best (obviously), so I decided to post it here, so thousands could potentially read it, and I wouldn’t have to be nervous at all.

On August 21, 2010, my life changed forever.  I was 18.  Through tears, I hugged my mom and she left me standing in my Gateway Heights dorm room, rather abruptly I thought.  The door clicked shut and I realized she wasn’t coming back.  With that realization, I dried my tears.  There was no point in crying when my cries of wanting her to stay with me forever in my small dorm room hadn’t worked.  My tears dried, and instantly, there was a knock on the door.  My older sister, who had been standing with me in my room, opened the door to find my mother standing there with $40 in her hand.  “Wow,” she remarked through tears.  “You stopped crying quickly.”  I just shrugged.  My mom was gone.  I was in charge of myself now, and I was scared.  But all I could do was embrace the unknown and hope for the best.  After all, my mom wasn’t going to be gone forever.  She would always be there in the wings of the stage of my life, waiting and watching me grow up through my college experience.

The next day, August 22nd, a Sunday, my life changed forever again.  It was 7 am, I was awake and I had no idea why.  I sat up and realized my roommate was also awake.  The fire alarm was going off.  We had no idea why it was going off, but we both put shoes on and hurried outside.  As we walked outside, we were met by the rest of the residents of the building.  I have never seen a funnier sight.  Everyone was still half asleep and completely confused.  As my eyes adjusted to the early morning light, I saw one of the funniest things I still have ever seen.  A boy, half dressed, was blinking light and sleep out of his eyes and in his arms, he was gripping a MacBook.  This boy embodied what we all felt—a dazed, sleepy confusion.

The start of my college experience was completely unique.  How many other kids can say that they were ripped from their new beds on night one of college?  But, strangely, I am grateful my college experience started this way.  It taught me a few things—for one, it taught me to expect the unexpected, because even then I will still be surprised.  It also taught me that college would constantly push me out of my comfort zone, and I would often just have to deal with it.  Finally, it taught me that more often than not, I am not the only one who is completely dazed and confused.

As I set out to write these thoughts on my college experience, I kept thinking about what I had learned.  What about college had helped me develop as a person?  Not just academically, but personally as well.  What about college changed not only me, but my classmates and peers?  What do we now have that we can credit to the University of Utah and our journey here?  Once I started thinking, I realized that the list is quite extensive.

I learned that high school is partially a lie.  For four years, I was told that in college ‘no one will have a pencil for me during an exam’, that ‘I had better remember a calculator for exams because one won’t be provided to me’, that ‘professors won’t care if I come to class’, that ‘it is completely up to me to pass all of my classes’, or that ‘college will be the hardest time of my life’.  For four years, I believed those lies.  Then I arrived at college and learned that, apart from the last two having some sense of truth, the before mentioned statements are complete lies.  When I got to college, I learned that exams are stressful and as such, professors or classmates will usually have a pencil or calculator if mine happened to slip my mind.  I learned that my professors wanted me to pass my classes more than I did, and that if I was struggling, all I had to do was ask for help and it would be given.  I was never alone in a class, ever.  To make a note on the last lie: ‘college will be the hardest time of my life’.  This ‘lie’ isn’t more a lie as it is a half-truth.  Yes, college is extremely hard.  But I think that is something that we all knew going into it.  However, what we didn’t know, perhaps due to the tone of finality used to tell us this half-truth prior to college, is that college will not only be hard, but it will also be so much more fun and so much more rewarding than any of our previous acquaintances or teachers could have ever told us.  And for that I am grateful.  I am grateful that in my first semester, every single lie about college I was told prior to arriving was burst wide open and I was able to enjoy my college experience to its fullest.

I learned I can do hard things.  I learned that I can push myself.  I learned that ‘impossible’ is just the glass ceiling I set for myself, and that it is up to me to break that ceiling wide open.  I learned that working hard is equally important as playing hard—in other words, it is just as important to work hard as it is to take time for myself and make sure that I am still enjoying what I do.  I learned that life is a serious business, but I shouldn’t take it too seriously.  I learned to laugh at myself and learn from my mistakes.  I learned that the world around me is not against me and there is always help available, I simply need to ask.  I learned that my peers/fellow students are great, inspiring people, who will only influence this world for good, because they have already impacted this University for good.  I also learned that the world is not as scary as it was when I was little.  The tools this University gave me—to weigh all outcomes equally, to listen to all sides of an argument before reaching a conclusion, to laugh and that it is okay to do so, to make mistakes, but learn from them, to ask for help—all these tools give me a perspective that tells me that the world can be conquered, and that I am well equipped to do so.  To that, I say thank you to the many coordinators, the many career/academic counselors, the countless professors I had, and the peers I worked with on endless group projects.  We all had a hand in each other’s University of Utah experience.

As a member of the David Eccles School of Business, I learned very quickly that the best professors are the usually the happiest, and usually the easiest from which to learn.  Whether it was Business Law with Jeff Nielsen, Accounting with Marci Butterfield or Mike Lewis, Marketing with Bill Moore, Strategic Management with Bonita Austin, or Sports Economics with Steve Maisch, to name a few, I learned that the most passionate professors are the ones that make a subject enjoyable and fun to learn.  These professors are the happiest because they love what they do and what they teach; that is so obvious in the way they present material.  To those professors, I say thank you.  You made a lasting impression on me and have made my desire to constantly learn everything I can last beyond graduation.  This list is in no way complete at all.  Every single professor I had at the University of Utah showed me that learning can be fun.  I will always that carry with me.

A lot of the things I learned during college taught me how to be an adult and how live on my own, and weren’t learned in a classroom or lecture hall.  For example, I learned that no matter how many times I climb the Legacy Bridge, it will always be hard.  I learned that the best way to order the Pie is to leave a pop culture name for your pizza— for instance, I was in the Pie once when ‘Lord Voldemort’ ordered a pizza.  The entire restaurant went silent as a boy in a hoodie walked up and grabbed a pizza.  I learned how to run after a TRAX train.  I learned that sometimes, the most comforting thing at 10 PM is a Hires Big H shake.  I learned, after years of just watching it on TV, what the Holy War truly is.  I learned how to ‘Bleed Red’ and how to ‘Fight for Dear Old Crimson’.  I learned how to be a Utah Man, and that I will be one until I die. Ki-Yi!  I learned that the MUSS is truly the greatest student section in the entire country and I mean that—be it the Football MUSS, the Basketball MUSS, the Gymnastics MUSS, or even the Hockey SUSS.  I loved attending every sporting event just because I knew that I would be enjoying it with 6000 of my closest friends.  I learned that no amount of cardio can prepare you for your first season of 3rd Down Jumps.  After the first half of my first football game, I made a mental note: ‘Work on cardio this summer.’

Someday, someone will look at me and ask me something about what I learned in college or how I enjoyed my college experience.  And due to the fact that I attended what I truly believe to be the greatest University in the world, and that I had so much fun learning so much about not only myself, but also the world around me and my chosen major of marketing, I will be able to think back on my college career, and smile and laugh.  I will then look that someone in the eye and share what I know to be the greatest years of my life so far by starting with, “I attended the University of Utah.”

Go Utes.

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