By Colleen Honan, Intern for SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement
As my undergraduate career comes to a close, I’ve been feeling quite nostalgic about the past four years. Lately, I’ve caught myself saying, “I’m going to miss this,” more than I’d like to admit. As a senior about to graduate, I feel pretty sagely, especially when I look back at my eighteen-year-old self. Although I’m only in my early twenties, I’ve come a long way from my freshman self. It’s been a journey of mistakes that I roll my eyes at now, but I know that making those mistakes is what made these past four years a memorable learning experience.
At times, I felt as though I was stumbling through college and getting myself into all kinds of predicaments. I didn’t begin my college career at Cortland but rather at small private school in Vermont. It was a difficult first year of schooling and I honestly believe I was not ready for college. I’d like to point out the ridiculous notion that students are supposed to pick a major when they are eighteen. I was a dual French and International Studies major for a while with no intention of teaching. Please do not ask why I was adamant about a French major because I could not honestly answer. Nor could I tell you why I took Arabic classes on top of French classes. My GPA did not take kindly to either. But hey, you live and learn, and most of that learning happened outside of the classroom.
For instance, I decided at one point last summer that maybe I should try to be an Air Force officer. I now laugh every time I tell someone that. Why? Well, for one thing I had no prior experience with the military in any shape or form. I met with my recruiter and for some reason I passed the interview and was scheduled to take the Air Force Officer test. I had two weeks to study on top of college courses. I went to Albany for the test, which turned out to be the strangest experience. First of all, I stood out like a sore thumb with my high top Vans and leopard bag. It didn’t occur to me that maybe that wasn’t the correct attire for a military environment. I was awakened at four in the morning to take a test at eight. I was yelled at, corralled and processed with fifty other kids who were off to basic. Four hours later, I finally got around to the test. Needless to say, I failed, which I felt at first to be a slap in the face but later came to the realization that maybe this was a sign that the military was not for me.
The next week, I did a “180” and decided to apply for the Peace Corps, for which I was also rejected. I didn’t even think that was possible. I applied for countless other jobs and the rejection letters kept on coming. I was floored by this and dramatically claimed that I would never, ever, in a trillion years ever, have a career. Obviously I’m prone to dramatizations. Moral of the story: failure is a part of life and it’s crucial for personal growth. I took chances and I take pride in the fact that I tried. Although I’m highlighting my least successful attempts, I believe they were some of the most enlightening moments. I never understood how important it is to fail, and – more importantly – how to recover from those failures.
Another piece of advice I wish I could go back in time and share with young Colleen is the necessity of trying things that force you out of your comfort zone. Fortunately, I did catch onto this once I transferred to Cortland. I played for the varsity soccer team for a while before I decided club soccer was a better fit for me. I have had three different internships and six types of jobs while in school. I’ve met so many great and helpful people along the way who have contributed to my positive experience here. The internship I currently have is with the Institute for Civic Engagement.
I kind of fell into this internship when I had an end of the semester crisis of “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?” and frantically searched for openings. I was hesitant to intern here because it wasn’t necessarily something I thought would complement my major, but it was an internship after all. To my surprise, it turned out to be a fantastic situation for me because it allowed me to greatly improve my communication skills. I published a few articles in the Dragon Chronicle, kept a weekly blog, helped maintain social media accounts, and wrote press releases, all of which were learning opportunities for me. This internship has inspired me to be more involved with my community, and has spurred a new interest in working with non-profit organizations.
This summer, I will go to Poland on a month-long service-learning study-abroad trip. I will be taking one class while interning at a non-governmental organization. I’m hoping to be involved in one that focuses on women’s issues in Poland. Before I go, I’d like to begin volunteering at a local Planned Parenthood. I’ve always had an interest in women’s issues but was never sure how to pursue a career in it. Volunteerism had never occurred to me as a great way to discover interests and possible career paths, but it is. Not only are you dedicating your time to help others, you are learning about yourself as well.
All in all, it’s been a bumpy ride full of twists and turns, some that I wish I could relive again, and others I’d rather forget. What you get is what you put into it, and you somehow find yourself along the way. The best moments of undergraduate life resulted from closing my eyes and stepping away from what I knew. More often than not, I was rewarded for choosing to do something that terrified me, and that in itself was exhilarating. So to all my undergraduate peers, a Mark Twain quote seems fitting, “throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”