Kristen Zulliger, Class of 2022 President at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, delivered the following speech at the White Coat Ceremony in May.
I would like to take you on the journey that brought us to this special day. Several years ago, like many of you, I stepped into Fry 33 at my first Ohio State Optometry Visit Day as only a high schooler with my parents. I remember thinking it was going to be nearly impossible to balance the expectations of earning good grades, getting a high OAT score, gaining leadership involvement, and accumulating shadowing hours. As we fast forward to our time as undergraduate students three to four years ago, we were deep into chemistry, biology, and physics classes. When the long nights of studying grew difficult, I reminded myself about the ultimate goal– Optometry – to give me that extra boost to do the best that I could. At the same time, we spent several hours shadowing optometrists which fostered the growth of our curiosity and passion for optometry. Just over two years ago, many of us were in the process of studying for and taking the OAT. We filled our brains with information from numerous prerequisite classes. Stepping into the testing center, I once again reminded myself of the simple word – Optometry – to make the impossible seem a little more possible.
Less than two years ago, we submitted our applications and began receiving our interview day invitations. The interview day was full of both excitement and nerves. We got our first taste of the nurturing atmosphere created by the faculty, staff, and students of the college. Although the walk to the interview room was intimidating, Dr. Earley quickly made us feel at ease by telling a few jokes as we climbed the stairs.
The part we had control over was now finished – but next, we had to wait, wait for the phone call that would determine our path for the next four years. With the acceptance call, a weight had been lifted off our chests. We had done the nearly impossible! We were going to optometry school!
Little did we know that the most rewarding part of the journey was about to begin. We stepped into Fry 33 for our first day of orientation on August 17th, just 266 days ago. We were eager to meet our new classmates and be given our schedule for the first semester. Our identity as Optometry students was established on the second day as we had our class pictures taken and as we represented our future occupation in a room full of other professional students. The first few weeks of school were full of many unknowns – many of us went back to simple questions like how do I study? How much should I study? Do I have time for fun?
The first round of exams gave us our first glimpse at the reality of professional school. We got into a rhythm of taking tests, breathing, and then taking more tests. Amongst the chaos, we strengthened our bonds as classmates and friends through football tailgates at the EYE house, late nights at the library, at our class Friendsgiving, and through SocialEYEs events with our group professor.
Before we knew it, our first finals week had arrived. Although it seemed like the longest week of our lives, we did it. And we did it with smiles on our faces as we ended the semester with a class gift exchange in our ugly Christmas sweaters. We had survived our first semester of optometry school!
After a relaxing and refreshing winter break, we returned to school just 123 days ago, ready to tackle the second half of the year. This semester started with excitement from the Epsilon Psi Epsilon fraternity recruitment. Through numerous laughs and funny memories, many of us continued to strengthen our bonds as classmates by competing in a group scavenger hunt all around Columbus. We celebrated the end of recruitment with initiation and welcomed new relationships not only within our class, but with upperclassmen. As the academic load picked up, we were a little stronger this time around and slowly jogged through the marathon of exams – 21 to be exact – every week from the end of January all the way up until last Tuesday. The end of finals brought a new week of learning through Keystone, where we began to use our basic science knowledge to solve patient cases. By passing our Keystone exam yesterday, we proved that we are capable of moving on to the next stage of optometry school.
Congratulations! We have made it through the most academically challenging year of our lives. But we couldn’t have done it without the amazing support and love from our fellow classmates. When the going got tough, we had Lauren’s inspiring and motivational Monday morning messages to get us through the week. We had Elton and Spencer to ask the questions we were all thinking in our heads. We had our friends, like Fareedah, to not only get us to go to the library, but to make our time spent there a little more enjoyable. We had our roommates, like Brittany, to answer our late-night optics questions and to make sure we had everything we needed for class.
Be proud of yourself for this amazing accomplishment. But also, be proud of our classmates. Be proud of them for stepping up and making this difficult year enjoyable and fun for all of us. As we celebrate our white coat, we can appreciate the incredible amount of information we have learned during our first year and the valuable relationships we have formed, but we can also look forward to all of the knowledge we have yet to gain as clinicians who can diagnose diseases and change the lives of our patients. And as you move on to new challenges, just remember – Optometry – to get you through it. Congratulations, Class of 2022 for earning your white coats. We finally did it!