Every year, Ohio State invites one graduating undergraduate to speak at their commencement reception and dinner before the ceremony. I was honored this year to be that speaker. I was given the opportunity to speak about why I chose Ohio State, my struggles, my extracurricular activities, and my amazing mentors.
Giving the speech below was an amazing experience that I will never forget, as I tried to convey what these four years at college have meant to me.
“When I entered Ohio State as an eighteen year old girl, I was eager and just a bit terrified. I had chosen Ohio State for so many reasons – its many majors and its proximity to the city as well as to my family. It seemed like opportunities for professional development and good memories were everywhere, from late night ice cream dates around Mirror Lake to internship opportunities in Columbus. But, most importantly, I could see myself at Ohio State. I recognized parts of myself in classmates, in campus organizations, in leadership initiatives, and I knew I wanted to make my mark as well.
But, as much as I loved it, undergrad has been anything but easy. There have been obstacles, both academic and personal. I’ve had to conquer physics and organic chemistry. I’ve had to figure out who I am while also finding my place and still passing History of Art. My time as a Buckeye started off rather rocky. I made frequent trips to the doctor for kidney infections and eye ulcers. Academically, I was succeeding on the pre-med track, but that success almost became a trap. Doing well convinces you not to question your decisions, for your success must be confirmation that you’re on the right path. At the same time, there was always the haunting inkling that becoming a doctor wasn’t my true calling. On top of all this, I didn’t know how capable I was. I had fallen in with people who convinced me I was “less.” I didn’t know yet how much I could do. I didn’t know how to test myself and to find my limits so I could shatter them.
I have been blessed with absolutely amazing mentors, who have helped me through each of these obstacles and emotional storms. My honors advisors were my first lifeline. Deni Allman patiently answered every odd pre-med, pre-health, and pre-law question while I tried to map out my future. Meanwhile, peer mentoring with Joanna Spanos gave me the space I needed to grow as a student, mentor, and person. I owe my leadership style and confidence to these two powerful women. Julius Mayo was my advisor for MUNDO, and he lit in me my passion for social justice and multiculturalism. He gave me responsibility after responsibility and his trust in me made me work even harder to be worthy of it. Under his supportive eye, I planned national service-learning trips, helped design the curriculum for a new STEP cohort, and programmed for MUNDO as its President and Student Coordinator. The skills I learned from Julius, the confidence I gained from Deni and Joanna, and the passion I had for patient care led to me founding KindCarts Service Initiative. This crafting-based initiative has allowed me to combine my love of creativity and drive to improve the patient experience by donating thousands of hand-crafted comfort and morale items to local cancer patients. Besides the opportunities to grow and lead, the activities also led to me meeting the most incredible friends. We have been together – from falling through sewers in New Orleans, to playing Truth or Dare until 4 AM, to weekend trips to Hocking Hills. They, too, inspire me to do my best, as I excitedly imagine the world where our visions build a better present and future.
My career confusion finally came to a close when my neuroscience professor, Dr. Bennet Givens, introduced me to the field of public health, an area that combines everything I love about MUNDO with everything I love about KindCarts, a place where I could work to improve health and greater inequalities. So, after graduation, I will be starting my PhD at The Ohio State University as a Dean’s Distinguished University Fellow in the College of Public Health.
Pieces of me are scattered throughout campus for years to come, from my name carved in Sphinx Plaza to the ephemeral ghosts of my past struggles, failings, and triumphs. My undergraduate experience has been special because, at Ohio State, I never felt the need to fit into one box. I didn’t have to just conduct research in neuroimmunology, I could also research folklore. I could intern in the medical center and in the honors office. I could work to advance multicultural awareness on campus and still devote time to visiting patients’ rooms and taking them out to the rooftop garden. There was never a mold to fill or a formula to follow, only the opportunity to create my own space and my own unique legacy.
I want to conclude with what college has meant to me. College is like your first love. Your time here: it’s supposed to hurt you, and confuse you, and elate you, and bring you fear and worry and joy. For me and other seniors graduating tomorrow, college has broken us and then built us back up, time and time again, so that now, we stand straighter, stand taller, and walk prouder than ever before. We are more than what we were and every challenge and break has been repaired with gold on our skins. And, while I loved that eighteen year old girl who walked into Ohio State, I am in love with the twenty-two year old woman who is walking out – and I hope that every senior feels the same.
When we throw our hats in the air tomorrow, we are saying goodbye to this wondrous slice of life in Columbus, whether it lasted 3 or 4 or 5 years. We say goodbye to every late night common room talk, every tear over every midterm, every road trip, every roommate fight, every crafting and baking party, every terrifying public speaking experience, and every Carmen sang with friends. But, we say goodbye with a smile, because we will always be Buckeyes and we’ll never forget what a time we had here, and how firm thy friendship was, O-HI-O.”