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Looking Back: How My Four Years at Gustavus Shaped the Person I am Today

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This afternoon I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. Founded in December 1776, the society recognizes college undergraduates for academic excellence and breadth of coursework, signifying curiosity in a liberal arts and sciences education.

Their motto: “Love of learning is the guide of life.”

Almost four years ago, as a first year student, I attended a self-leadership course as a part of the Gusties in Ongoing Leadership Development (G.O.L.D.) program. I completed Gallup’s StrengthsFinder test, an assessment that pulls five of the participant’s top strengths from a list of 34. The assessment teaches us to focus on how to use our given strengths to improve our leadership style instead of focusing on our weaknesses.

My top strength was “Learner”.

That’s odd, I remember thinking. How can learning be a strength?

Little did I know that my passion for learning and discovering new information isn’t a strength that everyone shares. It’s the same excitement that had me smiling at nine years old while filling out math worksheets and years later expanding my college coursework to areas outside of my degree requirements. As graduation creeps closer with every day, the impact a liberal arts education has had on my life is becoming more and more apparent to me. Gustavus gave me numerous opportunities for learning outside of the classroom that have shaped both my character and my individuality, and for that I will be forever grateful.

In the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, I have learned how to play musically and passionately, tackle symphonies such as Shostakovich No. 5 and Dvorak’s From the New World, and lead a viola section in a way that can only be described as feeling like entering battle. I was able to tour the east coast of the United States as well as internationally to Greece and Macedonia, where we shared our music at small schools overflowing with students excited to watch us play instruments they’d only seen in textbooks. Music at Gustavus has inspired me to continue searching for ways to experience music in every step and stage of my life, and I can’t wait to see what opportunities await.

In class, I sailed with the Nordic Vikings, discovering the impact and traditions of my ancestors. I explored the history of popular American and world music, studying songs and lyrics that shaped history. I modeled nonfiction essays after famous writers such as Annie Dillard, George Orwell, and Joan Didion. I learned how to sight-sing and play piano in music theory, and I practiced the art of darkroom photography.

As part of the Gustie Greeters organization, I learned how to be completely comfortable with myself and accept my strengths for what they are. I helped two groups of first year students transition into college life and watched them flourish and grow in their new environment. I participated and was trained in workshops centered on topics such as LGBTQ+, mental illnesses, and inequality. In some ways, I think being a Greeter has shaped me most of all.

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In the last four years, I’ve also learned how to take care of myself, which may be one of the most life-changing lessons I gained here. I learned what makes me happy and what causes me stress. I learned that getting enough sleep, eating right, and being active help me to be significantly happier and more successful. And I learned that it’s okay to ask for help.

My January term in Tanzania was one of the most eye-opening and thought-provoking experiences of my life.

It only took me two years to make up my mind, but eventually I found my passion studying the environment. This past January I traveled to Tanzania as a part of a course studying the natural history and conservation of the country. I learned that small, individual steps towards saving our environment do make a difference, and that conservation isn’t always a straightforward issue. And I was lucky enough to witness the magnificent forms of life that we are fighting to protect. Countless biology courses and labs have prepared me for a career to help save this beautiful planet, whether that is working for an agency, doing research, or educating as many people as I can in a lifetime. I have found my path.

Being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa was the culmination of my college career. I feel certain that my love of learning will continue to guide me throughout my life, as it has for the past four years. I have created a home at this college, learning about myself and the world as I prepare to launch into it. I have grown the wings I need to fly.

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