Oh what a blessed day it was when I walked across the podium, shook the hands of the Universities' most prestigious academic patrons, and received that lovely red diploma signifying the end of my formal college studies. Hallelujah!
Although I'll never forget the accomplishment I felt on my graduation day, that event certainly wasn't the end of my education! Graduating is simply the beginning of the next stages of learning and growing that should be continuous throughout our entire lives.
Gordon B. Hinckley's message "Seek Learning" on education helped motivate me to gain the very best education that I could, and inspired my pursuit of a higher degree. Though my sisters and I had big dreams and plans of becoming full-time musicians, I knew that in order to live up to my potential as a business woman, future mother and wife, leader, and peacemaker in the world, I needed to be educated. I needed to dedicate some time to pursuing my interests outside of music so that I could be capable of giving my very best self to others.
I learned through all of my years of attending school that the environment of public or formal schooling itself (sitting in a classroom, taking tests, attending lectures, etc.) is not the only way to learn. Education is gained in all of life's challenging and eye-opening experiences. I personally didn't thrive in the public education system, and often felt the structure of a classroom stifled my creativity and ability to communicate.
At the same time, there were incredible, valuable lessons I was taught while sitting in the presence of some of the world's most brilliant minds. I gained the most value from my education in the ideas and personal stories that were shared, the perspectives offered, the readings, papers, and assignments that I connected with personally, and most importantly, the people that helped shape me into the person that I wanted to be.
If I were to go back to my younger self and offer some advice in those awkward high school teenage years and overwhelming college days, I would break it down into three points:
1. Don't let the amount of work to be done get in the way of who you ultimately want to become.
Balance is key in the pursuit of educational goals. I feel that I often compromised my hard-working nature when it came to school as I made excuses not to attend class or do my assignments. Now that I can look back and see clearly, I know that it's not about the papers, homework, tests, and lectures. It's about the principles of timeliness, waking up early, diligence, and balance. There really is time for everything! You don't have to scrap your dreams of becoming an artist just because you have a ton of math homework to do. Do it all! Do everything. It all connects in some way in the end. Ultimately, you are proving mostly to yourself what you are capable of.
2. Find and follow your passion.
In one of my college communications classes I watched a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson called "How Schools Kill Creativity". I then read (and re-read, and re-read) his book "The Element". His ideas about finding and pursuing your passion completely changed my life and the goals I pursued as a student and a musician. When you are doing what you love and surrounding yourself with people of your "tribe" who inspire you, you perform at a higher level and are self-motivated and successful. I truly believe that you will be SO much happier if you connect what excites and inspires you to your educational pursuits. Though I didn't major in anything musical, my degree in International Culture Studies was the result of my passion for culture, traveling, and my goals to participate in humanitarian service.
3. Being a leader doesn't necessarily = popularity.
I've never been in any kind of "popular" circle in any of my school years. Although I wanted to serve on student government and leadership positions in my school, I felt like I couldn't because I wasn't super pretty, on the cheer team or even acknowledged by anyone other than my teachers sometimes. I wish that I would have set those fears aside, realized that none of it was true, and just focused on serving others! It wasn't until college that I started getting involved by being in the presidencies of clubs, running for Vice President of the student body, volunteering to help at student social functions and performing at local events. What a difference it made to feel like I was contributing to making other people happy! You can lead in small ways by simply being kind to others, sitting by someone who is alone, being friends with those who are lonely, helping those who may need help, and being the kind of person people can trust and rely on.
Mandi's high school graduation day.
Allie's High School Graduation!
I know what it's like to feel overwhelmed, depressed, discouraged, and disappointed. I can honestly say that some of the hardest and most trying times in my life were connected to my experiences in trying to gain my education. That being said, there were also the most wonderful moments of happiness, accomplishment, excitement, and growth that occurred in those years. I'm so grateful for the chance that I had to pursue my educational goals and achieve something I had dreamed of my whole life! Getting my bachelor's degree helped make me a better person, and has and will continue to open the door to opportunities to serve. So do your best in school, dream big, keep going even when it seems impossible, and find what you love and do it!