Breanna Denney /Nevada Sagebrush A student walks through the Quadrangle at the University of Nevada, Reno on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. The quad serves as a selling point to a variety of students considering the university.

Breanna Denney /Nevada Sagebrush
A student walks through the Quadrangle at the University of Nevada, Reno on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013. The quad serves as a selling point to a variety of students considering the university.

Throughout my high school career, I was part of the International Baccalaureate program. Emphasizing international perspectives in education, IB classes were often harder, more demanding and more work-intensive than honors or Advanced Placement classes. However, along with the enriching courses also came the underlying pretention of students who felt that, for some reason, they were more deserving of praise and recognition for their hard work than their peers.

To put it into perspective, the tension in the room was abundant on days when Ivy League schools sent out their acceptance letters — days that were rarely discussed openly but always silently understood among the group. While it’s true that the IB classroom environment often pushed me to better myself, it also created a vacuum of judgment that led most of us to believe that our self-worth was determined by the universities we would ultimately attend.

University of California, Berkeley. Duke. Brown. Yale. Harvard. From Ivy Leagues to highly regarded liberal arts universities, it seemed like majority of the students in my class would ultimately attend a big-name school, welcoming the debt that would ultimately be accrued. For that reason, it was a bit of a disappointment to know that, despite my acceptance to some of my top schools, I would need to come to the University of Nevada, Reno; in order to save money for graduate school, I was forced to choose a university that would prevent me from drowning in debt up to my eyeballs.

I remember walking around Nevada’s campus, gaping at the beautiful quad and old buildings on my first day of school. While I felt a great sense of pride seeing how lovely Reno could be, I also couldn’t shake the lingering sense of shame from having to attend a state school.

Nearly four years later, as I sprint through the final stretch of my last semester, I reflect on that shame and laugh at how trivial my concerns were. In four years, I have been challenged throughout my university experience, both academically and personally. The lessons I’ve learned have been rich and the knowledge I’ve gained has been comprehensive. I may not be brandishing the Ivy League logos across my sweatshirt, but these days, I take a sense of pride in that fact. I’m a member of the Nevada Wolf Pack, and that feels awesome.

It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that our university isn’t up to par — I’m sure you feel it every time you have to tell an out-of-state person that Reno is not actually next to Las Vegas. However, if you truly take advantage of the resources on this campus, there is no doubt in my mind that you will receive an education that rivals even the most prestigious universities.

Our Tier 1 university did not earn that status by remaining stagnant; it earned that recognition by offering research opportunities, state-of-the-art technology and an education that prepares students for the real world. In my four years, I’ve seen students win the Marshall Scholarship, rank first in national competitions (check out the debate team and concrete canoe) and go onto land their dream jobs in nearly every major city across the United States.

While all of these accomplishments offer the university a great deal of pride, perhaps the best part of Nevada is that we do amazing things without the underlying pretentious attitudes. Our name recognition, and sometimes lack thereof, pushes students on this campus to work harder to prove that our university is truly something to celebrate if you take advantage of it in the right way.

The Honors Program offers classes and specific mentorship for students seeking national and international fellowships and scholarships. Our student government has been recognized for its dedication to civic engagement and provides students the chance to advocate for student issues at the Nevada State Legislature. The University Studies Abroad Consortium is one of the premier study abroad organizations across the country, and it is hosted at our own university.

You have the chance to make the most of your time here if you work to create your own opportunities. It’s important to recognize that you can take pride in your accomplishments on this campus, but you have to take the initiative to find opportunities.

Research the professors on this campus to see if any are conducting research in an academic field you may find interesting because there are always chances to expand the learning experience outside of the classroom. If there isn’t a club on campus that you feel should exist, then create it because collaboration is the best way to maximize your efforts. Make use of the resources that are given to you — take for example, The Pack Internship Program, which offers paid internships in a wide spectrum of majors. You have the chance to be great at Nevada, and if you don’t feel that’s true, then you’re not looking hard enough.

Most importantly, this is your campus to shape. So what if you’re not attending the school you dreamed of your whole life? You’re here now, and it’s your responsibility to take advantage of that. Our campus community is malleable, so if there is something missing, take it upon yourself to create that opportunity. That’s the beauty of a Tier 1 university like ours; we’re not bound by strict rules or traditions because, as students, we have the chance to create them ourselves. Whether you’re a freshman or senior, this is your one chance to get college right, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and acknowledge the beauty of opportunity at our school. A little bit of initiative will go a long way, so stop waiting for something different to happen — you should choose to be the difference.

Daniel Coffey studies journalism. He can be reached at and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.