By Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez
There is much cause for celebration during this time of the school year. For thousands of students at our beloved university, the end of our undergraduate career is just days away. Earning a bachelor’s degree is an incredible accomplishment. This is especially true for those of us who have had to tear down significant barriers in order to access our higher education.
Some in the class of 2015 are the first in their immediate and extended family to go to and complete college. Some juggled multiple jobs to afford their pursuit of higher education. Some battled various forms of adversity. To those of you for whom it was not easy, I commend you. I admire you and am proud to walk across the stage on the quad with you in a few short days.
The class of 2015 will not only be celebrated at the university-wide commencement on May 15 and 16, though. They will also be praised at discipline-specific award ceremonies, college-wide celebrations by Honor the Best and the Alumni Association. Graduating seniors at Nevada will leave our institution having been recognized for their excellence in scholarship, leadership and public service through a variety of awards in their last semester of their undergraduate career.
While it is of course important to celebrate one’s achievements — especially if you beat the odds to earn them — acknowledging and learning from your failures and mistakes can be just as valuable. An extensive resume on its own will not and should not constitute your entire legacy; what should is how you empowered future generations of students and leaders. Sharing your lived experiences with them and, above all, your hardest-learned mistakes can be one of the worthiest contributions you can leave behind for continuing Nevada students as a graduating senior.
The mistakes I have made in my undergraduate career are most certainly not wholly regretful, despite the negative connotative meaning of the word. My understanding of the mistakes I have committed is one of the greatest rewards I could possibly have graduated with. It is also what I hope to leave younger Nevada students with — more so than a list of prizes or honors I have received. The following are the top three mistakes I made as an undergraduate student:
In my first semester of college, I was vulnerable, bitter and angry at the world. I felt I was misunderstood. Further, I had $90 in my bank account after purchasing my textbooks in my first semester, and just before enrolling in college, I experienced a lot of rejection and even homelessness. I thought the universe was against me. As a result, I made the mistake of developing an inundating fear of my surroundings that affected my ability to form relationships with others and take risks (academically, that is) that could have helped me form support groups and ultimately excel early on.
And while I wholeheartedly believe that a small dose of fear is healthy for the sake of humility and level-headedness, the insecurities I felt were wholly invasive and fundamentally unhealthy. It wasn’t until I dissipated my fear, learning to believe that even in the worst of times I was capable of creating my own opportunities and success that I flourished. Learning that you are not defined by your limitations or adversity is crucial for your success and positive sense of self.
THE ROLE OF OTHERS
As an undergraduate, I erroneously assigned too much weight to the roles other people played in my life and maturation as an activist, scholar and person. For one, I cared too much about what others thought of me and, to some extent, the constructive opinions of those close to you (like mentors, peers, and loved ones) should be taken into consideration.
But there is a fine line that must be drawn between considering someone else’s input and allowing the negativity or disapprovals of others to tear you down like I did. The opinion about yourself, your choices and endeavors that matters most is your own. Secondly, I have compared myself excessively and unnecessarily to others. Doing so inhibited my ability to love myself unconditionally because I constantly measured my own value based on the unreachable accomplishments and lives of others.
Your worth should ultimately be defined intrinsically. But, time and time again, I mistakenly allowed externalities like awards, failures and, yes, others’ opinions of me influence my worth. Allowing your value to be dictated by material goods or other externalities will prevent you from fostering a positive self-image that is crucial for individual and professional betterment.
These mistakes have facilitated my profound understanding of the importance of the following lessons, which I promise are much more fulfilling than a trophy or medal: Love yourself. Know your own worth. The opinions of some other people matter; but their thoughts about you are not the end-all, be-all. Dream exceedingly big. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, for they may end up being the greatest rewards life can afford you. Do not be afraid, period.
Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez studies history and philosophy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.