On Saturday night, I drove out to Neoga to go stargazing with a friend. I got back to Charleston around 1:15AM. As I entered town, the roads were empty so I looked around the town I will soon be leaving. I remember back to my childhood, when going to Charleston seemed like an exotic trip. I would be glued to the window as we entered town, looking at the “sights.” I would marvel at Old Main and all of the other college buildings. I loved being able to come here, as if Charleston were some bigger city than the one I lived in (or rather, near: i.e. Rockford). As I grew up, I lost that wonder. I might have had it on move-in day my freshman year. But I went to college here and got used to my surroundings. I wouldn’t even look out the window until we were at whatever residence hall I was staying in.
Life is a series of transitions. Soon I will have this wonder for another city–and a much bigger one: Lincoln, Nebraska. I already have that wonder; I had it when my dad and I visited in March. I wanted to see everything. And I’m sure, as my stay there will be much longer than my stay in Charleston, that I’ll lose my sense of wonder to my adaptation of the environment.
Graduation season is a time of reflection, and not only for the graduates. But, as I did graduate this year, I am reflective and sentimental as my time in Charleston nears its end. This town has been my home for the past four years, and a “second home” the years before college. But I can say that I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t attended EIU. EIU is a part of me. Before I get even more sentimental, I’ll start with a picture:
This was taken on August 18, 2011: move-in day for my freshman year of college. I’m sure anything I had in mind that I would experience in college was completely wrong. My four years at Eastern have been some of the most challenging, yet most rewarding in my life so far. And so comes the *reflective post* about it. There’s really no avoiding this cliche, so if you care to read about some of my college experiences and lessons learned, read on.
Although I decided to come to EIU because I have a (half) family history there and had gone to Eastern Music Camp every summer I could, what made my experience great was so much more than those two things. College is definitely about discovering yourself, as cliche as that sounds. It was my first *extended* time away from home, and though I wasn’t fully independent, I was still on my own. I made good choices, and I made bad choices. But here I am, alive.
I fully believe that my time at Eastern provided opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, although I can’t know that for certain. What I do know for certain is: the people I met, friends I made, community I shared, and professors I had all influenced my life and shaped it for the better. I believe that EIU’s size aided in this; I doubt I would have the opportunity to have a couple professors that I would call mentors if I were at a giant school like U of I, for example. I think my time at a small state school has been a great start, and has prepared me to “move up” to a bigger university for my graduate studies. I have loved my time at EIU, and I’m sure I’ll love my time at UNL as well.
I made a lot of choices while at EIU. Some have been very influential in shaping the person I am today. I’m not going to give you a chronology of my four years here, because for one my memory is not that good, and it’d probably bore you. And we both know that neither of us have time for that. These choices I made formed my path through college, so I’ll talk about them, and any advice I could give (*sarcasm* since I’m so wise at 22 years old).
Obviously, one of my choices was to come to EIU.
Another choice I made was to pursue a music minor. I came in knowing that I still wanted to be involved in music, but I didn’t want to major in it, so I picked up a music minor. That’s why I did it. I had to take three semesters of music theory (which I remember none of), one semester of music history (I chose the classical/romantic periods), one gen ed (I took Survey of American Music), four semesters of applied lessons and playing in an ensemble (which I exceeded because I was in lessons and orchestra my entire time here, except for when I was in Spain). I think my overall experience would have been extremely different if I hadn’t done my music minor.
I could write an entire research paper about the benefits of playing an instrument (and I did, in high school) and I won’t lecture the point to death, but I will say that I have seen the benefits of playing the oboe in my various ensembles throughout the years, and especially playing in the Eastern Symphony Orchestra (ESO). I have seen my own musicianship grow throughout my time in ESO, and it has been so wonderful to be a part of an ensemble that makes music out of notes on a page. I’ve loved being able to play some “big name” music–like Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, to name a few. In Spring 2013, the second semester of my sophomore year, we played Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (listen to O Fortuna for a few seconds). It’s a massive piece with 26 movements. The entire concert was just that piece, I believe. And the feeling I had when we finished and were greeted with a standing ovation was amazing. I was going through a dark period of depression that semester, and that concerts was one of the highlights, exemplifying why I love playing music.
I took oboe lessons every semester I was at Eastern even though I only had to take 4 semesters’ worth. It was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done at Eastern, because I learned a lot, and not just about music. I had the opportunity to form a close connection with my oboe teacher, Dr. Sullivan (shout out!). I’m not sure if a non-music major would even be able to take applied lessons at a bigger university, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I’m not even sure what I could say except that I love that I had the opportunity to connect with teachers that genuinely care about you. Even if that caring means that I spend half the lesson talking about whatever was going on in my life, or that I come to her office hours for advice about which grad school to pick, or just talking the entire lesson. She already knows how much I appreciate her, so I’ll just say that I’m really going to miss her! And that staying involved with oboe during my undergrad was one of the best choices I made.
Another choice I made was to change my major to Spanish. Believe it or not, I was a journalism major coming into college with a concentration in photojournalism. I started taking pictures right away for the Daily Eastern News, but in October of my freshman year, I realized that I did photography for fun and didn’t like the pressure to get a perfect picture. I wasn’t sure what I should change to, and eventually I decided on Spanish. I talked with my Spanish teacher at the time, Dr. Routt, and she expressed confidence that I could be successful going into Spanish. So I decided to do it, just Spanish, no teacher certification or anything, unsure of what I would do after I graduated. But as I continued in my studies, I realized that I loved studying Hispanic literature.
One of the most important choices I made was to get help. I’ve struggled with depression since high school. I tried to manage it the best I could, but it wasn’t working. Spring of my sophomore year (2013) I started counseling, and about a month after that, I talked to my doctor about medication and started taking some. It’s been a long road, some semesters being harder than others, but if I hadn’t sought help I would have killed myself. That’s pretty heavy but it’s real. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to get help. It doesn’t make you weak; I think it actually makes you stronger. Depression is hard. I’ve had to do a lot of hard work to change negative thought patterns. But I am alive, and I’m so thankful. There were times where I didn’t think I would make it. But I had a good group of friends that helped me through and loved me even when I was a jerk to them. There is hope. Things will get better. It takes hard work, and it’s not immediate, but things do get better.
My choice to study abroad gave me clarity about what I was going to do after graduation. I had ruled studying abroad because I didn’t think I could afford it, but I figured out I could. So studying abroad was another influential choice, and I would say the most influential choice. I had never been out of the country, but I boarded a plane on July 31, 2013, and flew halfway across the world by myself. I know it’s so cliché, but studying abroad was the most amazing experience of my life (so far). Although I had some crappy things happen while I was in Spain, and things weren’t always easy, I can look back and say that still. I am really glad I went by myself, too. I think doing it by myself grew my independence. I went on trips by myself. I went to Madrid for four days by myself. It was amazing–I learned to rely on myself. When bad things happened, I handled it. It’s really just hard to describe my study abroad experience in a short paragraph, but if you look back on this blogs, I have posts that I wrote while I was in Spain.
I realized when I was in Spain that I loved Spanish: I loved the art, the history, the language, the culture, the literature. And I had a tiny thought in my brain: maybe I could go to grad school and get a MA and study Hispanic Literature. I loved talking about literature. The idea grew in my head as I thought about how I could teach Hispanic literature at the college level. I wasn’t sure, but when I said goodbye to my teachers in Spain, a few of them mentioned that I could do it and be successful. I came back to America with two ideas: I could possibly go to grad school and I should do Departmental Honors. A couple weeks after I got back, I went down to Charleston to visit, because I had some school-related things I needed to take care of. I stopped by Dr. Routt’s office and we chatted for a while. I told her about these ideas and she once again expressed confidence that I could do them and be successful at them. It finally felt like my life was piecing together, that I could see a future for myself.
Here is a picture of the book responsible for spurring these thoughts:
One of my teachers, while I was in Spain, recommended this book. I went and bought it and read it and thought it was genius. I couldn’t stop talking about it. So this book was a catalyst for that.
My choice to do Departmental Honors was influential. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Dr. Routt, doing extra projects for a couple classes, and then I got to work with her on my thesis. My thesis was a beast. Throughout the semester, though, I didn’t think I would actually finish it. And it resulted that I had to work my butt off at the end of the semester, but I finished it. And I’m proud of that! It was a really fun project to do, and only served to reaffirm that I can be successful going into my post-graduate studies, but also that I’m going into the right field because doing research and reading literature for this project was really energizing. It was an amazing feeling, finishing that thesis. I also had the opportunity to present a section of it at NCUR, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Cheney, Washington, this past April.
Another really influential choice that I almost overlooked was getting a job with Panther Dining. Actually, today three years ago I found out that I got the job. It’s not a hard job to get, but it was my second “real” job. When I started working at Tower Dining, I did not think I would become a student manager. But I did! And my job both as a student worker and student manager have taught me skills that I’ll carry with me into my graduate career. The student manager job in particular has grown me a lot. I have gained valuable leadership skills. Not only that, but through this job I have met a bunch of people! Working at Tower Dining definitely shaped my time at EIU. In less than two months, I will finish working here, and I’m sad about that, because I honestly love this job.
Going to school at EIU has been an incredible experience. It’s starting to sink in that I will be leaving soon, and I’m getting really sad about that. But I know I’ll carry the memories I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and the friendships I’ve made as I make my big move to Nebraska. This is what I would advise current college students: take risks! Be in community because relationships are important to your spiritual and emotional wellbeing; people need other people. College is what you make of it, so make it count!
And that has sounded sufficiently corny, so I’ll leave you with some pictures.