With graduation on the horizon, Park Scholar seniors reflect on their time at IC
Thursday, March 27, 2014
By Meg Devlin '14
Four years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be the senior speaker at the Park Scholar Finalist Dinner, the one where I was so busy paying attention to which fork I was using, the speed at which I was chewing my food and how bad my palms were sweating — for fear that these insignificant details would factor into whether or not I received the Park Scholar Award.
Four years later, I’m grappling with the fact that I am graduating in seven weeks, which means becoming an alumni of this program, which has given me a community of colleagues, mentors and friends who I consider family, all of whom have shaped me into the person I have become during my four years at Ithaca College.
I have grown from a questioning, highly anxious and over-committed freshman who was chomping at the bits to be a member of every student organization, to a still anxious though more focused senior leading our campus newspaper, The Ithacan, with a more refined set of values. One thing that has remained constant throughout this four-year journey has been my curiosity to understand the deeply complex world in which we live, other people and cultures as well as myself.
Freshman year was rough: adapting to college life, being 300 miles away from home while a family member was terminally ill, questioning my major choice, and always seeking to prove I was “worthy” of a media service scholarship were ongoing struggles. But what I learned through the struggle was that I always had my Park Scholar network to fall back on. In life, we all fall at some time. But when we do, there is a community of people who will catch us. Learning not to be afraid to fall, to fail or to struggle was a process in itself; but I knew the tradeoff would be progress toward my greater calling.
Sophomore year was this turning point. I deviated from “the plan” by changing majors and fleeing to Morocco for a semester to study human rights and multiculturalism — eager to put all things communications aside for a few months. I thought that cultural immersion in a country where I had to learn to speak another language and break away from my American comforts would give me a sense of direction. And I was not disappointed.
My Moroccan program director gave me a wise piece of advice that has guided me throughout the rest of my college journey: Be where your feet are.
It took a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to North Africa for me to realize the importance of being fully present in my own community — the places I call home and the spaces where I can have the most direct impact. This ideal has made volunteering at GreenStar Cooperative Market in Ithaca and my leadership involvements with the campus newspaper and other student organizations all the more meaningful.
Now here I am, senior year, leading The Ithacan as editor in chief, a role in which “being present” means editing for hours in the newsroom each day; “being present” also means spending in my weekends volunteering. I also attempt to stay present (as a second semester senior) in the classroom … While sometimes these moments bring on waves of guilt for feeling like a bad friend or like I’m failing at college social life, I remember that I didn’t sign up for a “normal” — whatever that means — college experience.
Rather, I joined a “tribe” of passionate changemakers who are committed to their causes, and want to be fully dedicated to activities that incite their passion, just as much as I am to my own. This shared understanding of the balance between our personal and professional commitments bring the Park Scholar community closer together.
The anxieties I experience now as a senior Park Scholar are about leaving a community of people who get my weird quirks, insane work mentality and peculiarities — the very same community I was worried about not fitting in with freshman year. This is largely because my journey at Ithaca College has been shaped by my consciousness of the incredible responsibility and privilege we have as Park Scholars. Whether in the classroom or at the kitchen table, we often find ourselves discussing issues of poverty, social inequity, academic freedom, media ethics and global humanitarianism — and then asking what we can do about them. While we are usually left with more questions than answers, and we may not always agree with one another, this program has provided us with a space and creative outlets to navigate the questions in search of deeper understanding.
While I still have not found the answers for how to change the world, make a positive impact, and do something meaningful with my life, this struggle is part of the journey. But, as the Park Scholar Program demonstrates, we don’t have to take it alone.
I try to remind myself each day to be in the moment, and let go of whatever stress, anxiety or uncertainties I have about tomorrow, next year or the future. Instead, I try to make meaningful connections with the people I am with, and share my passions with a like-minded community while I have to space to do so because, outside these moments, we can't always predict where we will be
Now, seven weeks from graduation, I fear this vigilant awareness may fade once I leave the space that the Park Scholar Program, in particular, has provided me to constantly engage my curiosity, open myself to critique and question everything. It is rare to find a group of people with whom I can be so deeply honest, vulnerable and passionate. But I am a believer that community does not have physical limitations, and our friendships will transcend any geographic borders or time zones that are created in the next few months.
The time has come for us to move on to the next phase of our lives. And while our feet will carry us there, our Park Scholar identities will help us continue to bring our creative minds, compassion and critical reflection to our efforts in making a positive impact on the world through our talents and leadership as communicators.
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