The senior class has experienced unique iterations of life at Furman. Reflecting on the past four years, the challenges and lessons of my college years – complete with unexpected pandemic and personal life interruptions – have been invaluable. Yet, my mistaken entry attitude towards college nearly robbed me of the opportunities for growth for which I am so grateful.
When I first got to Furman, I made two fundamental mistakes.
First, I only pictured what Furman could ‘do’ for me. What opportunities I could experience, what resume boosters I could secure, where I could study away. In a sense, I imagined how I could shape my college experience to best fit my personal goals rather than focusing on how my time at Furman could – and should – shape me.
My second mistake was failing to trust that my peers could understand my experience. I assumed that I would have to face my individual challenges in isolation, and that nobody could relate to my struggles. I never imagined that a community could not only push me to be my best, but also support me at my lowest.
This backwards thinking of mine, unfortunately, fell unnoticed through my first three semesters at Furman. In fact, I sought to shape my college experience with fervor. I joined the clubs I thought would look best on my resume, sought out research, joined a sorority, and studied diligently.
And then suddenly, we were all sent home. My friends were scattered across the country, all living in isolation and fear of the unknown. My college experience changed abruptly – from a cancelled Spring Break trip with the Cothran Center, spring formal with my boyfriend, the end of my sophomore year; I kept a mental tally for those first few months. Only when Furman announced our plan to return for my junior Fall did I start to realize the fault in my prior thinking.
When we got back to Furman, I was overwhelmed and confused. Many of the opportunities I thought were essential to college were back in some capacity, and yet, felt empty. In this mid-COVID world, we were all confronted by the gaps, needs, and hurt in our community.
And yet, I was struck with appreciation for the chance to be in one place, with people who cared so deeply for each other through loss. We united and supported each other through personal struggles in the pandemic and the deaths of family and friends, including members of our Furman community. This time was not an experience I could take, or simply feel and move on. Rather, it was a moment full of honest and genuine comradery that I was privileged to contribute to and experience.
Throughout my four years, these experiences helped me shift from considering what Furman could do for me to ways I could give back to Furman. Through First Generation Student Alliance, Mosaic, and many other organizations, I have been privileged to work alongside amazing peers and friends to create mentorship and community for future students.
It is safe to say that the senior class has experienced the full Furman spectrum. From life before COVID to socializing in four-person pods to returning to a Furman where I can gather, cry and celebrate with my peers – I consider myself lucky. For the class of 2022, I believe our experiences have taught us the importance of staying in one place and giving back. We got to see the cracks in our foundation, and we chose to use our talents, passions, and diverse perspectives to rebuild.
I want to share one final word of encouragement for each of my peers. At the start of the pandemic, I was crushed to miss the experiences that I saw as essential to college, and disappointed to be “stuck” in one place. Yet, these unexpected roadblocks made all the difference. Instead of shaping my reality to what I thought I wanted, my time at Furman has shaped me in innumerable ways into the person I am still becoming today.
I hope that you all experience similar realizations, both at Furman and in your future beyond the front gates. Unanticipated challenges and adversity have formed us, brought us together, and strengthened us into college graduates that can adapt to and improve any environment we join. We can use our passions and experiences to give back, invest in our institutions and communities, all while supporting each other as we have learned to do while at Furman.
So, as you leave, aim for greatness – I know you all will achieve amazing things. But while you pursue your dreams, do not forget to slow down and pause, remember what you have learned at Furman, and invest in the people and opportunities that are right in front of you.