by Jon Miller (’17)
Commencement is surreal.
The moment you cross the stage you experience a rush of joy and pride, topped with a glorious sense of closure. Your diligence and hard work has paid off.
I crossed that stage a year ago, and my life looks a lot different now than it did back then. To be honest, the first year following graduation can be tough. It can require great perseverance, self-motivation, and adaptability. But everything you’ve learned in college has prepared you for this moment. And it’s totally worth it.
Now that I’ve made the transition from student to alum, and am filled with the infinite wisdom of a recent grad, I want to share with you some simple yet significant things I’ve learned on how to make the most of your Titan journey, both while you’re still enrolled in classes and in the year after receive your diploma.
1. Better Together: Find Community
We can’t go it alone. This is true in college but also in life. The temptation is to be a ‘strong, independent’ person and aim to never need anyone, but if overdone that just leads to isolation and weak relationships. One of the best things I did in college was invest in circles of caring friends, the kind I could always be honest with and that would be honest with me. The kind that know you beyond a surface level and spur you on to be the best you can be. When you’re in a group of people that can depend on each other, you’re in a safe place. I found my tightest friends in clubs I was involved in, the church I attended, the guys I worked out with, and the roommates I’ve had. These people have spoken into my life on my good days and bad days and I’m better because of it.
2. Use Your Resources
One of the best things about being a student is all the resources at your fingertips. You have (free!) access to tutoring, a career services office, a rec center, counseling, computer software, and so much more, not to mention all the resources and facilities that come with the program you study in. Take advantage of these things! Never again in life will you have all these great resources available for free. Don’t just count your blessings, use ‘em.
3. Find A Mentor
When I was a freshman, I wanted to continue growing the sports photography skills I had planted in high school. I worked as a sports photographer at UWO for the Advance-Titan newspaper, and while snapping photos on the Titan sidelines I met Chip, a professional freelance photographer. He was a key person in my growth as a photographer, giving me tips and advice, as well as loaning me cameras and lenses. And Chip is just one example of a mentor I’ve had in college. While a mentor can be a professor, find someone outside the classroom who’s doing the kind of work you want to do! Mentors have helped me become a better filmmaker, musician, writer, and more. So whatever it is you want to be great at someday, find someone today who has experience that you can learn from. Similarly…
4. Build A Network
So much opportunity comes through who you know. For me, having a network has influenced the work I’ve done, the gigs I’ve played, the places I’ve travelled, and the kinds of jobs I’ve been able to apply for. Get out and meet people in your future industry! A great way to build a network is through attending extra trainings and seminars, taking tours of places you’d like to work, completing internships, or even leveraging social media to ask questions to professionals. Even the clubs and organizations you join contribute to your network. Don’t be afraid to reach out and meet new people! You’d be surprised by the opportunities that may follow.
5. Experiences > Theory
Whether I’m in a college course or not, I’ve often learned the most when I’ve left the actual classroom. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good comes from the classroom (I had to study different types of camera shots in class before I could shoot good films!) but we always need experience to supplement training. Ask any HR rep. The best resumés have great work examples. Go get an internship, study abroad, or join an organization. As Radio-TV-Film Professor Justine Stokes always says, “don’t be a classroom kid!” Get the extra experience to set you apart from others.
Becoming better, more well-rounded people involves stepping out of our comfort zones. Liberal arts educations are particularly well suited for accomplishing this. Study subjects you normally wouldn’t acquire skills in. Meet people you normally wouldn’t spend time with. Experience different cultures. Become the kind of person that can understand and relate to many types of people! But you can’t do this unless you take the time to venture out of the context you grew up in.
7. Don’t Settle
Want to stand out? Give your best, all the time, not just in the projects or classes you find to be the most fun. This is something I’m still learning, but I find that when I don’t settle for ‘good enough,’ I not only do better work (obviously) but I improve my own character and reputation. And if you want to be successful, there is no better asset than being someone who is known for pursuing excellence in ALL things.
8. Ready, Set Goals
If you don’t know who or what you want to be, you won’t become that. Use your time in college to learn more about yourself and decide the kind of person you want to become. While life can (and will) change, picture where you want to be in five years. Set little goals to help you get to the big goals. For example, I would love to be an audio engineer someday, so I’ve made it a goal to mix at least one album each year. I wasn’t great when I started, but now I’m beginning to get paid to mix recordings! Know who you want to be, and invest in that future version of yourself.
9. Make Home Where Life Has You
It can be really easy to view your college town as a temporary stop, a place you’ll leave as soon as you graduate. And while not everyone stays planted in their college town after they graduate, that’s no excuse to be disengaged from the community. Even if it’s only for a short time, this is your home! Have a favorite restaurant or coffee shop and know the owners and employees. Go to community events, we’re not called Wisconsin’s Event City for nothing. Go to concerts for local musicians. Get to know your neighbors. Shop local. Volunteer. Don’t be afraid to put down roots. The result will be a college experience that is more rich than you imagined was possible. More significantly, this is a life skill you will take wherever you go.
I hope these thoughts encourage you to make the most of your college years! This is one of the most formative times of life. Looking back, much of what I do, believe, and dream of was formed while at UW Oshkosh. You have nearly infinite potential and opportunities here, so make the most of every day you’re a student. I’ll see you out in the real world soon!