Four years ago seems like forever. But in retrospect, they were right when they said it would fly by. I am heartbroken that during my last year at the University of Richmond of actually taking people up on their offers to hang out, to go to dinner, to take road trips and to attend their organization's events, I have met genuine people with whom I feel I've lost time.
They say "never have regrets," but what happens if you do? You can forgive yourself easily when you might have been younger, naive, perhaps even misinformed; but I'm two weeks from walking across the stage at the Robins Center and I am struggling to accept that had I done things differently, I might have felt fulfilled a long time ago.
I've been attending year-end banquets and ceremonies during the past few weeks, and often seniors are asked to offer a few words of advice to those who have years to go. And for those of you who know me, I never have just a few words. So I've devoted this article to just that. This only scratches the surface of what values I'll be taking with me when I leave Richmond next month.
1. Express gratitude. We all know people love to generalize Richmond students as having a sense of entitlement. I heard the other day that they even call us "J.Crew University" (I said "WHAT?!" ... so disrespectful. Lol). Debunk the myth and express your appreciation for our abundance of resources at Richmond. Let the facilities member in your building know how appreciative you are that for the work they do. Tell your parents how grateful you are for the sacrifices they've made for you. Thank your professor for imparting to you such invaluable knowledge. Thank your best friend for accepting you, for crying with you, for celebrating with you. Thank your higher deity for blessing you with another day. Don't ever wait to bring a person flowers - another minute could be a minute too late.
2. Let a people's actions speak for their character. Words are just words. Don't trust a person just because they say, "You can trust me." GINA will not be jumping off a bridge if the pope himself says he's jumping in after her. ... Let me see you do it first, then we can discuss our options. Call me cynical. I call that smart. It's what a people do and say behind closed doors that provides a true and accurate reflection of who they are.
3. Command (don't demand) respect. Commanding respect is defined in the way you carry yourself. You shouldn't have to actually tell someone to respect you. Surround yourself with people who respect the essence of you - mind, body and soul. Keep a safe distance from those who don't.
4. Be a transformational leader. It took his passing in '04 for me to fully understand the extent of my grandfather's legacy in the Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies. He taught me to lead with humility, to risk dissention for the best interest of a people and to never apologize for what it is you stand for.
5. Recognize that all people struggle in their own right. This was hardest for me to understand - but whether one girl lost her puppy or the other girl lost her sibling, both felt a deep sense of devastation. And to date, no machine can measure who feels a deeper sense of loss in their heart. Never write off a person's feelings as being frivolous or "dramatic and destructive." Instead, perhaps it would behoove you to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Playing the "I have it worse than you" game invalidates the other person's feelings and will inevitably chase some of the most beautiful people away.
6. "Choose your attitude" - (Charm Bullard). There are a lot of things in life that are beyond your control. Your attitude isn't one of them. As Groucho Marx said it, "I have just one day, today, and I am going to be happy in it."
7. Be patient with people who are in love (or who think they are in love). Some of the most rational people will do and say the most irrational things when they think they are in love. They'll make excuses; you'll want to shake them. Be patient with them. You can give all the advice in the world, and although you're probably seeing things more clearly, understand that that person's state of mind is far beyond the point of logic. (1 Corinth 13)
8. Place least value on material things. Give me a dollar bill. I can take a match to it, and it will be engulfed in flames just as if it never existed. But try taking a match to my relationship with my sister. Alas! ... You can't. I'm not saying money is not important, but what's a billion dollars when you have no friends? Cherish those who come into your life with good intentions. After all, love, friendship, family, good times - those things are priceless.
9. Do not allow social spheres to define you. Barack Obama said it best: "I am invested in the black community, but I am not defined by it. I can acknowledge that I am an African-American, but that is not all of me." It makes no difference what colors you represent or what your secret handshake is. Strip down to your very core, and at the end of the day, you represent yourself. Do not get caught up in the "them" versus the "us"; that's classic group psychology playing you. If it's an organization, then let it holistically be about philanthropy, support and empowerment.
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10. Don't judge. Rather, guide (that is, if you are even in the position to do so. The blind are in no position to lead the blind, figuratively speaking, if you know what I mean). Who are you to judge my actions? For every one piece of dirt you can bring up about a person, they probably could find five more pieces of dirt to bring up about you. You are not righteous. Accept a person's flaws, and maybe they'll accept yours.
11. Seek counsel from those who have "been there." Often, especially as women, we sit around seeking advice from each other about trials and tribulations of this and that. But as I said before - the blind are in no position to lead the blind. Talk to people who have "been there" and "done that." Ask them what they did right. Ask them, if they could do it again, what they'd do differently. You'll accumulate brilliant ideas from conversations with more seasoned people.
12. Finally, If you're not ready to let something go, don't. People have to come around in their own time to truly be at peace with their decisions. Don't even try to justify it; you're human. But when you are ready to forgive, I promise you'll find that's the most beautiful day of your life.
My time at Richmond has afforded me all sorts of weird and wonderful experiences. I have grown up, just a little bit, because I allowed myself to be vulnerable to the joys of college life and to the pain associated with the truth. I challenge you to be at peace with your decision to enroll in, and to stay at, this university. I am confident that our experiences here will pay huge dividends in the long run.
To the seniors in my CIGNA/ Oliver Hill Scholar family, my goodness how we've blossomed. Thank you for supporting me and for growing with me. Congratulations, we finally made it!
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